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Hipólito Lázaro

Hipólito Lázaro Higueras was born in the popular district of Gracia in the bosom of a humble family. As a child he sang with an amateur choir called "L'Oreneta". He began to work from a very young age in various trades. He soon stood out as a singer. He debuted at the Principal Theatre in Olot performing "Marina y Bohemios" while performing military service, although his official presentation did not take place until 1910 at the Novedades Theatre in Barcelona singing Donizetti's Favourite with an Italian opera company directed by Arturo Baratta and Sebastián Rafart. That same year he sang in Valencia and Palma de Mallorca and moved to Italy, where he performed with Rigoletto in Ferrara.
In 1911 he sang in the London Opera House and other theatres of England under the pseudonym of Antonio Manuele and on his return to Italy he was hired in Ferrara, Padua, Treviso and Rome, where he replaced Alessandro Bonci in an apoteósico Rigoletto with Riccardo Stracciari. After a tour of Egypt with performances in Cairo and Alexandria, he returns to the London Opera House in London.
In 1912 he was hired by Covent Garden for the opera Traviata with Luisa Tetrazzini. However, personal disagreements during trials will lead to termination of contract. Lazarus will never sing in that theater.
In the same year, he will have a tough encounter with the publisher Tito Ricordi, who sees in Lazarus a great rival for the Italian tenors he protected.
In 1913 will be an important year in his life when he meets the composer Pietro Mascagni who was very impressed by the characteristics of his voice during performances of Isabeau in Genoa and Iris in the Costanzi Theatre in Rome, performances that suppose the farewell of the stages of the soprano Emma Carelli who asks to have Lazaro by his side.
The great consecration will come that same year as Pietro Mascagni entrusts him with the creation of the role of Ugo of the Parisian opera, opera with libretto by Gabriele d'Annunzio, in the premiere of this opera that he had at La Scala in Milan on December 15, 1913 directed by Mascagni himself.
In 1914 will be the year of the first South American tour that will take Lázaro to debut in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Montevideo among other cities.
That same year, 1914, one of Lázaro's most desired debuts took place, that of Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu singing Rigoletto on the night of 12th November. From that very moment a special connection was established between Lázaro and the Catalan public that would venerate him throughout his career. 

La Scala in Milan calls him again for some important performances of Rigoletto with the baritone Carlo Galeffi and In 1915 he embarked with an extraordinary opera company formed by businessman Adolfo Bracale to Buenos Aires, where he debuted at the Teatro Colón on the night of 19 May with the opera Francesca da Rimini with soprano Rosa Raisa. 

The prolongation of the tour will take him to another important city in his life: Havana. He debuted at the National Theatre on the evening of 1 February 1916 singing Tosca, together with soprano Tina Poli Randaccio. In Havana she will meet Juanita Almeida, whom she will marry that same year. 

In 1917 he sang some historic performances of Faust (Gounod) in "El toreo" of Mexico before 32,000 people and in which he was forced to repeat every night three times his aria "Salve dimora casta e pura" (Salve dimora casta e pura).

That same year he will star in the Mexican premiere of Pietro Mascagni's opera Isabeau. 

Lázaro is among the best singers in the world and the Metropolitan of New York requests his presence. On 31 January 1918 he made his debut, againwith Rigoletto, together with Maria Barrientos and Giuseppe de Luca with such an overwhelming success that he sang "La donna è mobile" despite the explicit prohibitions of the theatre and the New York Times newspaper dedicated a cover entitled: "A spanish new tenor makes a hit in the Metropolitan". 

In 1918 he will perform I Puritani , also with Maria Barrientos, an opera that had not been heard in the Metropolitan since its premiere in the 1883-84 season, creating a real enthusiasm.

Lázaro will sing at the Metropolitan for 3 years alongside the greatest figures of the moment such as Barrientos, Geraldine Farrar, Pasquale Amato, Giuseppe de Luca, Antonio Scotti and Claudia Muzio and in titles as varied as Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Aida, I Puritani, La reine fiamette (Lerroux), Rigoletto and Cavalleria Rusticana.

The Carnegie Hall in New York will also listen to him in two concerts and with the company of the Metropolitan he will sing in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington and other American cities.

The American public will idolize Lazarus to the point of writing to the director of the Metropolitan, Giulio Gatti Casazza to offer him more titles in the seasons. They will be moments of great rivalry with Enrico Caruso, singer and habitual of that scene.

On April 25, 1920, with a concert, Lázaro will bid farewell to the Metropolitan.

In 1921 will be another milestone in his career. Pietro Mascagni chooses him as interpreter for the world premiere of his opera "Il piccolo Marat" in Rome.

Lázaro will become the greatest exponent of this role due to his enormous vocal difficulties. No one in history can even match his performance and this opera will remain in his repertoire throughout his career.

He did not make his debut at the Teatro Real in Madrid until 1922, with Aida becoming from that moment on one of the favourite singers of the Madrid public.

