Manuel Ausensi
Baritone

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Manuel Ausensi

b. Barcelona 8 October 1919
d. Barcelona 1 September 2005


español (Eñaut Otazo)
english (Christopher Webber)

One of a very few world-class Spanish baritones, Ausensi's craggy authority and expressive freedom gave him an international opera career between the mid-1950's and his retirement in 1969. He first came to public attention in 1942, with a radio broadcast of the Prologue to Pagliacci, making his stage debut as Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia in Barcelona the following year. This was his operatic signature role, one he eventually recorded in the 1964 Decca LP set under Silvio Varviso, with Teresa Berganza, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Fernando Corena and Ugo Benelli.

During the 1950's and early 60's he sang most roles in the core Italian and French baritone repertoires throughout Europe and America, including a famous Amonasro (Aida) in Philadelphia opposite Franco Corelli's Radames, with Martina Arroyo and Grace Bumbry. His Rigoletto was a notable highlight from many productions at his “home theatre”, the Barcelona Liceu. He retired, still at the height of his powers, after a production of Tosca at Philadephia in March 1969 – not surprisingly Scarpia had been amongst his favourite roles.

Although he sang in the premiere of La duquesa del candil (Leoz, Madrid 1949) and several other late flowers of the tradition, he rarely performed zarzuela on stage. Yet it is as a zarzuela singer that Ausensi's name lives on, burning as brightly now with younger aficionados as for that older generation for whom he remains the quintessence of masculine bravado and lusty vocal power. As a central pillar of the 1950's Alhambra company under Ataulfo Argenta (with Lorengar, Berganza, Carlos Munguia and others) he took part in a host of classic recordings, going on to record Sorozábal's demanding principal roles under the composer for EMI right at the end of his career. Nor did he neglect his native Catalans: the complete recording of Martínez Valls' La legió d'honor, still awaiting transfer to CD, was one of his very best LPs.

Ausensi possessed a huge voice by zarzuela standards; and although it is true that some of his studio work might have benefited from more restraint than his lusty instrument was able to finesse, most of his singing provides musical as well as visceral pleasure. Of the fifty or so zarzuela roles he tackled on LP (most available on CD) his comic braggarts such as the Marquis in Jugar con fuego are irresistible. For many, he remains the baritone of choice in La calesera, El caserío, Los gavilanes ... but perhaps his brutal but human Juan de Eguía, a gargantuan Pedro in Katiuska and the sensual Pintu in La pícara molinera will be seen as his most profound legacies. With Ausensi’s passing, one of the strongest links in the golden chain of zarzuela has been broken.

© Christopher Webber 2005

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Hoy ha dejado este mundo el barítono barcelonés Manuel Ausensi, un hombre entrañablemente querido por quienes le conocieron y una de las voces fundamentales de la lírica de este país. Dotado de medios generosos y rotundos, el catalán realizó una importantísima carrera operística (quizá no lo bastante bien recogida por el disco), pero si por algo será recordado este espléndido cantante, será sin duda por su colosal contribución a la dignificación y divulgación de la zarzuela, a través de innumerables grabaciones (habitualmente bajo la égida del eximio Ataúlfo Argenta) que han sido durante décadas (y en muchos casos siguen siendo, casi medio siglo después de su incisión) las referencias discográficas de esas obras.

Esa ingente y monumental labor, en la que es casi obligado citar también a Teresa Berganza, Carlos Munguía, Pilar Lorengar, Ana Mª Iriarte y otros tantos, ha sido bastante minusvalorada por un país que, por algo de ignorancia, de complejo y también de necedad, nunca ha estado muy convencido de la calidad de la zarzuela en cuanto género. Y sin duda, Ausensi sufrió parte de esa ingratitud. Pero por eso mismo, por ese concepto doméstico y familiar que tenemos de nuestro género lírico, la voz de Ausensi está para siempre asociada a las primeras audiciones zarzueleras de tres generaciones, lo que le convierte en un referente entrañable de todo tipo de aficionados.

En suma, hoy nos ha dejado un hombre valiente y querido, un cantante extraodinario y una gran persona. Descanse en paz.

© Eñaut Otazo 2005

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