Inspite of his "Italian" name, Francesco Dominici was a Spanish/Cuban singer. He was born in La Habana (Cuba), on 28 November 1883. His real name was Francisco Fernández Dominicis.
He was the son of José Fernández Goizueta from Vitoria (Álava), Spain, and Vicenta Dominicis Mendoza from La Habana (Cuba).
He was very fond of music from childhood but the first time he was on stage was in 1902 as a member of the chorus in the Spanish opera "Marina" (by Emilio Arrieta).
After singing as "aficionado" in several other zarzuelas he started to study singing seriously with the Spanish bass Pablo Meroles who liked his voice so much that accepted to teach him without receiving any payment for it.
After four years he made his debut as soloist singing the "epilogue" from "Mefistofele" on 22 November 1906 at the "Conservatorio de Música y Declamación de La Habana". He worked in an important Bank of La Habana and his family imposed on him that he should keep on working. Anyway, form 1906 to 1912 he sang frequently in private performances and concerts with very warm reception.
His professional debut took place at the Teatro Payret, in La Habana, on 22 January 1912 as Cavaradossi in "Tosca" and was acclaimed by public and critics.
His friends tried to obtain either a Governement or a Town Hall scholarship for him to go to study in Europe but without success. Therefore, the young Fernández Dominicis left the security of his employment in the bank and with the money obtained from his presentations in "Tosca" and "La boheme" and some more concerts , he travelled to Italy.
He arrived in Italy on 8 September 1913 and started to study with Gabriele Sibella, the composer and husband of Spanish soprano Graziella Pareto. Like so many other artists, he decided to "italianize" his name, becoming Francesco Dominici.
His debut in Italy took place on 3 January 1914 at the Teatro Coccia in Novara, as Fernando in "La favorita" with Emma Barsanti (Leonora), Oddo Galeotti (Alfonso), Carlo Melocchi (Baltasar) and conductor Piero Fabbroni. He sang with success 13 performances of this opera.
In December 1914 he sang Alfredo in "La traviata" at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples with Ebe Boccolini- Zacconi, Umberto Michelli and conductor Vittorio Gui.
He obtained favourable reviews from critics and was offered a contract to appear in other roles, like Almaviva in "Il barbiere di Siviglia" with Olga Morano and Mario Sammarco; Des Grieux in "Manon" with Ebe Boccolini -Zacconi; Rodolfo in "La boheme" with Ebe Boccolini-Zacconi (Mimi) and Olga Morano (Musetta) and the Duke in "Rigoletto" with Ines Maria Ferraris and Alfredo Gandolfi.
On 7 September 1915 he appeared at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, as Tonio in "La figlia del reggimento" with Elvira de Hidalgo, Vincenzo Bettoni and Costantino Thos, conducting Arturo Vigna.
Later he sang the same role at the Teatro Rossini in Venice where he also sang Cavaradossi in "Tosca", from November 15 to December 1.
He started 1916 singing Manon, La figlia del reggimento and La boheme at the Teatro Garibaldi in Padova. At the Politeama Genovese he sang Almaviva for the centenary of "The barber of Seville" with Graziella Pareto, Armand Crabbé, Gaudio Mansueto and Antonio Pini-Corsi under the conduction of Tullio Serafin. It was an Italian Red Cross benefit.
On 9 May 1916 he sang at the Politeama Regina Margherita of Cagliari, again "Il barbiere" with Elvira de Hidalgo, Ernesto Badini, Luciano Donaggio, Gaetano Rebonato and the conductor was the composer Pietro Mascagni. Later he sang the opera at the Teatro Carcano in Milan with the Mexican mezzosoprano Fanny Anitúa as Rosina and Riccardo Stracciari as Figaro, conductor Luigi Mancinelli.
He sang in several benefit concerts and performances for the wounded soldiers, among them the second act of "Don Pasquale" with the Scala orchestra conducted by Serafín.