At the end of the Madrid season he will embark on a new tour of South America with an extraordinary company and with other personalities such as Elvira de Hidalgo, Ofelia Nieto or Gilda dalla Rizza. 

In 1923 will see his return to the Liceu de Barcelona and Real de Madrid seasons along with other Spanish cities. 

In 1924 there will be another important moment in his career. Composer Umberto Giordano will ask him to perform the world premiere of his opera "La cena delle beffe" at the Scala Theatre in Milan under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. On December 20, 1924, Lazarus became the first Gianetto in history. 

The following years he is claimed by the majority of great theatres and participates in the seasons of the San Carlo of Naples, Arena of Verona, Scala of Milan, Costanzi of Rome, Liceu of Barcelona, Real of Madrid, the Fenice of Venice or the Opera of Paris where he will debut in 1928 with Rigoletto (G.Verdi), along with many other theatres.

His performances in Paris of Il piccolo Marat directed by Pietro Mascagni himself will cause a real commotion. 

These are glory years, Lázaro is especially an idol in Barcelona where for 24 years he will offer the Barcelona public his creations by Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Favorita, Aida, L'Africana, Marina, Tosca, Gli Ugonotti, La Dolores, Carmen, Euda d'Uriach, Faust, La Gioconda, L'elisir d'amore, El estudiante de Salamanca, Lucia di Lammermoor, Doña Francisquita, I Puritani, Il piccolo Marat i La Bohème.

In 1929 he sang historic performances of Pietro Mascagni's opera Isabeau at the Arena Theatre in Verona with Eva Turner.

In 1930 the Carlo Felice Theatres in Genoa (with Isabeau and Tina Poli Randaccio) and Coliseu dos Recreiros in Lisbon (with Tosca and Fidela Campiña) will be the last to hear his voice outside Spain over the next few years.

The seasons of almost all the Spanish theatres will be played over the next 3 years.

In 1933 he returned to Florence (Il piccolo Marat), Genoa (L'Africana with Giannina Arangi Lombardi) and Milan (Il piccolo Marat).

In 1934, at the Liceu de Barcelona, he starred in the premiere of the opera Euda d'Uriach by Amadeu Vives and in 1935 in El estudiante de Salamanca by Joan Gaig. 

That same year, 1935, he will be the tenor chosen to commemorate the centenary of the premiere of Vincenzo Bellini's I Puritani at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, in historic performances alongside Mercè Capsir and Apollo Granforte. Lazarus and Capsir repeat every night the duo "Vieni fra queste braccia" that forces the tenor to ascend to the natural Re.

On September 15 of the same year, Barcelona paid tribute to him by giving his name to the street in the district of Gracia where he had been born.

In 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out. His firm anti-fascist values will create many problems for him and he is "recruited" by the Theatre Committee of the CNT to sing all over Catalonia the performances they decide, even being forced to perform several performances on the same day in different localities. His repertoire includes many zarzuela titles such as La Dolorosa, Los Gavilanes, Doña Francisquita and La Tempestad. His passport was withdrawn and he was unable to reunite with his family who were in Cuba.

In 1939 he was informed that he had to go to Paris for a propaganda concert in favour of the regime. Lazarus firmly declines the compromise, arguing that if he had not given in to fascism in Italy, he would not do so now. His extreme and risky stance curiously favors him and finally President Juan Negrín gives the order for his passport to be returned.

Lázaro will march towards the reunion with the family through France (where he has to cross the border on foot) and a boat will take him to Cuba.

The return to freedom will also mean the return of contracts and in Havana's national theatre Marina de Arrieta will sing and in the Auditorium of the same city the world revival of the opera Baltasar by the Cuban composer Gaspar Villate.

That same year he will sing Rigoletto in Buenos Aires with Marina, La Dolores and La Tempestad.

In 1940 he returns to New York where they will hear his voice again in two concerts in Town Hall.

In 1941 he made a small tour of Cuban towns.

In 1942 he premiered another world premiere, the opera Kabelia by the composer Eduardo Sanchez Fuentes, at the National Theater of Havana.

That same year he will march to Mexico where he will sing Rigoletto at the Teatro Arbeu with a young baritone: Ramon Vinay. Tosca will follow along with Vinay to finish the season with Aida and a concert.

In 1943 Lázaro was convalescing with malaria on his Cuban estate until 1944 when he made his great wish come true: to return to Barcelona.

The press will echo your return and more than a thousand people and countless journalists will welcome you to the Port of Barcelona upon your arrival.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu will welcome him on the night of 16 December 1944, when Lázaro will once again play Radamés in the opera Aida. At the entrance, the audience will interrupt the performance and the whole theatre will stand with a thunderous ovation that obliges the tenor to say a few words of gratitude and emotion.

Contracts and seasons are resumed in Spanish theatres. 

On the night of 12 February 1945, with a concert, Lázaro will bid farewell to his audience at the Liceu.

