On 27th December 1888, Tito Schipa, one of the most celebrated Italian opera singers of the first half of the 20th century, was born in Lecce. His captivating performances drew audiences in the United States, South America, and Italy, establishing him as a prominent tenor.
Schipa’s early repertoire featured Verdi and Puccini roles, later expanding to include works by Donizetti, Cilea, and Massenet. Rising from humble origins, he gained fame with the Chicago and New York Metropolitan Opera companies in America. Regular appearances in Buenos Aires and, later in his career, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Rome Opera solidified his international acclaim.
While some critics cited limitations in his voice’s power and range, Schipa captivated audiences wherever he performed.
Early Life of Schipa
Born Raffaele Attilio Amedeo Schipa in the Le Scalze district of Lecce, he hailed from a working-class neighbourhood with Albanian heritage. His father was a customs officer.
Noticed for his talent by a primary school teacher and later encouraged by Bishop Gennaro Trama, Schipa pursued music in his local seminary. Seeking broader opportunities, he moved to Milan to work with opera singer Emilio Piccoli, making his stage debut in 1909 at the age of 21 as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata in Vercelli.
Though not an instant success, Schipa gradually gained recognition, and a brilliant Tosca performance at Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1914 marked a turning point. His partnership with soprano Amelita Galli-Curci led to a successful US debut in Chicago in 1919. Over 20 years, he associated with the Chicago Opera Company and the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Star of the gramophone
Schipa’s career thrived with the rise of the gramophone with his first audio recordings in 1913.
He had a colourful social life, facing financial setbacks through associations with figures connected to Mafia boss Al Capone.
Married three times, Schipa had two daughters with his first wife, Antoinette Michel d’Ogoy, and a son with his third wife, Teresa Borgna. Besides singing, he conducted and directed a singing school in Budapest during his post-operatic career.
Living in Manhattan, he passed away in 1965 at the age of 78 due to diabetes.