Forgotten Opera Singers

Forgotten Opera Singers

Jan 1, 2012

Lionello Cecil (Tenor) (Waverley, Sydney 1893 – St Leonards, Sydney 1957)

He was born on 20 September 1893 at Waverley, Sydney, and registered as Lionel Cecil, son of Abraham Robert Sherwood, a senior sergeant of police, and his wife Kate, née Heagan, both from Ireland. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, Cecil studied singing with Hector Fleming and made his concert début on 30 September 1912. His next teacher Andrew Black encouraged him to study abroad and Cecil left for Europe in March 1914 after giving a concert at Sydney Town Hall. That year he won a scholarship to the Verdi Regio Conservatorio, Milan, Italy, and from 1916 studied with Mario Pieraccini. Adopting the stage name 'Lionello Cecil', he made his opera début in 1918 at the Storchi Theatre, Modena, as the Duke in Rigoletto. He rapidly established himself as a leading operatic tenor of the Italian provincial houses. In London on a concert tour, on 21 June 1923 at the register office, Paddington, he married Argia Armanda Giustina Mattioni, a ballet dancer from Trieste, Italy. For almost fifteen years Cecil gave hundreds of performances in such places as Pisa, San Remo, Parma, Verona and Bergamo. He made occasional appearances at more famous opera houses, including the Dal Verme and the Lirico, at Milan, with seasons at La Fenice, Venice (1921, 1925) and at the Costanzi, Rome (1925). Having toured South America in 1926, he sang next year with an Italian opera company in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. In 1931 he appeared at Nice and Marseilles, France. His recording career had begun in 1919 with discs made acoustically in England for Pathé. He sang tenor lead in the first microphone recording of La Traviata (Italian Columbia, 1928) and in Madama Butterfly (Italian His Master's Voice, 1929-30), and made his last recordings in 1942 (Columbia, Australia): these discs reveal a powerful lyric tenor and singing characterized by intelligence rather than virtuosity. Under contract to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in September 1933 Cecil returned to Australia; in 1933-34 he sang the lead in all but one of eighteen broadcast operas. He did studio and concert work across the country for the A.B.C. until 1942, and taught his own pupils (including Ken Neate) in Sydney. After touring New Zealand in 1937, Cecil sang Alfred Hill's music in Ken Hall's film, The Broken Melody (1938). As a military censor during World War II, Cecil interpreted for Italian prisoners of war interned at Cowra. From 1942 he appeared as 'Lionel Cecil'. At the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music in July 1944 he sang Canio in Pagliacci, in what was probably his farewell to the stage. The master of some fifty operatic roles (of which Faust in Boito's Mefistofele was his favourite), Cecil possessed 'great personal charm and impeccable manners', and was an amiable, unpretentious man who enjoyed playing cards; stockily built, he had dark, receding hair, somewhat heavy features and a florid complexion. In the early 1950s his health deteriorated. Predeceased by his wife and survived by their son, he died of constrictive pericarditis on 13 November 1957 at St Leonards, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Chronology of some appearances

1916 Brescia Teatro Sociale Rigoletto (Duca)
1917 Firenze Teatro Della Pergola Rigoletto (Duca)
1918 Sanremo Teatro Principe Amedeo Don Pasquale (Ernesto)
1919 Vicenza Teatro Eretenio Manon (De Grieux)
1921 Pesaro Teatro Rossini Manon (De Grieux)
1922 Como Teatro Sociale Rigoletto (Duca)
1923 Genova Teatro Paganini Rigoletto (Duca)
1924 Firenze Teatro Alhambra Mefistofele (Faust)
1925 Venezia Teatro La Fenice Mefistofele (Faust)
1926 Parma Teatro Regio Faust (Faust)
1927 Bergamo Teatro Donizetti Mefistofele (Faust)
1928 Livorno Politeama Rigoletto (Duca)
1929 Genova Teatro Carlo Felice Mefistofele (Faust)
1930 Milano Teatro Lirico Traviata (Alfredo)
1931 Parma Politeama Reinach Lucia di Lammermoor (Edgardo)
1932 Milano Teatro Lirico Mefistofele (Faust)
1933 Milano Teatro Lirico Barbiere di Siviglia (Almaviva)
1934 Sidney Australian Broadcasting Faust (Faust)
1935 Sidney Australian Broadcasting Boris Godunov (Shuinski)
1936 Melbourne Wilson Hall Manon Lescaut (De Grieux)
1937 Lugano Vecchio Oratorio Maschile Betly (Daniele)



