Galliano Masini (1896-1986) was born in Livorno to a pasta maker and his impoverished family. His schooling was almost nonexistent and he began his working life as an ice cream vendor at the age of eight. In the ensuing years, young Masini worked as a blacksmith, watermelon vendor, construction worker, mechanic and a longshoreman. His first venture into singing was at age eighteen, when he joined a dockworkers’ chorus, initially as a baritone. After joining the chorus of a local opera company, opportunity presented itself. During a 1921 production of Lodoletta, Masini was asked to sing the brief tenor solo that is heard in the opera’s final act. In the audience that night was a very impressed Pietro Mascagni, the opera’s composer. Mascagni remarked that, “It would be a crime for that young man to not study!” Encouraged by this pronouncement, the city of Livorno set aside a stipend for the young tenor (not a large sum, it would seem, since Masini was still compelled to work at the docks to make a living!), which allowed him to study with renowned tenor Angelo Bendinelli.
Masini made his way to Milan for a further period of intense vocal study. He auditioned for Toscanini at La Scala, but was turned down due to his inexperience. The young tenor returned to Livorno where he made his formal debut on Christmas Day, 1924 as Cavaradossi in Tosca. His success was extraordinary and the young man seemed destined for a rapid rise to stardom. Unfortunately, Masini could be an impulsive and even difficult individual, which may account for the fact that his career was relegated to the Italian provinces for a number of years. Artistic differences with Mascagni during a 1926 L’Amico Fritz in Florence caused the composer (who had formerly championed Masini) to remark, “This is what happens when you entrust Fritz to a former chorister”. The outraged tenor stormed out of the theater and the two men didn’t speak for years (the two eventually patched up their differences when Masini was invited to sing Turiddu during the 50th anniversary celebration of the composer’s Cavalleria Rusticana at La Scala in 1940).
Eventually, Masini broke from the provincial ranks and made his debut at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in 1930. He remained a popular fixture with the company for the next decade. In 1932 he made his first appearance at La Scala as Signorello in the world premiere of Marinuzzi’s Palla de' Mozzi. Masini also created the role of Paco in the premiere of de Falla’s La Vida Breve in 1934. The tenor was quite popular at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, as well as in Rio, where he appeared many times between 1930 and 1947. He also appeared to great acclaim at the Arena di Verona, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Baths of Caracalla and at the Opéra de Paris. He was a guest artist in Chicago during the 1937/38 season and made his Met debut on December 14, 1938 as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. He followed this with Radames in Aïda and Cavaradossi in Tosca. A critic in the New York Times said of Masini, “The Metropolitan may consider itself fortunate in the possession of another real tenor.”. Sadly, the tenor graced the stage of the Met for less than a month in eight performances of the aforementioned roles, never to return.
Following the war, Masini’s career went into decline, with fewer and fewer performances at lesser theaters. He tried his luck at the cinema, including a film version of Pagliacci, which was released in 1948. Masini essayed Otello in 1955, but the 58-year-old tenor’s voice was beginning to show signs of wear and reviews were mixed. His final performance was as Canio in his hometown in 1957 at the age of 61. Galliano Masini enjoyed three decades of retirement until his death on February 15, 1986, just one week after celebrating his 90th birthday.
Galliano Masini had barely a year of vocal training and possessed almost no formal musical education. Yet, he was able to master a vast repertoire of roles from such works as La Bohème, Manon Lescaut, Turandot, Andrea Chénier, Fedora, Francesca da Rimini, Il Piccolo Marat, Adriana Lecouvreur, Rigoletto, La Forza del Destino, Carmen and Die Meistersinger. Unfortunately, his recorded legacy is sparse. A handful of discs for Columbia and Cetra recorded between 1929 and 1947 are all modern listeners have with which to evaluate this remarkable singer. He was not subtle or refined and he seemed unable (or, perhaps, just unwilling) to sing at any volume less than forte. Galliano Masini was a powerful and committed performer, however, and his recordings attest to the fact that he was an incredibly effective vocal artist. Here, Masini sings "Mia madre, la mia vecchia madre" from Giordano's Fedora. This was recorded for Cetra in 1947.