Bernardo de Muro (1881-1955) was the possessor of one of the most thrilling dramatic tenor voices of the early 20th century. Born in Sassari, Sardinia, he began his vocal studies at Rome’s Santa Cecilia Academy. His unofficial debut (under the stage name Bernardo de Satta) occurred at the Teatro Quirino in Rome in April of 1906 as Canio in Pagliacci. His performance was, however, less than successful and the tenor took a few years to perfect his technique before venturing onto the opera stage again. Interestingly, apart from this solitary performance, de Muro never sang Pagliacci again. Four years later, the tenor made his official operatic debut as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Costanzi in Rome. This time, both public and critics were in agreement that Bernardo de Muro was a tenorial force to be reckoned with and the young tenor’s career took off. His La Scala debut took place in 1912 in the title role of Verdi’s Don Carlo. De Muro’s career took him to the major theaters of Bari, Lecce, Venice, Florence, Genoa, Naples, Turin, Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Havana. In the U.S., however, where the tenor settled during the 1920s, he sang primarily for provincial companies. De Muro’s repertoire was relatively small…about fifteen roles in all…and focused largely on verismo operas such as Iris, Andrea Chénier, Il Piccolo Marat and La Fanciulla del West. The Sardinian tenor’s favorite role was Folco in Mascagni’s Isabeau. So closely identified was he with this role that he titled his memoirs “Quando ero Folco” (When I Was Folco”).
Bernardo de Muro’s massive voice was in direct contrast to his physical characteristics. Barely five feet tall, the tenor cut less than a dashing figure on stage and tended to avoid heroic roles. Reflecting on this subject late in life, de Muro said, “I don’t know precisely how much my height has harmed my career. I must say that if I’d had another four inches on my head, I might have sung such operas as Otello…” He went on to opine that, “I think it is ridiculous to see a little man shouting ‘Everyone flee!’ to a crowd of people, some of whom cut an athletic figure, to have them scatter.” Despite his diminutive stature, de Muro enjoyed a career of more than three decades. Apart from periodic interruptions due to poor health (de Muro suffered from acute colitis and hemorrhoids…NOT a good combination for an opera singer), the tenor sang regularly through the 1930s, bidding farewell to his Italian public at the Caracalla with his beloved Folco in 1938. Back in the States, he sang less and less regularly as the 1940s dawned, giving his final performance as Radames at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 15, 1944 when he was nearly sixty-three years of age. Following his retirement from the stage, de Muro dedicated his time to teaching and opened a voice studio with his wife, American soprano Helen Wait. When his health began to fail in his early seventies, he moved back to Italy. Following a brave battle with liver cancer, Bernardo de Muro died in Rome on October 27, 1955, just one week shy of his seventy-fourth birthday.
Bernardo de Muro recorded nearly fifty sides for H.M.V. and Victor between 1912 and 1928. These discs reveal an exciting, dramatic voice with smoothly blended registers and an intensely resonant top. De Muro is joined by baritone Ernesto Badini (1876-1938) in this recording of "Tace la notte; Deserto sulla terra" from the end of Act I of Verdi's Il Trovatore. This recording was made in Milan for H.M.V. in 1917.