Backache, Barber and Bing
By Giorgio Tozzi, edited by Walter B. Rudolph at the author’s request
During my early years as a young singer in Chicago I was interested in three languages: English, Italian and French. I understood those languages. I could read them and get along speaking them fairly well. The one language that I was unprepared for was German. That was not because I had an inherent bias against it. I had simply never been exposed to it. I was taught very few pieces in German. And there were so many songs and arias I could sing in the languages with which I was familiar.
Pronunciation of languages was not much of a problem because I always had an affinity for mimicking spoken sounds that I was
taught to say. Having been born in the United States, I of course spoke English [note: his given name was George John Tozzi]. I heard my family speaking Italian and naturally had a knowledge of it. One of my fondest childhood memories was of my father sitting me on his lap and explaining to me in Italian the illustrations that I would point to in his old illustrated Italian dictionary.
Then, too, my entertainment center as a child was an RCA gramophone, an oak-wood square box containing a spring driven turntable with crank on the side, all surmounted by a metal lily-shaped horn. It was the same as the one “Nipper,” the RCA black-eyed dog, listened to so intently (or is it quizzically?) with cocked ear.
My parents had quite a few recordings of operatic arias and Italian songs sung by such luminaries as Caruso, Ruffo, Battistini, Bonci, Tetrazzini and others of that glorious era. And so my ear was inundated with the Italian language as well as those glorious voices.
As for French, I studied two years of French at De Paul Academy, as well as two years of Latin, all of which geared me toward the Romance languages.
In Italy everything I sang was in Italian. I even remember singing the role of Pogner in I Maestricantori di Norimberga (in Italian of course). That was in Genoa around 1951. Actually, that was my first exposure to a complete Wagner opera in which I performed. I still have the Italian score and at this moment can hardly believe I did it. We had very little rehearsal time, but in spite of it, the performance went remarkably well. Maestro Franco Capuana was the conductor. I was very impressed with him, particularly because he was extremely efficient in his use of rehearsal time. He got excellent results with minimum effort on everyone’s part.