The Seven-Dollar Sextet

Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti

Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935)
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)
Antonio Scotti (1866-1936)
Marcel Journet (1870-1933)
Barbara Severina
Francesco Daddi (1864-1945)


CarusoSembrichScottiJournet
Caruso Sembrich Scotti Journet

Enrico Caruso, the tenor of the century, had a voice particularly well-suited to the acoustic phonograph. Although he died fairly young, he left a rich legacy of his singing art on Victor records. They span a career that began with a light, lyric sound and ended with the darker, heavier, mature and dramatic sound that I personally find most moving.

Marcella Sembrich was born in Poland. She was an excellent pianist and violinist, probably one of the finest musicians among all the singers of history, and an artist of the most discriminating taste. She holds a lesser place in the history of great singers because her vocal prime preceded the decline of Patti and it was past when Melba’s ascendancy began. Sembrich retired from the Met in 1909, then concertized for a few years, eventually settling in New York and continuing her career as a teacher at Julliard and the Curtis Institute.

Antonio Scotti, another Neapolitan native, made his debut in Naples in 1889, then performed in Malta, Madrid, Buenos Aires and Moscow. He first appeared at La Scala in 1898 and at Covent Garden and the Met a year later. Thereafter, he primarily sang in the U.S. and England. Scotti was known for his smooth delivery, variety of color, fine legato, facility in the upper register and elegance in acting.

Marcel Journet reportedly studied singing in Paris and made his debut in Béziers in 1891 in La Favorite. He sang at La Monnaie from 1894 to 1900. He sang in Paris at the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique from around 1898 till 1931, Covent Garden from 1897-1907 and the Met from 1900 to 1908. During his career, he also performed at Monte Carlo, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Madrid, Barcelona and, from 1917 to 1927, at La Scala. He performed a large repertory of Italian and French operas as well as several Wagnerian roles.

Francesco Daddi started out as an Italian tenor. He received training as a singer and pianist. He made his stage debut in Milan in 1891. In 1892, he created the role of Beppe in the world premiere of I Pagliacci at Teatro dal Verme. He performed one season at Covent Garden (1900). Daddi was the leading comprimario tenor in Italy when he left to perform at the Manhattan Opera in 1907. He sang small tenor roles for several more years, then enjoyed success in comic bass roles in Chicago from 1911 to 1920.

Barbara Severina remains biographically elusive. I cannot even determine her first name with certainty; I have found it listed as Gina, Barberina and Maria. However, I have received a note from an internet acquaintance who presented pretty strong evidence that her first name was Barbara. (Thanks Rick!) This particular recording of the famous Lucia sextet and the Caruso/Sembrich recording of the Rigoletto quartet both feature the mezzo Severina, but there is no mention of a first name. The Victor Book of the Opera is no help either, referring to her either by last name only or as Mme. Severina.

And finally, about the recording itself. This was an expensive record. $7.00. At the time of the recording’s release, that was real money. The Victor people were well aware that $7.00 was an exorbitant price for a single-sided four-minute record, but they knew also that a $7.00 record had great publicity value. In an aside to the trade, Victor confided: “Do not underestimate the value of the Sextet as an advertising medium. This feature of the record is very much more valuable to the average dealer than the actual profit he may make on its sales. Not all of your customers can afford to purchase a $7.00 record, but the mere announcement of it will bring them to your store as a magnet attracts steel.”

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