Bernardo De Muro was born in Tempio Pausania on 3 November 1881 and died in Rome on 27 October 1955.
He only ever completed elementary school studies.
He began singing by playing songs from his own homeland as self-taught.
In 1901 he moved to Rome, where he received an audition from the famous baritone and teacher Antonio Cotogni.
In 1903, he took part in a competition for admission to the Liceo Musicale di Santa Cecilia and won one of the two places available for the tenor voice. Here, under the guidance of Cotogni, he began his studies as a baritone.
After dropping out of high school, he studied tenor string with maestro Enrico Sbriscia and, later, in 1905, thanks to the recommendation of the famous tenor Francesco Marconi, he studied under the guidance of Maestro Alfredo Martino.
He made his debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 11 May 1910 as Turiddu in “Cavalleria Rusticana” by Mascagni under the direction of Tullio Serafin.
The beginning of his career saw him singing in works such as “Africana”, “Carmen”, “Ruy Blas”, “Andrea Chénier” and “Cavalleria rusticana”.
On 12 May 1910, he made his debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome in “Cavalleria rusticana”. In January 1911 at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari he perfomed in “Ruy Blas” by Filippo Marchetti, which in June of the same will resume alongside the soprano Conchita Supervia and the baritone Francesco Cigada, followed by his debut in “Carmen” by G. Bizet.
What will mark his decisive arrival, however, takes place in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala on the evening of 20 January 1912 with Pietro Mascagni’s Isabeau (the Italian premiered simultaneously with the Teatro La Fenice in Venice) with Adelina Agostinelli-Quiroli and Giuseppina Bertazzoli with the direction by Tullio Serafin. De Muro gives a decisive performance, while at the Fenice, directed by the same Mascagni, the work was a disappointment.
In the words of maestro Tullio Serafin on this event:
“… I immediately decided to choose the tenor who was to make the difficult and difficult part of Folco – and I decided on a young man, practically a neophyte. I’ve always tried to trust the young forces of singing, and I’ve never regretted it. That young man was a Sardinian and his name was Bernardo De Muro. His voice possessed such intensity, and such a ring of treble that it would have been called ideal for the part. I spent the whole summer preparing it, with focused dedication. He deserved it because he was good, enthusiastic and disciplined in the studio. My commitment, however, also stemmed from a certain concern. I knew as a test the character of Mascagni. I was afraid that he might try to put sticks in my wheels, and I wanted to take all possible precautions in order to give an impeccable interpretation.
When I had completed the preparation of the tenor, I entrusted it to maestro Farinelli so that he always kept it well exercised in the part. Farinelli was one of my best substitutes, an excellent musician, skilled in preparing singers. And what’s more, he was Mascagni’s son-in-law! I think I can say that nobody could have worked with more attention and care.
Yet all this was not enough. Mascagni came to Milan, listened to De Muro and began to have some minor reservations, to appear doubtful, to look at me with suspicion. What did he want? It was not difficult to understand – he wanted to direct him. Then I took Farinelli aside and told him, “Try to make your father-in-law understand that there’s no problem. I will direct Isabeau at La Scala, and De Muro will sing.”
Shortly thereafter, Isabeau was announced at the Fenice in Venice on the same day as the premiere at La Scala and under the direction of the author. War had been declared. And it was noted on 20 January, the evening of the premiere, when I saw an officer of the Milanese Prefecture come to the theatre, with the order to suspend the opera. The reason? The author did not approve the execution, due to the tenor, who was not ready or suitable for the part of Folco. Well, the intimidation, for that time, did not win her over. The order had arrived when the doors of La Scala had already been opened and the public was beginning to flow in. The ‘protest’ therefore no longer had executive value. And the part was played. Of it I will say only that, when in the first act the tenor must inhabit the role of Folco. De Muro sang his heart out with such vigour that the whole room was full of vibrations. Small, skinny, and short as he was, he was excited by the danger of course. His mind was upset, and for this reason his powerful voice came out so impetuous as to seem to be a cry of protest. At the end of the piece, the emotion of the audience was unleashed, with one of those shots that can hardly be forgotten by those who witnessed it. De Muro unsuitable for Folco’s part? And to think that for many years he was the interpreter par excellence, everywhere!”
In fact, shortly after on 24 April he played Folco alongside Maria Farneti at the Teatro Grande in Brescia and then on 4 May at the Teatro Alighieri in Ravenna.
