Tag Archives: Operatic singer Italian POW

Operatic Prisoners

This article, Operatic Prisoners was published and republished in Australian newspapers from 1943 to 1945. It describes a concert given by operatic Italian prisoners of war in North Africa.

It’s not every batch of prisoners that includes a great operatic singer! When does, he must be a great asset on the entertainment side, and is probably hotly compete for among rival camps.

A member of the BBC’s staff now in the R.A.F. and serving in North Africa has written home his impressions of opera, at first hand, in the desert. He and an R.A.F. colleague set off at eight o’clock one evening to try and contact a certain American unit.  When it proved difficult, they decided to seek assistance from their army counterparts.  At about 9 p.m. they went to call on them.  They halted involuntarily in the drive about 50 yards from the house, and listened spellbound to a superb tenor voice singing what seemed to be an Italian folk song to violin accompaniment.  They took it to be a star radio programme.  Then the applause ‘thundered out’ and they realised that the singer must be present in the flesh.  So they went in to find four Italians being shaken by the hand by British forces and joined in the congratulations.  This is how our correspondent describes the scene:- these four were part of an Italian party of thirty who were captured en bloc.  They were acknowledged to be the ‘finest collection of stars ever assembled for entertaining the Italian troops in the battle area.”  (a sort of ENSA counterpart).  And these four prisoners had volunteered to come along to this small ‘at home’.  The audience consisted of about fifty N.C.O.’s The singer was the principal tenor of La Scala, Milan, Scipa [Tito Schipa]: he looked as he stood there anything but one of the world’s great operatic stars.  His uniform – jacket and shorts – stained and patched, his legs sockless and in army boots. Yet, when he sang, … no one noticed his appearance; all one was aware of was the magnificent voice and the grand accompaniment on violin and piano.  He sang to us Gounod’s “Ave Maria”, “O’Paradisa” “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen” (from Boheme) and the famous aria from Tosca.  Right at the end he gave us Toselli’s Serenade.  Singing and accompaniment were equally amazing since none of them had any music – it had all been lost.  Both violinist and pianist were also from La Scala – their leading violinist, Vasco Passarella.  Just in case we should arrive in Milan before him, he gave us his address that we might call on his parents.”

1945 ‘Operatic Prisoners’, The Beverley Times (WA : 1905 – 1977), 13 April, p. 6. , viewed 11 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202750221

Listen to Ave Maria