1.  A brief outline of the Artist

     Emilia-Romagna is a land in the Northern part of Italy where cattle-breeding is a diffuse activity, upon which a food Industry has flourished in the centuries (‘salami’, ‘cotechino’ etc.. .are well known worldwide in cookery).
Casalecchio di Reno, a village in this land, had the privilege of giving birth in 1875 to Riccardo Stracciari, a baritone-to-be.
As is a common saying in Italy, Emilian people are extrovert, friendly and of open-character, but sometimes prone to sudden outbursts of rage even for futile reasons.
This does seem to apply to Stracciari only for the first part of this profile, according to people who had been acquainted with him (see the parallel contribution by Luciano DiCave devoted to direct relationships with him, anecdotes,etc..): no ‘volcanic’ attitudes  however have been reported on the account of his temper.
Surely the atmosphere inspired by his singing, so quiet, so clear and on the whole well-balanced is opposite to  what could be expressed by a hot-blooded temper.     
Pupil at the ‘Conservatorio di Bologna’, his first steps were as a chorus-singer in an ‘operetta’ Company. He made his debut at the Bologna ‘Comunale’ in Perosi’s ‘Resurrezione di Cristo’ in 1899. The first important performances were ‘Traviata’ and ‘Aida’      in Lisbon, to be followed by appearances in the most famous Italian Theatres (Comunale di Bologna, Opera di Roma, La Scala).
From now on an international career started in the most important countries around Europe, South America (Buenos Aires) and North America: here he took part in two Seasons at the Met, in 1906-07 and 1907-08. Later on (1917-19) he returned to Chicago (Auditorium) and New York (Lexington Theatre).          
His career was long (his last public appearance was at ‘Comunale’ di Como with ‘Traviata’ in 1944), spanning over forty-five years.      
He died in 1955, at the age of eighty.  

2.  Stracciari and his contemporaries

The years from 1875 and 1878 were really singular –fortunate, for the lyric destinies- since four excellent baritones poured in, at the rate of ‘one per year’; namely: just Stracciari (1875), Giuseppe DeLuca (1876), Titta Ruffo (1877) and Amato (1878).
This period followed the generation of Kashmann and Battistini.     
This last in particular was highly representative of the 19th century ‘belcanto’ with large use of vocal ornaments and all the other tools deemed important to flavour the expression.       
DeLuca, not particularly gifted as vocal means, basically followed a Battistini scheme: the voice had similar tenor-like colours, but the attitude was different, more genuine and open to the modern feelings: no ornamentation disconnected from true expressive motivations. To summarize, an intelligent and refined singing.
Titta Ruffo followed a line of his own, being a real outsider: titanic voice, phenomenal extension, great dramatic attitudes. He preferred a direct and aggressive singing, in line with the then dominant veristic environment.
Some similarities can be found between Amato and Stracciari, both representing a true ‘tongue’ between the opposite requirements of ‘belcanto’ and dramatic interpretation: both possessed a fluent voice, sense of equilibrium, complete control of the technique.

Few decades later Benvenuto Franci would have revived the dramatic baritone  figure with strong characterization of some ‘cattivo’ roles like Barnaba, Scarpia and so on, while  his counterpart, Carlo Galeffi, would have properly impersonated the role of the gentleman (baritono ‘signore’).

3.  Voice, technique and interpretation

     What immediately strikes in the Stracciari vocal organization is the soft and velvety timbre,   superimposed to a voice of great compactness and solidity.
Often the S.timbre was said to be ‘throaty’. This peculiarity  has been underlined by several critics, among whom Rodolfo Celletti [‘Le grandi voci’]:
..il fondo gutturale,che rientrò sempre nel timbro di S., rende il suono caratteristico e personalissimo nei dischi del  miglior periodo e si muta quasi in pregio; ma nelle ultime incisioni appare in modo accentuato e scoperto’.
[..The throaty nature, which has always been a part of the S. timbre,  makes the sound ‘characteristic’ and ‘strictly personal’ in the records of the best period, reverting to a merit; however, in the last recordings, it springs up in a emphasized and open way].
Surely a vocal production basically ‘throaty’, as existing in artists of less qualified range, tends sometimes to mask an improper use of the technique, privileging thoracic resonances instead of focussing the sounds in the ‘mask’. Obviously this does not apply to Stracciari: here we deal with a pure timbric colour, not absolutely with technical deficiencies.

     With regard to technique………
The homogeneity of the S.voice throughout the vocal extension [t.i.the capability  to span over the whole range of sounds up to the extreme notes of the baritonal score without variations in the colour or ‘whitening’ or ‘opening’ the sounds] is a heritage of the great ‘belcanto’ school.

