One of the most popular Spanish tenors, Emilio (or Emili, in Catalonian) Vendrell Ibars was born on the 13 of January of 1893 in Barcelona.
He was not very fond to formal studies, so his father Joan Vendrell, who was a building contractor, set him to work at his side, as a mason, at a very early age.
At seven years old his mother put him in the "Escolanía de Santa María del Mar" where he was given the first notions of music that later increased and improved at the "Orfeó Català" where he became the favourite student of the famous Maestro Lluis Millet and soloist tenor in the "Orfeó". As such he sang in Joseph Haydn's "The Seasons" on the 27 of January of 1918 and also in 1919. In 1921 he sang the role of the Evangelist in "The Passion according to St. Mathew" by J.S. Bach at the Palau de la Musica, in Barcelona. He became so well known in this part that even Albert Schweitzer, who played the organ part, declared that his singing was "magnificent and wonderful". During this first period of his career he sang not only the "passions" but also all the barroque oratorios and was an admired interpreter of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wolf and Brahms lieder.
He started his theatrical career on the 9th. of July of 1922 when the composer Enric Morera accepted him in the short part of "a shepherd" for the first performance of his new zarzuela "La Font de l'Albera" at Ceret (South of France). After that, Enric Morera chose him for the première of another zarzuela, "Don Joan de Serrallonga" that took place at the Teatro Tívoli in Barcelona, on the 7th of October of 1922 . He sang the role of "Fedri de Sau", with the young soprano Josefina Bugatto and the already famous baritone Emilio Sagi-Barba in the other roles. The zarzuela was sung in Catalonian and Vendrell obtained an enthusiastic success. A few months later took place the première of the zarzuela "Pel teu amor" by the composer Josep Ribas , with a romanza "Rosò, llum de la meva vida" (Rosò, light of my life) which Vendrell recorded several times and became justly his "visiting card".
The composer Jacinto Guerrero chose him for the role of Gustavo in the first performance in Madrid of his zarzuela "Los Gavilanes", that took place at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, on the 7 of December of 1923 and some months later (February 1924) he sang for the first time the role of Fernando Soler in "Doña Francisquita" by Amadeo Vives, with Josefina Bugatto (Francisquita) and Mercedes Melo (Aurora) at the Teatro Nuevo in Barcelona. This role became his "war horse" during all his artistic life (the "première" of "Doña Francisquita" had been at the Teatro Apolo, in Madrid, on the 17 of October of 1923 and the role of Fernando had been sung by the tenor Juan de Casenave. Mary Isaura was Doña Francisquita and Cora Raga was Aurora).
In July of 1924 he sang an opera for the first time. It was "Lohengrin" in the Catalan translation by Joaquim Pena, at the Teatro Tívoli in Barcelona. It was the only operatic role in his entire career. (Some sources add that he also sang Massenet's "Manon", but this has not been confirmed).
The zarzuela composers called him again and offered new titles, like "La Bien Amada" (The Beloved) by José Padilla, first performed in October of 1924. This work is now completely forgotten, except for the beautiful romanza known as "Valencia"", a "hit" in the repertoire of Tito Schipa.
On the 29 of October of 1924 he sang the role of Octavio in the first performance of the new zarzuela "Por una mujer" (For a woman) by Juan Bautista Lambert (1884-1995) with the soprano Rosario Calzado (Estrella) and the baritone Emilio Sagi-Barba (Fernando). The première took place at the Teatro Tívoli, in Barcelona and "La Gaviota" by Rafael Millán, on the 19 of December of 1924, at the Teatro Nuevo.
In March of 1925 and in Barcelona he sang in another premiére, "Dios Salve al Rey" (God Save the King), an absolute première and, by the way, though it had a good composer, Pablo Luna, it was a flop. On the 25 of September of 1925 he sang in the first performance of "La Joven Turquía", also by Pablo Luna, at the Teatro Pavón. On the 23 of December of 1925, he sang in another première at the Teatro Tívoli. It was "La Severa" by Rafael Millán, with the baritone Emilio Sagi-Barba.
On the 29 of January of 1926 he created another zarzuela in Catalonian, "Baxiant de la Font del Gat" by composer Enric Morera, at the Teatro Tívoli.
Emilio Vendrell made his first Latin American tour in 1926 and he sang "Doña Francisquita" in Mexico at the Teatro Olimpia with Mary Isaura and Cora Raga. These ladies had participated also in the Spanish premiére of this zarzuela. (He sang in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico).