After a brief stint in Madrid's zarzuela theatre and performances in Oporto and Lisbon, the tenor leaves again for Havana with a contract to perform some concerts and Marina de Arrieta. 

Barcelona awaits him again, and in 1946 he plays the leading role in a long season at the Olympia theatre, as well as in 1947 at the Tivoli theatre, where night after night the Barcelona public continues to fill the capacity to listen to him. 

In 1948 he returned to Havana for his holiday stay and sang several concerts for Cuban radio and television with soprano Ester Borja. 

In 1949 he published the first edition of his autobiography "El libro de mi vida". 

These are years of gradual withdrawal from the stage.

Yet in 1950 he will still sing Marina, Aida and Rigoletto in Havana. 

The night of April 22, 1950 will mark his definitive farewell to the staged opera by singing one of his fetish roles, that of Duca de Mantua del Rigoletto Verdiano, together with baritone Robert Weede. That night Lázaro will sing "La donna e mobile" like so many others throughout his career in his function number 435 of that title. It's been 40 years since his debut in 1910.

However, it continues with some concerts like the ones starring for the Cuban radio station CMQ in 1951.

That same year, the shooting of a film about his life is announced, which will never be made. 

In 1952 he returned to Barcelona to settle definitively with his family in his flat on Ganduxer Street.

It will be years of tranquility and tributes. In 1959, however, everything will change.

Fidel Castro will take power in Cuba and all his properties and goods will be requisitioned between 1961 and 1962 leaving him in a very difficult economic situation with 72 years. 

The narration of this fact in his autobiography perfectly describes the person:

"In fact, my wife decides to go alone that year to Cuba and on returning from her trip I find out that Fidel Castro has kept all my possessions, stripping me of everything it took me to win with so much sacrifice and after a lifetime to find myself backed up in my old age. They inform me that I have nothing and that I must start again to earn my daily livelihood at age 72, which I already have. It seems that artists, in general, have a reputation for squandering money that we have earned throughout our lives. As for me, I can say that I did earn a lot of money, but not easily but at the cost of sacrifices, and although my friends know that I have been generous, I never squandered it, but used it for myself and my friends on the farms I had there. The government of that country has dispossessed me of my property without any compensation. I'll start all over again, even in my years. Those who know me say that they admire in me both the artist and the man of character; I will try not to disappoint them. "

And so he will. Lazaro will decide to devote himself to teaching singing by giving private lessons to survive and face one of the saddest parts of his life. These are years of many privations and always supported and helped by some of his unconditional friends such as Ramón Sabatés or Juan María Tió, his pupil as well, life progresses between oblivion and difficulties. 

In 1961 he was invited to Franz Johann's television program "Amigos del Martes", where he impressed the entire audience by singing live and in tone the aria "O Paradiso" from Meyerbeer's 76-year-old La Africana. 

In 1963 the Gran Teatre del Liceu decided to pay tribute to him on the occasion of the revival of Pietro Mascagni's opera Il piccolo Marat, performed by Gianni Iaia and Virginia Zeani. At the end of the first act the businessman Juan Antonio Pamias makes a speech and Lazaro steps again on the stage that so many nights ovated him, in a last great recognition.   

In 1964, Barcelona City Council awarded him the Gold Medal for Artistic Merit. 

In 1966, he appeared as a guest on the television programme "Esta es su vida" presented by Federico Gallo, where he was paid a tribute in the presence of some old stage mates such as Mercedes Capsir, Pau Civil or Miguel Mulleras.

Lázaro is now 80 years old and his life spans between tertúlias with his friends or his stays of rest in San Llorenç Savall always invited by his great admirer Joan Fortuny.

Sporadically he is still present in some articles or reports, but his life will be forgotten in his small flat on Ganduxer street in Barcelona.

In 1973 he entered the Sanatorium of the Paseo Marítimo in Barcelona due to a thrombosis from which he recovered.

However, his health deteriorated rapidly and on 3 April 1974 La Vanguardia published what would be his last interview and the news of the possible tribute being organised for him by the Gran Teatre del Liceu with the presence of great figures of the moment such as Luciano Pavarotti (of whom the author of this biography keeps his letters of confirmation of attendance). They will not arrive in time and at six o'clock in the afternoon on Tuesday 14 May 1974 Hipólito Lázaro will die at the Hospital Nostra Senyora del Mar in Barcelona due to respiratory insufficiency. He was 87 years old.

His burial was very simple and attended by very few people. Among them his friends the tenor Pau Civil and the actors Mario Cabré and Joan Capri.

This was the end of that carter boy to whom no one gave anything in life and reached the top of the world recognition thanks to his will and exceptional faculties.

In my book "O Paradiso" his biography is narrated and explained in many more details for all those who wish to deepen their passionate life. The union between privileged vocal faculties and an overflowing personality created one of the most exciting figures in the history of lyrics and I hope and wish that both this website and my book can contribute to ensuring that the shadow of oblivion does not fall on this Universal Catalan.

Miquel Pérez García

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