     But, beyond voice and technique, an almost common feature of the S. records are artistic intelligence, style, and taste which leads the Artist to avoid  excesses in interpretation which, apart from disliking the listener, invariably would influence the voice production, causing lack of sound balance.  
But perhaps paradoxically just his wrapping timbre risks to obscure his interpretative features. The repeated and consecutive hearing of his records, for instance, might lead the listener to rejoice in a world of heavenly sounds, thus avoiding to outline the different situations and characters from time to time conveyed by the Artist. 
Is it not perhaps natural the immediate seduction that the looks of a very beautiful woman can raise, even if subsequently, in cold blood, one can recognize also her intellectual capabilities?

4.  The great romantic composers

The velvety quality of S.timbre, the great capability to flow over long melodic lines with complete breath control and the overall equilibrium in the sound distribution naturally make the S. voice ideally suitable to interpret the characters of the romantic composers. 
Two examples can be taken from the vast amount of records made by S. and fortunately preserved for our pleasure: Favorita and Faust. 
In both cases the characters are of high descent: their invocation, whether to a beloved woman or to God himself, require noble accents, restrained emotions and great dignity.
If we consider the aria ‘Vien Leonora’ from ‘LA FAVORITA’ by Donizetti, it is possible to note the regality and the beauty of tone inherent in Alfonso’s message to Leonora: the first part of the Aria is concluded in an aerial whisper which suggests a variety of colours in the second part of the Aria itself; but…..Where is the second part? Here a first charge to Riccardo!
Why has he properly recorded this 2nd part but prevented its publication?
Twice he recorded the 1st part (early for Fonotipia and later on for Columbia), but in both cases no trace has been found of its sequel.
Let’s go to ‘FAUST: Dio possente’. The early recording for Fonotipia, despite the absolute fitting of the music to  his temper and with the voice at its peak, in my personal opinion is a bit disappointing: generic expression, apparently not a great feeling and a slight rush. Of course one must take into account  the roughness of the recording technology of those times and –about rush- the need to contain within a few minutes the whole musical part.
Then give to Riccardo a second chance! Rerecording of the aria for Columbia, eight years later. Everything now fits: voice and interpretation, exactly as we originally would have expected from him.
The invocation to God to protect Margherita is really the prayer of a man to a God : sweet, submissive.
What a different attitude displayed –for the same aria- by Titta Ruffo, who seems to address the God as –at least- a semi-God, partly asking, partly pretending!..
Marvellous, both performances!

4.  Stracciari and Verdi

What has been said before for the romantic composers can be  as well be transferred to the Verdi repertoire: nobility of the expression, equilibrium in the singing line, etc.. Every character in Verdi’s view is a ‘noble’, let it be ‘the King Amonasro’ or the ‘buffoon Rigoletto’. 
In the following of this Chapter some suggestions will be proposed to the listeners about some remarkable Stracciari interpretations on the ‘Fonotipia 1914 records’.
In ‘RIGOLETTO: Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’, after the initial phrases uttered with decision and great authority, in ‘ma mia figlia è impagabil tesor’ S. reverts to sorrowful accents. Afterwards he displays a great variety of colours depending on whom he addresses: vaguely praying and humble to the Courtisans, he scans every sillabe when turning to Marullo ‘tu ch’hai l’alma gentile come il core..’.     
Note the nuance of ‘a Voi nulla ora costa’, where an imperceptible break of the voice is heard like ‘a veil of tears’.
Note also the mood of ‘RIGOLETTO:Sì, vendetta! Tremenda vendetta’ which is almost whispered with a rounded ‘r’ in ‘tremenda’, to show a terrible, inner sense of revenge, before the final explosion of the high note in tune with the soprano Chiesa.
Now a technical remark. In ‘DON CARLOS: Per me giunto…O Carlo ascolta’ we hear a true trill in ‘Ei che premia i suoi fedel’ (first ‘e’ of ‘fedel’), whereas most singers simply accentuate the natural vibrato of the voice.
The long phrase ‘No!Fa cor!No!Fa cor!..L’estremo spiro..’ seems to be produced with an apparently astonishing single breath: an accurate and repeated hearing maybe suggests the use of a as wise as imperceptible ‘rubato’. Shrewed Riccardo!
The aria is ended with an impressive death-rattle, which cuts away the last syllables.
Once more the wise use of the technique is shown in ‘ERNANI: Oh,de’ verd’anni miei!’ where ‘Se troppo vi credei’ is modulated with initial force, then with ‘mezza voce’  to express nostalgia, regret, always in a single breath line; then the full power of the voice is displayed in ‘..e vincitor dei secoli’… 
And what about the accents emerging from ‘I DUE FOSCARI: O vecchio cor che batti’, recorded a few years in advance? Noble accents, chiselled phrases, moving in ‘non ho più lagrime’, ample use of ‘mezzavoce’ throughout the Aria, which is concluded with sweet tones, once more mezza-voce followed by a low note. 
What then about ‘TRAVIATA:Pura siccome un angelo’ with Chiesa where ‘Ah!Non mutate in triboli le rose dell’amor!’ is a sweet, moving invocation?.
What about ‘OTELLO?….
Let’s stop here!


