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Ella giammai m’amò

lla giammai m’amò (from Don Carlo) is  perhaps the most moving and poignant aria that Verdi, or for that matter, anyone except possibly Mussorgsky, ever wrote for a bass. King Philip controls half the world, but his family and his church defy him. He’s made one of life’s greater mistakes – he’s married a much younger woman. And he’s surprised that she doesn’t love him? The scene in the king’s apartment which starts with this aria is arguably the greatest in  all opera. It’s a world unto itself. Ironically all the opera’s principal characters are in it except for Don Carlo, opera’s most screwed up tenor. That’s saying a lot. A flotilla of psychiatrists couldn’t even start Carlo on a rational course.

Below are 11 interpretations of the aria by 10 basses. Also below are the Italian and English lyrics. Of course, Don Carlos was written to a French libretto, but it sounds better as Don Carlo in Italian. Verdi thought both linguistically and musically in Italian which his why his French operas are usually, outside of France, given in their Italian versions. When available I’ve included the beautiful introduction to the aria

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Feodor Chaliapin


The oldest of these recordings is that by Feodor Chaliapin. It doesn’t show the great bass at his best as he had to rush the aria in order to fit it onto one side on a 78 rpm disc. Even so, he leaves out half of the piece starting at the line that begins ‘Dormirò sol’. Still, anything by Chaliapin is of interest.

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Boris Christoff
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Boris Christoff


The bass that most closely resembled Chaliapin, both in vocal style and dramatic impact was the Bulgarian Boris Christoff. He was supposed to sing King Philip on the first opening night of Rudolf Bing’s tenure as General Manager of the Met in 1950. He was refused an entry visa to the US under the provisions of the McCarran Immigration Act. Ironically, Christoff was strongly opposed to the communist regime in Bulgaria. He was replaced by Cesare Siepi. Though Christoff subsequently sang in the US, he refused to sing at the Met. I remember when he sang excerpts from Boris Godunov on American network TV. His was a dazzling impersonation.

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Jerome Hines
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Jerome Hines


Jerome Hines was an American bass who sang at the Met for more than 40 years. He started out singing the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo, moved up to Philip, and then returned to the Inquisitor near the end of his career. He was 6 1/2 feet tall and made an imposing figure on the stage both vocally and in appearance. He was also an accomplished mathematician. This powerful performance was recorded at the Met in 1955.

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Cesare Siepi


Cesare Siepi sang all the great bass parts in all of the world’s great opera houses. He appeared at the Met from 1950 until 1973 when he left the company because of a dispute with management. He continued to appear in staged productions until 1989. King Philip was one of his most renowned roles.

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Giorgio Tozzi
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Giorgio Tozzi


Giorgio Tozzi (1923-2011) was another American basso active at the Met at the same time as Hines and Siepi and in much the same repertory. The mid 20th century was a really good time for basses in New York.

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Nicolai Ghiarov


Nicolai Ghiaurov (1929-2004) first appeared at the Met in 1965 when the above three singers were still active there. The management was obviously up to its vocal cords in basses. His dark bass led him to most of opera’s major houses.

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Samuel Ramey
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Samuel Ramey


For pure voice Samuel Ramey (b 1942) was hard to beat. Ramey could sing just about anything, from the most florid Rossini to the intensely dramatic Verdi parts. His reading of the aria stands comparison with anyone’s.

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Ferruccio Furlanetto
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Ferruccio Furlaneto

b. 1949

The last three singers are still appearing as Verdi’s morose monarch. Ferruccio Furlanetto (b 1949) sang the role last week at the Met. Listeners are amazed at how much voice he still has left as he approaches his 66th birthday. Good as he still is, he doesn’t have all that he had 30 years ago. The first recording was made at Salzburg in 1986. The second April of this year.

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Rene Papé
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Rene Papé

b. 1964

Rene Papé (b 1964) has been singing at the Met for more than 20 years. He moved up to leading roles in the last decade. He first sang King Philip at the Met in 2006. Opera News reviewed his performance thus: “Most impressive of all was René Pape, who assumed the pivotal role of King Philip for the first time with the company. His timbre, as in his recent Met Méphistophélès, was richer and more varied than in some of his Wagner roles, and his complex dramatic portrayal anchored the production.”

[/three_fourth_last] [divider_padding] [one_fourth] Ildar Abdrazakov
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Ildar Abdrazakov

b. 1976

Ildar Abdrazakov was born in Ufa, Russia in 1976. He’s been singing at the Met since 2004 where he’s already logged 129 performances in leading roles while still on the sunny side of 40. His lyric bass will likely get better as he ages. He has yet to sing King Philip in New York.

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Ella giammai m’amò!
No, quel cor chiuso è a me,
amor per me non ha!
Io la rivedo ancor
contemplar triste in volto
il mio crin bianco il dì
che qui di Francia venne.
No, amor per me non ha,

Dove son?…Quei doppier
presso a finir!… L’ aurora imbianca
il mio veron!
Già spunta il dì! passar veggo
i miei giorni lenti!
Il sonno, o Dio! sparì
dai miei occhi languenti!
Dormirò sol nel manto mio regal
quando la mia giornata
è giunta a sera,
dormirò sol sotto la vôlta nera,
là, nell’ avello dell’ Escurial.
Se il serto regal a me
desse il poter
di leggere nei cor,
che Dio può sol veder!…
Se dorme il prence,
veglia il traditore;
il serto perde il re,
il consorte l’ onore!

She never loved me!
No, her heart is closed to me,
she doesn’t love me!
I still recall
how sad she looked
when she saw my white hair
the day she arrived from France.
No, she does not love me,

Where am I? Those candles
about to die! Dawn whitens
my balcony!
The day has begun! I see
my days slowly draw out!
Sleep, oh God! vanished
from my languishing eyes!
I will sleep alone, wrapped up in my regal mantle
when my day
has come to an end,
I will sleep alone under the dark vault
there, in the tomb in the Escurial.
If the royal crown
could give me the power
to read into the hearts
that only God can see!
If the Prince sleeps,
the traitor is awake;
the King loses the crown
and the husband his honour!