César Vezzani (1888-1951) was a Corsican tenor, born into an impoverished family in the town of Bastia and raised in Toulon, France. Vezzani, an avid singer from an early age, traveled to Paris at age twenty in search of a voice teacher. He auditioned for the Conservatory there, greatly impressing the faculty with his fine natural instrument. In spite of the fact that he was barely literate and spoke French in an accent of the lowest class, he was awarded a scholarship. Vezzani was placed in the class of soprano and fellow Corsican Agnès Borgo (1879-1958). Under the tutelage of Borgo, the young tenor solidified his technique, polished his diction and began to master the great operatic roles. Within three years, he completed his coursework and began auditioning for work. He was offered a contract by the Opéra-Comique, where he made his debut in the title role of Grétry’s Richard Coeur de Lion on December 17, 1911. Vezzani became quite popular at the Opéra-Comique and spent the next three seasons there in a variety of roles.
In the summer of 1914, Vezzani and Borgo (now husband and wife) were invited for a series of guest appearances with Boston Opera, followed by a U.S. tour. Unfortunately, this opportunity was never realized. In late July, war broke out in Europe and Vezzani was called to serve in the French army. He was deployed to the front, was wounded in action and spent a good part of the war recuperating in an army hospital. In 1919, the tenor returned to the Opéra-Comique after a five-year absence and went about picking up his career. What should have been a major international career wound up being a primarily provincial affair. After leaving the Opéra-Comique in the mid-1920s, Vezzani launched into a series of appearances in the theaters of such cities as Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulon, Brussels, Beziers, Oran and Algiers. However, the tenor found himself appearing in secondary venues most of the time and was never able to resume the momentum of his early career.
Over the course of the next two decades, Vezzani crisscrossed the European and North African provinces, singing the most demanding repertoire…Manon, Werther, Faust, Herodiade, Sigurd, Dinorah, L’Africaine, Les Huguenots, La Juive, Carmen, Guillaume Tell, La Favorite, Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, Il Trovatore, Aïda, Otello…sometimes barely taking a day between engagements. Yet, the voice never showed signs of flagging and remained amazingly intact. In 1946, the fifty-eight-year-old tenor was invited back to the Opéra-Comique by Louis Musy, Vezzani’s former colleague and now director of the theater. The invitation was not to appear with the company, however, but to audition on the stage of his early triumphs. The veteran tenor swallowed his pride, accepted the invitation and sang the audition for Musy and a panel of administrators. Vezzani was not engaged.
Following his disappointing reception in Paris, Vezzani was given a contract as principal tenor at the Toulon Opera. During a rehearsal of Sigurd in the fall of 1948, the sixty year old tenor collapsed and was taken to a local hospital. Vezzani had suffered a massive and debilitating stroke, one from which he never recovered. He was taken to his birthplace, Bastia, where he lingered, totally paralyzed, for three years. His meager savings were soon depleted and he found himself destitute. Former colleagues came to his aid and helped to support him during his illness. Eventually, he was moved to the hospital in Marseille where he passed away on November 11, 1951 at the age of 63.
There are many possible reasons that Vezzani never had the career he deserved. The outbreak of WWI caused a lengthy interruption in his career during a crucial early phase. With very few exceptions, the tenor’s entire repertoire was deeply rooted in mid-19th century French opera, which made him seem old fashioned and out of vogue. Vezzani could also be touchy, obstinate and difficult to get along with (a fact that his three ex-wives probably could have attested to). Vezzani did, however, enjoy a lengthy and productive career in the recording studio. Between 1912 and 1933, the tenor recorded some 170 sides for Odeon and H.M.V. These recordings showcase a remarkable instrument. Vezzani’s voice was a true dramatic tenor with an easy, ringing top, yet capable of sustained lyricism. His artistry, while not always subtle, is precise. There is no scooping or slurring of notes, no overly long held top notes, and yet, Vezzani’s performances are never anything short of thrilling. Here, Vezzani sings "Asile héréditaire" from Rossini's Guillaume Tell. This was recorded in Paris for HMV on June 27, 1924.