After La Scala, he sang in “La Fanciulla di Pskov” by Rimski Korsakov (Tutcia) with Feodor Chaliapin and Tullio Serafin on the podium, in “Don Carlo” with Nazzareno De Angelis, Giannina Russ and Carlo Galeffi (1912). In 1912, he also sang in “Carmen” at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice with Conchita Supervia in the titular role.
In 1913, he participated in a South American tour (Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Rosario) with the Walter Mocchi’s Company, in which he sang in “Isabeau”, “Carmen”, “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Iris”.
In the same year, he debuted in Spain at the Teatro Liceu in Barcelona (Carmen).
On 14 January 1914, he was at the Costanzi in Rome with “Isabeau” alongside Gilda Dalla Rizza and Elvira Casazza, and on the 24th of the same month he would play Turiddu in “Cavalleria Rusticana”, where his Santuzza was played by Emma Carelli. In 1915, he sings for the first time at the Costanzi in “Aida” and “Fanciulla del West”.
In May-June of the same year, and having announced by a large advertising campaign, which indicated him as the “new Tamagno” the impresario Mocchi would bring him back to South America, to the Cólon in Buenos Aires. Together with him would be: Caruso, Chaliapin, Lazaro, De Luca, Titta Ruffo, Galli-Curci, Barrientos, Rosa Raisa, then, for the second and last time in Rosario with “Aida” and “Carmen”, directed by Gino Marinuzzi.
Returning to Italy, in 1916 he joined the Italian Army, where he served the homeland as a corporal. He would still be allowed to sing in charity concerts and at the Teatro Regio in Parma in “Aida” with Celestina Boninsegna, at the Carlo Felice in Genoa (Carmen) and to debut the role of Manrico (Il Trovatore) at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan with Fanny Anitua and Domenico Viglione-Borghese.
In 1918, he sang at the Teatro Real in Madrid in Andrea Chénier’s first location with Titta Ruffo as Gérard. He would also sing in “Carmen”, “Aida” and “Trovatore” at the same place.
In 1920, he returned to South America. This time it was Buenos Aires, at the Teatro Coliseo with a company that also included Beniamino Gigli and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi.
At the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro he debuted in “The Condor” by Gomes.
The following year would see him in Cuba.
In 1923 he participated in the Rome Costanzi at an extraordinary performance of “Aida”, with Ernestina Poli Randaccio and Enrico Molinari, directed by Pietro Mascagni.
Invited by the President of Peru, he did numerous concerts in the country. During the journey, he meets the singer Helen Wait, who on 2 November 1927 in Cristobal (Panama), De Muro would later marry. From their union a daughter was born, Jeanna Elena (Dina).
After their marriage, he began his long stretches in the United States, where he sang in numerous theatres, though he never sang at the Metropolitan.
He did not have a very long career. After about fifteen years, his voice had been put to a severe test above all by the “realist” repertoire, and began to have serious problems, so much so as to cause him to pause frequently, which quickly removed him from the great “circuit” of the most famous international theatres.
In 1933, he sang in the world premiere of “Campane di guerra” by Virgilio Ranzato at the Teatro Puccini in Milan.
His “official” farewell to the great Italian stages on 31 July 1938 in Rome (Terme di Caracalla) with his famous “Isabeau” directed by Pietro Mascagni.
The final farewell took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York on 15 October 1944, with “Aida”.
During his career he had sung, among other performances, 380 performances by Isabeau, 198 from Aida, 194 from Il Trovatore and 140 from Fanciulla del West.
Gifted with rare vocal power and a shining high register, he was limited by his short stature (he was barely more than a meter and a half) which did not allow him to interpret certain characters without being ridiculed, as he himself said in his autobiography “When I was Folco”. “If I had another ten centimetres of stature, I would have sung Norma, Otello and other works that require a decorative figure.”
After retiring he taught singing in New York until 1954.
Bernardo De Muro died in Rome on 27 October 1955.
He left a discography of great interest, made up of forty-nine 78-rpm records (two of which were unpublished) ranging from 1912 to 1928. They were released on CD by the Bongiovanni record company in 1981 on the occasion of the centenary of his birth (for the discography see the dedicated page).
His recordings do not fully capture all his splendour, but they nevertheless reflect his ease and beautiful tempering while highlighting the powerful phrasing. Of particular note are the pieces from Isabeau and Fanciulla del West.R. Celletti
© Pietro Sandro Beato 2014