On October 4 1916 he was chosen to sing "Il barbiere di Siviglia" at the Opera-Comique in Paris, with Pareto, Stracciari, Vanni-Marcoux, Azzolini and conductor Giuseppe Podestá. Later he sang the same opera with the same artistas in Lyon. He had already sung more than 100 performances of the role of Almaviva and it has been the only Cuban singer to have sung at the Paris Opera Comique.
Giacomo Puccini trusted him the role of Prunier for the world première of "La rondine" in Monte Carlo, on 27 March 1917. The other members in the cast were Gilda Dalla-Rizza (Magda), Tito Schipa (Ruggero), Ines Maria Ferraris (Lisette), Gustave Huberdeau (Rambaldo) and the conductor was Gino Marinuzzi. There were two other performances in April 1 and 8.
Besides the honour of singing in this first performance of a Puccini opera, it was a very special moment in his life since he met an Italian ballerina, Anna Mariani Ragio (born in La Spezia, in 1891). They fell in love and later get married (in 1923).
Dominici repeated his success as Prunier singing the role in the Italian première of "La rondine" at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, on June 2, 1917 with Linda Cannetti, Toti Dal Monte, Aureliano Pertile and Ettore Panizza.
Later he sang "La rondine" in the following theaters: Donizetti, in Bergamo, with Linda Cannetti, Eliza Marchini and Alesandro Dolci; Dal Verme, in Milan, with Maria Farnetti, Toti Dal Monte and Gennaro Barra; Chiarella, in Turin, with Ida Quaiatti, Elisa Marchini and Alessandro Dolci, and Politeama Genovese, in Genoa, with Carmen Toschi, Ines Cesari and Aureliano Pertile.
During 1918 he sang in all the Italian performances of "La rondine". The composer, Giacomo Puccini, gave him as a present the musical score of the opera and dedicated it "To my first and I would say unique Prunier, Francesco Dominici. As as souvenir of Giacomo Puccini".
In 1918 he made his debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, singing on 10 January the first of seven performances of "La rondine" conducted by Ettore Panizza, with Gilda dalla Rizza (Magda), Nera Marmora (Lisette) and Beniamino Gigli (Ruggero). Later he sang two performances as Rodolfo in "La Boheme" (January 16 and February 13) with Alice Zeppilli (Mimí), Luigia Pieroni (Musetta), Arturo Romboli (Marcello), Atilio Muzio (Schaunard) and Carlo Melocchi (Colline).
From 22 January to 20 February in 1918 he was singing at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, as 'Fenton' in Falstaff, with Francesco Maria Bonini (Falstaff), Gilda dalla Rizza and Alice Zeppilli (Alice), Benvenuto Franci (Ford), Nera Marmora (Nannette), Ettore Bonzi (Bardolfo), Carlo Melocchi (Pistola), Matilde Blanco Sadún (Mrs. Quickly), Ida Ferrero (Meg) and Gaetano Pini Corsi (Dr. Cajus) The orchestras was conducted by the maestro Ettore Panizza.
At the Teatro Chiarella in Turin he sang Ernesto in "Don Pasquale" with Toti Dal Monte (Norina), Giuseppe Kaschman (Don Pasquale) and Umberto Sartori (Malatesta). The conductor was Federico del Cupolo.
At the Teatro Massimo in Catania he sang the role of 'Elvino' in La sonambula, with María Perosio (Amina).
On 19 June 1918 he sang again the role 'Tonio' in La figlia del reggimiento with Elvira de Hidalgo (Maria), Renata Pezzati (Marquesa) and Vincenzo Bettoni (Sulpizio) at the Politeama Genovese, where he also sang "Il barbiere di Siviglia".
On 3 November 1918 at the Teatro Sociale in Treviso, he sang 'Filipeto' in I quatro rusteghi by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, with Salvatore Baccaloni Lunardo), Bianca Rossi-Lenzi (Marina), Anna Sassone-Soster (Lucietta), Giulia Tess (Felice), Luigi Cilla (Riccardo), Enrica Carabelli (Margarita) and Aristide Baracchi (Maurizio). The conductor was Giacomo Armani.