In 1928 Vendrell performed in another zarzuela, "La Manola del Portillo" by Pablo Luna and Federico Moreno Torroba, first performed at the Teatro Pavón, on the 21 of January of 1929 and a Catalonian opera, this time at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona. It was "El Giravolt de Maig" by Eduard Toldrá.
Emilio Vendrell was the first Rafael in the world première of "La Dolorosa" by José Serrano, on the 24 of October of 1930 with the soprano María Badía and the baritone Pablo Hertogs, at the Teatro Victoria in Madrid. ("La Dolorosa" was one of the greatest triumphs of our tenor, only second to "Doña Francisquita". He sang it more than 800 times.)
During the Civil War years he sang in several performances of "Doña Francisquita" at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, in Barcelona and in a revival of "El Giravolt de Maig".
In the following years he consolidated his fame with several revivals and some premières like "La Duquesa del Candil" by Joaquín García León (Madrid, 17 March 1949) Pablo Luna adapted the musical score of the role of Captain Alberto in his "Molinos de Viento", from baritone to tenor. Needless to say that Vendrell obtained a triumph in this zarzuela.
During the forties, his appearances were less frequent. He prepared his son Emili (born in 1924) for his debut on the lyrical stage. Father and son appeared together in "El Duque de Montal" by Jose María Torres Ventura y Emili Vendrell Ibars, first performed at the Teatro Calderón in Barcelona, on the 23 of November of 1950.
His last public performance took place on the 14 of January of 1953, at the Teatro Calderón in Barcelona, singing his 1.315 performance of "Doña Francisquita" with the soprano Emilia Aliaga (Doña Francisquita) and the mezzosoprano Cora Raga, the "creator" of the role of Aurora La Beltrana. His son "Emili" also sang in the role of "el novio" (the bridegroom). The conductor was Francisco Palos.
He finished his artistic career as soloist and humbly returned to the Orfeó Català of his youth, now just as a chorister. The last work in which he sang was Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis".
From time to time, however, he appeared in song recitals. He sang at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a cycle of songs "Cançons de mar i de Montanya" by his friend composer Elisard Sala.
On the 13 of May of 1961 he received a multitudinous homage ath the Municipal Palau of Sports, organized by Radio Barcelona. Some of his greatest colleagues were present, like tenors Hipólito Lázaro and Cayetano Renom, and sopranos María Espinalt and Cecilia Gubert.
Vendrell wrote two books: "El mestre Millet i jo; memòries" (Maestro Millet and I) published in 1953 and "El Canto, libro para el cantante y para el aficionado" (Singing and Voice Education), published in 1955.
Emilio Vendrell died in Barcelona on the 1st of August of 1962, at 69 years old after a long disease. The funeral ceremony exceeded all possible expectations and became a multitudinous event. The traffic on the streets adjacent to the Church of the Concepción had to be cut. When the coffin was taken out of the church, an anonymous choir of thousands of voices sang Amadeo Vives' "L'emigrant" (one of Vendrell most popular Catalan songs), and handkerchiefs were waved as a farewell to the great artist.
His son, Emilio Vendrell, published in 1965 his father's biography in Catalan, under the name of "El meu pare, Emili Vendrell"
Catalonia has been a land of great tenors (Francisco Viñas, Hipólito Lázaro, José Palet, Paolo Civil, Piero Pauli, Tino Folgar, Joan Raventós, Juan Rosich, Ricardo Mayral and Cayetano Renom just to mention a few), but only Emilio Vendrell was given the title of "Cantaire de Catalunya" (Catalonia's singer).
Emilio Vendrell recorded, at least, one hundred and fifty sides (78 rpm) for "Odeón" and "Columbia" labels, in Spain., from 1923 to 1950. He left recordings of all his most famous roles, included a complete recording of "Doña Francisquita", "Los Gavilanes", "Luisa Fernanda", "La Verbena de la Paloma", "La Dolorosa" and the principal romanzas from other zarzuelas, included the extremely rare "Por una mujer" and "Don Joan de Serrallonga".
His Catalonian songs are justly famous, the best certainly is "Pel teu amor" (For your love) and "L'Emigrant". He recorded two arias from "Lohengrin", Il Sogno from "Manon" and Se il mio nome, from "Il barbiere di Siviglia".
JUAN DZAZOPULOS E., APRIL 2008