di Salvatore Margarone
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tito Schipa’s death.
In order to not forget him, we would like to remember Tito Schipa by running briefly through his life and career and telling some titbis.
Tito Schipa was born Raffaele Attilio Amedeo Schipa in Lecce (a town in the south of Italy) on the 22nd of December 1888 (even if his birth was recorded on the Civil Register only a year later). He is considered one of the most important tenor in the history of the Opera and his excellent performing technique is still contemporary.
His nickname was ‘Titu’ and it was given to him when he was a boy to his not very high stature (Titu in local dialect means “tiny short man”). When he was only thirteen, he entered the local seminar where he started studying composition. His teachers were Alceste Gerunda, when he was in Lecce, and Emilio Piccoli, when later he moved to Milan. His debut was on the 4th of February 1909 in Vercelli, Pedimont with La Traviata. His success begun in Naples in 1914 when he performed ‘Tosca’ excellently: from that very moment, he became famous as Tito Schipa.
In 1915 he was in Milan at the Teatro Dal Verme where he sang in ‘La Traviata’ and in ‘Falstaff’. In that season he debuted also as leggero tenor at the legendary Teatro La Scala with ‘Prince Igor’ and ‘Manon’. His performance in the Puccini’s opera in 1891 in Madrid marked the beginning of his success abroad too. In 1919 he became famous also in the U.S.A. where he lived for about 15 years. In Chicago he married the French soubrette Antoinette Michel d’Ogoy. In the same city, on the 4th of December, Tito Schipa debuted with ‘Rigoletto’ directed by Gino Marinuzzi. From there to the Metropolitan Opera of New York was a short step and in 1932 he succeeded Beniamino Gigli. At that time, the Italian tenor was an idol in America.
The breach of his marriage (from his wife he had two daughters, Elisa and Lianan) and the homesickness brought him back to Italy. Here, besides making the rounds on the most prestigious stages, he went on with his career as an actor started in Hollywood (we remember movies such us ‘To live’ and ‘Three men in tails’).
During the Second World War, he married the actress Diana Prandi who gave him a son in 1946, Tito Jr.
He was on tour abroad so often that he could speak fluently four different languages and could sing in over a ten languages. On the 14th of April 1955 he definitively left the scene with ‘The elixir of love’ at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari. He went back to the U.S.A. (where he was still loved by the crowd) and in the city of New York, on the 16th of December, he dead for a cardiovascular collapse.
A crowd attended the funeral of Tito Schipa which was held in the Church of the Holy Cross in Lecce on the 3rd of January 1966. Since then, the never forgot tenor rests in the cemetery in Lecce in a tomb near the Church of Saints Nicolò and Cataldo.
His melodious voice echoes every day in Sant’Oronzo Square in Lecce as the clock strikes midday.