Mario Filippeschi (1907-1979) was an extraordinary spinto-dramatic tenor who enjoyed his greatest success during the decade and a half following the Second World War. Born in the Tuscan village of Montefoscoli to a farming family, Filippeschi sang in the local church choir as a youth, but gave no serious thought to a career on the stage. It was during a three-year hitch in the army in his early 20s that the young man discovered that his voice was something out of the ordinary. At age 23, he began vocal studies with a Neapolitan teacher by the name of Vicidomini. Over the course of the next five years, Filippeschi and Vicidomini worked on nothing but vocal exercises. Although the tenor spent an additional two years with another vocal coach, it was Vicidomini who solidified Filippeschi’s technique.
Filippeschi had just celebrated his 30th birthday when he made his operatic debut. The role was Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor…a rather unlikely lyric part…at a small company in Colorno. The very next day, he sang the Duke in Rigoletto to glowing reviews. During the next few seasons, Filippeschi’s career took him throughout the Italian provinces, with appearances in Rome, Parma, Bologna, Lucca, Busseto, Bari, Florence, Padua, Palermo, Lecce, Naples and Trieste. Although he concentrated on lyric roles during the first few years of his career, he began adding more dramatic repertoire after the war.
Filippeschi’s career burgeoned during the 1940s and ‘50s. His repertoire expanded to 40 roles, including Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, Calaf in Turandot, Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur, Loris in Fedora, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, Radames in Aïda, Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino, Manrico in Il Trovatore, Enzo in La Gioconda, Pollione in Norma, Arnoldo in Guglielmo Tell, Fernando in La Favorita, Arturo in I Puritani, Nadir in I Pescatori di Perle, Don José in Carmen, and the title roles in Faust, Andrea Chénier and Don Carlo. Performances in the major theaters of Milan, Pisa, Verona, Nice, Arles, Brussels, London, Valencia, Barcelona, Lisbon, Bucharest, Athens, Cairo, Rio, Sao Paulo, Bilbao, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, as well as extended tours of Germany and Holland kept the tenor busy for nearly a quarter century.
Desiring to spend less time on the road and more time with his family, Filippeschi made the decision to abandon his career at the peak of his vocal powers. Following a final performance as the Duke of Mantua in Helsinki in 1961, the 54-year-old tenor left the operatic stage and never looked back. Filippeschi opened an antique furniture store near the Ponte Vecchio, which became a gathering place for aspiring tenors who were eager to converse with the great artist. After nearly two decades of peaceful retirement, Mario Filippeschi passed away on Christmas morning, 1979 at the age of 72.
Mario Filippeschi has never really been given the credit he deserves…except, possibly, in his homeland. The tenor was never placed in the same class as the immortals of his generation… Björling, Tucker, Peerce, del Monaco, Tagliavini, et al…and one can only wonder why. Perhaps it is due to the fact that Filippeschi never sang in North America. He also was a bit short on subtlety and his voice could seem a bit strident at times. On the other hand, Mario Filippeschi was a versatile artist, whose repertoire ranged from bel canto to verismo with a Russian work (Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina) thrown in for good measure. He was an effective stage actor and his brassy timbre and piercing top notes (he was the proud possessor of a solid high D) easily carried to the back of the largest opera houses in the world. In the final analysis, it all boils down to personal taste. Luckily, Filippeschi left behind many recordings for HMV, Cetra and Columbia (as well as numerous pirate recordings of live performances) which allow today’s listeners to form their own opinions. In this recording, Filippeschi gives a thrilling rendition of the cabaletta "Corriam! Voliam!" from Rossini's Guglielmo Tell. This was captured during a performance at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna in 1957.