Ruffo, Titta

Italian baritone, 1877 - 1953

“Non era una voce, era un miracolo!”

Giuseppe de Luca on Titta Ruffo

Biographical notes:

His real name was Ruffo Cafiero Titta. He was born in Pisa, the son of a metal worker, and grew up in poverty. For many years he travelled through Italy until he finally found a master who taught him the trade of an iron worker. Meanwhile his vocal talent had become evident and several mentors enabled him to study at the Academia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He became a pupil of the famous Venceslao Persichini for a short time (who was by the way more interested in another of his pupils, Giuseppe de Luca). His debut took not place until 1898 (as the Herald in Lohengrin). In the subsequent years he toured the Italian provinces, singing leading rôles such as Rigoletto, Barnaba, Carlos and Rigoletto. Around the turn of the century his world career was on its way. He preferred to make guest appearances in the most important opera houses. He was triumphantly successful at Covent Garden, Egypt, South America and Imperial Russia. In 1905 he sang one of his most famous roles, Amleto in Thomas’ opera. He sang this role at various opera houses and frequently the opera was staged only for him. He sang several times opposite Enrico Caruso but there are valid suggestions that Caruso used his influence to prevent Ruffo being invited to the Met and this notwithstanding good personal relations between the two singers. Therefore he made a rather late Met début in 1922, a time when his voice was already in decline. Nevertheless he stayed until 1929. After terminating his career, he lived in Italy, but, as a vehement opponent of the Mussolini regime he was ostracised for many years (his brother-in-law was a socialist and was murdered by the fascists). Only at the end of his life he did enjoy a splendid rehabilitation.


In the title role of Thomas’ Hamlet (Amleto)


“In my lifetime there have been three miracles - Caruso, Ponselle and Ruffo. Apart from these there have been several wonderful singers.”

Tullio Serafin


As Rigoletto


Nellie Melba: “I’m not singing with him. He is too young to be my father.”

Titta Ruffo (taking revenge): “She’s too old to be my Gilda.”


As Figaro in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”


Recordings: (selection)

The Early Recordings (Milano 1906 - 1912)

Preiser - LV

Tita Ruffo Edition (Victor Recordings 1912 - 1929)

Preiser - LV

The Complete Songs


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 1


Covent Garden on Record Vol. 1


Famous Italian Baritones

Preiser - LV


Titta Ruffo as a young man (around 1906)


Throughout his career, the artist was accompanied by the epithet of the “singing lion.” The description fittet his appearance, his imposing Herculean figure, his mighty head with the “Lion’s mane” - and, naturally his voice, which was of virtually incredible strength - a “lion’s voice” indeed, as Lauri-Volpi put it significantly. When his refulgent voice turned wan and pale, the reviews spoke of the “dying lion” and Ruffo himself said after he terminated his artistic career in 1936: “The lion is silent.” (Preiser)

Ruffo’s voice had something of a force of nature about it, something animalistic even. It was a singular phenomenon. His whole appearance was unique in the world of opera. Deep at heart Ruffo was, in fact, a naturalist and by no means a pure belcanto singer. His strength was the unbelievably rich volume in the highest range (which occasionally reached tenorial regions), the immediacy of tonal formation and thus an astonishing ability in “parlando” singing. This was offset by a certain huskiness in the lower range - a deficit that increased during the course of his career. As a singer Ruffo made full use of a “coloristic” palette. In his autobiography “La mia parabola” he outlined how he mixed light, dark and irridating colors.


As a young man (admired by the Russian Tsar)


A handsome man (1905)

My favorite recordings:

- Rigoletto: All  excerpts (Title role in Rigoletto / Verdi / Gramophone 1906/08)

 O vin, discaccia la tristezza (Title role in Hamlet / Thomas / Gramophone 1907/08/12 and Victor 1920)

- Largo al factotum (Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia / Rossini / Gramophone 1906 and 1912)

- O monumento (Barnaba in La Gioconda / Ponchielli / Gramophone 1912)

- Si può? (Tonio in Il Pagliacci / Leoncavallo / Gramophone 1912)

- Credo in un Dio crudel (Iago in Otello / Verdi / Victor 1914)

- Si per ciel marmoreo giuro with Enrico Caruso (Iago in Otello / Verdi / Victor 1914)

- All’erta marinar (Nelusko in L’Africana / Meyerbeer / Victor 1915)

- Urna fatale (Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino / Verdi / Victor 1915)

- Adamstor, re delle acque profonde (Nelusko in L’Africana / Meyerbeer / Victor 1920)

- Pauvre martyr obscur (Patrie / Victor 1920)


Ruffo’s arrival in America in 1912 to join the Chicago Opera


“I never knew how to sing, that is why my voice went by the time I was fifty. I have no right to capitalise on my former name and reputation and try to teach youngsters something I never knew how to do myself.”

Tita Ruffo