The year 1919 started at the Teatro Massimo in Catania, singing 'Nadir' in I"I pescatori di perle" by Bizet, with María Perosio (Leila). Later, he sang there with the soprano Perosio in "Il barbiere di Siviglia" and "La figlia del regimentó".
In 1920 he sang at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, the role of 'Tonio' in La figlia del reggimiento with Olga Simzis (Maria). That year he also sang at the Sociale (Como), Del Popolo (Milan) and Politeama Livornese (Livorno).
On 28 September 1920 he sang for the first time the role of Lucio in "Anima Allegra" an opera by Franco Vittadini, with Anna Sassone-Soster as Consuelo and Piero Fabbroni as conductor, at the Teatro Fraschini in Pavia.
In 1921 he sang what I assume was his last role as "primo tenore", Filipetto in ¡I quattro rusteghi" with Anna Sassone-Soster (Lucieta), Elisa Marchini (Marina), Carlo Rossi (Mauricio), Ugo Canetti (Simón) and Luigi Cilla (Riccardo). Piero Fabbroni was the conductor.
From April 2 to May 29 he sang the opera in the following Italian theaters:
Comunale, in Ferrara; Comunale, Bolonia; Regio, in Parma; Ponchielli, in Cremona; Municipale, in Piacenza; Donizetti, in Bergamo; Verdi, in Padua; De Paoli, in Rovigo; Garibaldi, in Treviso; Filarmonico, in Verona; Sociale, in Belluno; Sociale, in Udine; Verdi, in Gorizia; La Fenice and Malibran, in Venecia and Grande, in Brescia.
Once the tour was over he was summoned by Angelo Scandiani, General Director of Teatro alla Scala who offered a contract for the 1921-1922 season. It included to sing in the reopining of the theatre after the First World War. He sang nine performances as Dr. Cajus in "Falstaff". The first one and inauguration of the season was on 26 December 1921. The other singers in the cast were:
Mariano Stabile (Falstaff), Ernesto Badini (Ford), Alessio de Paolis (Fenton), Gaudio Mansueto (Pistola), Giuseppe Nessi (Baldorfo), Linda Cannetti (Alice), Nera Marmora (Nannetta), Elvira Casazza (Mrs. Quickly) and Mita Vasari (Meg). Conductor was Arturo Toscanini.
Later he sang at La Scala, on 16 February 1922 the first of 14 performances of "Boris Godunov" in the role of Prince Schuiski, with Sigismundo Zalewski and Vanni Marcoux (Boris), Cesira Ferrari (Xenia), Luisa Bertana (Teodoro), Gaudio Mansueto and Ezio Pinza (Pimen), Filippo (Nino) Piccaluga and Aureliano Pertile (Dimitri), Elvira Casazza (Marina), Umberto di Lelio (Varlaam), Giuseppe Nessi (Missail), Mita Vasari (innkeeper) and Aristodemo Bregola (Innocent). Conductor was again Arturo Toscanini.
From l 23 April 1922, at La Scala, he sang the role of David in the 7 performances of "Meistersinger" with Marcel Journet (Hans Sachs), Ezio Pinza (Pogner), Ernesto Badini (Beckmesser), Juanita Caracciolo and Eva Didur (Eva), Anna Gramegna (Maddalena) and Francesco Merli (Walther). Conductor: Toscanini.
On 29 April he sang at La Scala the role of Filipeto in the 3 performances of "I quattor rusteghi" with Gaetano Azzolini (Lunardo), Guerrina Fabbri (Margherita), Anna Sassone-Soster (Lucieta), Tatiana Menotti (Marina), Attilio Muzio (Maurizio), Abele Carnevali (Cancian), Carlo Scattola (Simone), María Labia (Felice) and Luigi Cilla (Riccardo). The conductor was Ettore Panizza.
Francesco Dominici returned to La Scala for the next season and sang the roles of Dr. Cajus in "Falstaff", a Dancing Master in "Manon Lescaut", David in "I Maestri Cantori", Schuiski in "Boris Godunov", Despreaux in "Madame Sans-Gene", Monostatos in "Il flauto magico" and Filipetto in "I quattro rusteghi".