5.  The ‘Verismo’ school

In the first place we can place a magnificent performance of the ‘PAGLIACCI: Prologo’ which Stracciari recorded, in different degrees of completeness (one or two sides of the 78 disk) several times in his recording career: 3 times for Fonotipia and twice for Columbia. Particular attention is devoted to the first  1904, ancestral recording with piano. Despite the primitive recording technology and the cuts in performance required for allocating the Prolog on one side only of the 78 record,  the S. voice comes out clean and authoritative, ending with a long-sustained and powerful A-flat. Scaling properly the effects of the advancing age, no different sensations can be derived from the subsequent ‘Prologo’ recordings.   ‘ZAZA’: Zazà,piccola zingara’ (Fonotipia 1909) is an aria obviously well sung, but far from stirring emotional responses: the interpreter is a bit ‘cold’.
To my opinion the Titta Ruffo harsh interpretation and even the Gobbi ‘Voce del Padrone’ record  are able to produce in the listener a more intense involvement.
Much more conviction and rendition come out from the record of the Aria ‘GERMANIA: Ferito,prigionier!’by Franchetti, as from a primitive earlier record. Strangely S. completely neglected the ‘Cavalleria rusticana: Il cavallo scalpita’ aria, as can be deduced from his discographical output.      
What about Puccini?
Giacomo, unlike Verdi, has not considered the baritonal figure as important as those of the soprano and the tenor.
Relevant arias however emerge from ‘Fanciulla del West’and ‘Tosca’. 
The Jack Rance profile probably has not fallen within the preferences of S.: as a matter of fact no selection of the first opera (mainly ‘Minnie! Dalla mia casa son partito’) can be found in the voluminous discography of our singer
On the contrary selections from ‘Tosca’ appear from time to time, where S. is heard –as usually- engaged in building a credible outline of the bad Scarpia.

To conclude, may-be other singers could have more properly approached the Verismo heritage, but the involvement of S. in the repertoire have always meant equilibrium and keeping the due distance from  the vulgar resorts to histrionic effects, so often encountered in the usual performances of this type of music.    


  1. The ‘brilliant’ music


Once and for all: Rossini.
The capability to ‘lighten the sounds’ and to ‘sing on the breath’ makes the Rossini’s interpretations very attractive, even if we are not facing a truly Rossinian baritone.
Even dramatic baritones have often been facing the Aria ‘BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA:Largo al factotum’ with success; what however strikes in the Stracciari interpretation is his particular verve and brio, the use of ‘canto a fior di labbro’, ‘messa di voce’ and shadings which flavour any line of the score..              
Once more  (see above) very long phrases are apparently attacked all in one breath, even if the suspect exists of the use of a cunning ‘rubato’.         
Listen to ‘che bel piacere..di qualità..’ 
Likewise in ‘BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA:All’idea di quel metallo, the voices of the ligth tenor Carpi and the true baritone Stracciari blend harmoniously in the virtuoso passages of the score.
It goes without saying that S.voice is always mellow and well-covered, even in the most difficult passages of the score.  

  1. Others  


The Stracciari discography mentions even other composers: Ponchielli (‘La Gioconda’), Bizet (‘Carmen’) and even Wagner (Tannhauser), but a complete analysis of all items would require a monograph entirely dedicated to our Artist.
Basically however 90% of what said above would apply  to these selections.

8.  Stracciari and the songs

Stracciari faced the' light' repertoire for the first time –in the Columbia records- in 1918 with ‘ELEGIE (Massenet)’ , then followed by a set of songs  basically derived by the classic American and Italian repertoire.
From time to time he returned to it, specially to the Italian repertoire singing music from DiCapua, Denza, Cardillo, Tosti and so on, just reviving nostalgic atmospheres of the old Italian world. 
I have always been emotionally involved in listening to dark voices, endowed with artistic values and high sensitivity, facing delicate and light music.      
Could we forget the miniatures created by Carlo Tagliabue or the nostalgic accents expressed by Tancredi Pasero in his rendition of ‘L’ultima canzone’ by Tosti?   
Third in this assembly we can no-doubt include Riccardo Stracciari.
From the high level of his authority in lyric matters, we can sign the Celletti declaration on the accentuated throatiness and a kind of emphasis as emerging from the late records of S. (see above, Chapter 3).
However listening to his last records of Italian classical songs, with his opulent and mellow voice, even darker than before, enveloping every single note, means really reviving a world, (alas! disappeared), full of beauty and poetry.   


Giorgio Sani, Genova Spring 2011