Giuseppe Anselmi (1876-1929) was an immensely gifted tenor whose relatively brief career took him to major theaters on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Catania, Sicily, Anselmi’s musical talents were discovered quite early and he began studies at the Naples Conservatory at the age of twelve. Interestingly, his initial discipline was not voice but violin and he made his debut as a concert violinist in his hometown in 1889. By the age of sixteen, Anselmi discovered his vocal talents and began touring the Italian provinces with a small operetta company. Celebrated music publisher Giulio Ricordi heard the fledgling tenor and encouraged him to pursue vocal studies with the intention of making a career in opera. Anselmi sought out Luigi Mancinelli, the famed conductor, composer and teacher, and began an intensive two year period of vocal study with him. According to most sources, the young tenor’s operatic debut occurred in 1896 as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Royal Opera in Athens. However, Anselmi himself remembered his debut as having taken place a year later in Patras, Greece. Regardless, Anselmi spent the next couple of years with a touring repertory company, bouncing around Greece, Turkey and Egypt in such operas as Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Traviata.
By 1900, Anselmi had made his way back to his homeland, where he made his Italian debut in Genoa as Rodolfo in La Bohème. His years in the far flung provinces had served him well, for he had not only built an impressive repertoire but a fine reputation as well. 1901 saw important debuts at the San Carlo in Naples (as Turiddu) as well as London’s Covent Garden (as the Duke in Rigoletto). Anselmi was then pressed into service as Florindo for the Naples premiere (one of several simultaneous premieres throughout Italy) of Mascagni’s Le Maschere. However, the Mascagni opera turned out to be a failure and London critics were not impressed with Anselmi’s “disagreeable bleating tone”. Luckily, the tenor was able to weather the storm of bad publicity and emerged with his reputation unscathed.
1904 saw Anselmi’s debut at La Scala, where he was to become a popular fixture. Later that same year, he returned to Covent Garden to sing the English premiere of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, this time to glowing reviews. His international career in full swing, Anselmi was enjoying success on the stages of Vienna, Berlin, Lisbon, Paris, Monte Carlo, Brussels and Buenos Aires. He was particularly admired in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw, cities to which he returned annually until the Revolution. It was Madrid, however, that was the city of his greatest successes. Anselmi became an almost mythical figure to Madrid audiences and enjoyed star status there throughout his career.
Anselmi’s health, which was never particularly robust, was adversely affected by the years of travel from city to city. This may account for the fact that he retired from the stage at the early age of 40. He returned to his estate in Zoagli (near Genoa) where he became a bit of a recluse. A lifelong bachelor (who sometimes had to endure tiresome speculation about his sexuality), Anselmi was intensely secretive about his private life and offered few details to interviewers. In his retirement, he spent time coaching young singers and dabbling in composition. He also gave the occasional concert, appearing in public for the last time at a benefit concert in Rapallo in February of 1926…but as a violinist. By this point, sadly, Anselmi’s physical condition was deteriorating. He had contracted tuberculosis, which greatly sapped his strength. On May 27, 1929, he died from pneumonia at his villa at the age of 52. In the ultimate poetic gesture, he bequeathed his heart to the city of Madrid, where it reposes in a crystal urn at the Museum of the Teatro del Regio.
Giuseppe Anselmi was a remarkable artist and one of the few remaining bel canto stylists of his era. His repertoire of over 20 roles was quite diverse, including such operas as Don Giovanni, The Barber of Seville, Don Pasquale, La Favorita, Tosca, La Bohème, Iris, Fedora, La Gioconda, La Traviata, Faust, Werther, Manon, The Pearl Fishers and Yevgeny Onegin. His impressive recorded legacy, made for Fonotipia between 1907 and 1910 (with a handful of titles recorded for Edison in 1913), reveals exemplary musicianship, remarkable technique and impeccable artistry. The voice itself is, for the most part, a pleasing lyric tenor, although Anselmi seems to be plagued by chronic congestion (he can be heard frequently clearing his throat in his recordings) that creeps into his tone from time to time. That being said, Anselmi’s recordings are a marvel to listen to and a magical window through which we can experience a long lost style of singing. In this recording, Anselmi sings "Adieu, Mignon" (or "Addio, Mignon" in Italian) from Thomas' Mignon. This was recorded in Milan for Fonotipia on November 13, 1907.