Three Romanian Conducting Maestros In One

Of all the great 20th century conductors, Egizio Massini was the only one who distinguished himself equally in three different fields (opera, symphonic music, and fanfare). Even if he made tours abroad conducting all threes types of music, opera was the genre that distinguished him among his colleagues. Massini was a fanatic of the Romanian opera, and he worked hard to obtain a building for a modern opera in Bucharest in 1954. So, his destiny went hand in hand with the fortunate one of the Romanian music theater, as his artistic achievements have not been matched by any of our great conductors.Although he conducted successfully French, German, Austrian, Spanish, and, of course, Romanian music, still, he was the "marshal" of Italian and Russian music. His Italian blood helped him in his unique conducting that imposed many operas internationally: Aida, Norma, I Puritani, La Wally, Un ballo in maschera, Ernani, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Nabucco, La forza del destino, Il Trovatore, Otello, La Gioconda, La Boheme, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, La fanciulla del West, Andrea Chenier, Don Pasquale, Lucia di Lammermoor, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana, and so on. His marriage to Dora Massini (who was Ukrainian) and his friendship to the death with Sigismund Zalesky (who was Russian) made him identify with the Slavic spirit, which was ideally expressed in his unforgettable shows, in total professional commitment: Boris Godunov, Rusalka, The Queen of Spades, Eugene Onegin, Prince Igor, Sheherezade, and Petrushka. Between these two artistic poles – Italian and Russian – Massini created a performance tradition that was observed by all his Romanian successors and even by some conductors abroad. Invited by George Georgescu to conduct the Bucharest Philharmonic as early as between the wars (1920-1945), Massini confirmed his passion for the classis symphonic repertoire and for modern Russians (Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Glazunov, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Kabalevsky, and so on), but most of all for monumental works, which were close to his Mediterranean spirit (Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome by Respighi, the Requiem masses by Verdi and Berlioz, Les preludes by Liszt, and the Pathetique and the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky)."Colonel Massini" wore the military uniform of a fanfare conductor for eight years, bringing together the 16 military bands from all over Romania in order to form a gigantic fanfare with 700 instrumentalists and take a historic tour to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. He did not do marches, pot-pourris, or the Romanian dances of hora and sarba, rather, he did Symphony no. 5 by Beethoven, Romanian Poem by Enescu, and the overture to Tannhaeuser by Wagner. Colonel Massini established a fanfare and an orchestra with 80 musicians belonging to the Royal Palace in 1934: in its repertoire there were Symphony no. 4 by Glazunov, Romanian Poem by Enescu, and Danse macabre by Liszt. Also part of the inventive and courageous conductor's "military adventure" was the publication of the first specialized magazine, the Review of Military Music, and the establishment of the first Military Music School. Perhaps if World War II had not broken out in 1940, his destiny as an opera conductor having replaced the tailcoat with the military jacket would have been different!A universal talent, exceptionally gifted, Massini remained an intuitive conductor all his life, without any systematic education with great teachers, but being uniquely receptive to all his colleagues around him. As Director Soare Z. Soare put it humorously in a literary portrait published in the 1944 Theater Almanac, Massini "was born in an orchestra, in the Italian opera company led by his father. At 13, he conducted for the first time in Sofia. At 14, he came to Romania. He loved it and stayed here." Indeed, he was born in Alexandria, Egypt during the tour of the lyrical company led by baritone Enrico Massini. However, he did not make his debut at 13 in Sofia, but in Lom Palanca, Bulgaria, and in 1908 he appeared on a poster in Braila, Romania. This is how his artistic career as a conductor began. One by one, young Massini conducted the Students' Opera in Bucharest (1913-1915), the Stanescu-Cerna Romanian Comical Opera and Operetta Company (1915), the Grand Romanian Opera Company in Bucharest (1916), and the Romanian Opera Lyrical Company (1919). From 1921 until 1964 (when he conducted his last show with Boris Godunov), the maestro remained faithful to the Romanian opera in Bucharest. He died in the morning of February 18, 1966 in Bucharest, after Electrecord issued the record of his complete Il Trovatore by Verdi. At 70, he was awarded the title of People's Artist (1964), the last joy of his restless life. Because he never found happiness in family life (he was married five times!) or in spectacular tours (he only toured Austria, Hungary, France, Poland, and the USSR), he only found happiness in the private world of the opera, which he loved with boundless passion.His presence at the opera was like a magnet subjugating soloists, choristers, and instrumentalists alike, forcing them, owing to his warm gestures and physical energy, to cross the stage rim, in order to enter into dialogue with the spectators, who were watching the tip of his metronome baton, in which his hot, artist's heart was beating. He conducted by heart almost the entire Italian and Russian repertoires, as he had a fabulous memory. He loved the Romanian music as well, conducting the premieres of Alexandru Lapusneanu by Alexandru Zirra, Prince Ion the Terrible and Uprising by Gheorghe Dumitrescu, and ballet Calin by Alfred Mendelsohn. Massini dominated the Romanian opera for over half a century, with the inborn charm of a magician in tailcoat, transforming sounds into sublime feelings, while soloists were changed into celebrants of scores.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)