In his thirs season at La Scala, he sang "a jew" in "Salome", un "compagno" in "I compagnacci" by Primo Riccitelli, Gastone in "La Traviata". To sing this role he demanded his name to be changed in the playbills by Domenico Franchini, because he thought it was a very small role. Toscanini told him: "There are no small or big parts. The secret is to sing them well". After that, Dominici had no problem to accept any role he was offered. That season he also sang Dr. Cajus, Schuiski and David.
On 20 December 1923 he marrid the ballerina Anna Mariani who rennounced to her career and dedicated her time to teaching.
In his fourth season at La Scala, besides his usual parts, he sang the role of Trinca in the première of Giordano's "La Cena delle Beffe" with Carmen Melis, Hipólito Lázaro and Benvenuto Franci in the main roles.
He also sang the role of Almoro in "Le donne curiose" by Wolf-Ferrari and in "Louise" by Charpentier.
He started his fifth season in La Scala singing the role of Count Riccardo in "I quattro rusteghi" (not the usual Filipeto of previous years). After some performances in "I maestri cantori" (David) he was in the cast of the world première of "Turandot" on 25 April 1926. He sang the role of Emperor Altoum with Rosa Raisa (Turandot), María Zamboni (Liú), Miguel Fleta and Franco lo Giudice (Calaf), Giacomo Rimini (Ping), Giuseppe Nessi (Pong), Emilio Venturini (Pang), Carlo Walter (Timur), Aristide Baracchi (Mandarín). The conductor was Arturo Toscanini.
Later he sang Dr. Cajus and "a Japanese Messenger" in "The Nightingale" by Igor Stravinsky.
On 9 September 1926 he sang in the first performance of "Turandot" at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. This time his role was "Pong".
He sang again and for the last time at La Scala in the 1926-1927 season, in the 14 performances of "Turandot" from 24 November 1926. The role was Altoum. After five seasons at La Scala he decided to to sing in other theaters. On 3 March 1927 he was in the première of the opera "Basi e Bote" by Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli and libretto by Arrigo Boito. The performances were at the Teatro Argentina in Rome and he sang the role of "Tartaglia". He also sang the role of "un medico" in the first performance of "La fata Malerba" an opera by Vittorio Gui on 28 September 1927.
In Turin he appeared in the non singing character of "Vespone" in "La serva padrona" and on 19 July 1928 sang Beppe at the San Marco Square in Venice, in an open-air performance of "Pagliacci" with Rosetta Pampanini, Aureliano Pertile and Carlo Galeffi, conducting Pietro Mascagni. The same year, in September, he sang Chuisky in "Boris Godounov" at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo. Later he sang the same work in Bologna.
He returned to La Scala in 1929 and sang with this Company in the tour they made to Berlin.
Then he made the greatest mistake of his life. He decided to return to Cuba, thinking (wrongly) that things had changed in his country.
He left Italy after 17 years. He had been in the first performances of 9 operas and had sung in the most important theaters with a repertoire of 46 works, as "primo tenore" and as "comprimario". He was in excellent vocal conditions and could have stayed singing for many years, being a serious artist appreciated by conductors and colleagues.
On 24 May 1930 Francesco Dominici and his wife arrived in La Habana and after some public homages, honour medals and diplomas, his penuries started.
His voice was still heard in some concerts and hommages. And nothing more. He tried to obtain a post as singing teacher in La Habana National Conservatory but others, with less merits but better influences obtained it. He just made a living teaching singing privately. He worked as a stage director, regisseur and repetiteur. Governemnets and dictators changed, but his situation did not change.
He had the project to publish his "memoirs" under the title "Lo que yo he hecho allá y lo que me han hecho aquí" (What I have done there and what they have done to me here), but the project remained unfinished.
Francesco Dominici died in La Habana on 3 February 1968, at 84 years old. He was survived by his beloved wife who died on 11 October 1976.
JUAN DZAZOPULOS, January 2008