Pathé, London 1917 – 1920
Aida (Verdi) Celeste Aida 5610
I heard your voice (Forrester) 5599
I need you so (Geehl) 5381
Lorraine (Sanderson) 5599
My only rose (Russell) 5381
Pagliacci (Leoncavallo): Vesti la giubba 5610

Zonophone, London 1923-10-04
Tosca (Puccini): When the stars were brightly shining G.O.60  X-4-42571  
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni): See the merry wine is winking G.O.60. X-4-42570
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni):  Siciliana O Lola, pretty one G.O.65. X-4-42715
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni): Mother, the red wine burns A280 Z-042162

Zonophone, London 1923-11-02
Africaine (Meyerbeer): O paradise A280 Z-042161
Manon Lescaut (Puccini): Never did I behold so fair a maiden G.O.65. X-4-42716

HMV, Milano 1930-03-05
Fedora (Giordano):  Vedi, io piango R 10346 100-816
Fedora (Giordano):  Amor ti vieta R 10346 100-817

HMV, Milano 1930-04-02
Gioconda (Ponchielli): Laggiu nelle nebbie remote with Irene Minghini-Cattaneo DB 1432 32-1437
Favorita (Donizetti): Pietoso al par d'un nume with Irene Minghini-Cattaneo DB 1441 32-1440

Columbia, Milano
Mefistofele (Boito): Giunto sull passo estremo  D 6031 b 2452
Mefistofele (Boito): Colma il tuo cuor D 5300 b 930
Don Pasquale (Donizetti): Sogno soave e casto  D 5290 b 937
Don Pasquale (Donizetti): Come gentil  D 5290 b 933
Pescatore di Perle (Bizet):  Mi par d'udire ancora D16411 BX13
Puritani (Bellini): A te, o cara DQ 250 b 939
Boheme (Puccini):  Mimi e tanto malata D 6031 b 2461
Elisir d'amore (Donizetti):  Quanto e  bella D 5284 b 931
Elisir d'amore (Donizetti):  Una furtive lagrima  D 5284 b 932
Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti):  Di pescatore ignobile D 5300 b 951
Manon (Massenet): Ah! dispar vision DQ254 B2473
Rigoletto (Verdi): E’ il sol dell anima  DQ254 B946
Rigoletto (Verdi) Bella figlia dell'amore D 5288 b 934
Rigoletto (Verdi) Questa o quella D 5288 b 938

Columbia, London?
You'll come home again Brahe  DO-2435 CT1934
One song is in my heart Cripps  DO-2435 CT1935
A prayer Keyes  DO-2434  CT1936
Dreams at eventide DO-2434 CT1937

Odeon, Milano
Boheme (Puccini): O soave fanciulla with C. Valobra Odeon O-6838 b
Boheme (Puccini): Qaurtetto with C. Valobra, A. Fiori and C. Martinengo Odeon O-6838 a


  1. MOLTO BELLO!!! Thank you for sharing this valuable biographical information.

  2. Hi,
    I was the author of the Lionello Cecil bio taken from the ADB. It should be amended to add that the tenor's first recordings were made in Italy during World War 1 and released on the Odeon label
    Keep up the Good Work Ashot
    Best Wishes
    Mike Quinn

    1. Thanks a lot Michael for your comment.
      Best Wishes