Carlo Bergonzi

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Carlo Bergonzi
Carlo Bergonzi.png
Carlo Bergonzi in front of Carnegie Hall in New York, 1994
Born(1924-07-13)13 July 1924
Polesine Parmense, Italy
Died25 July 2014(2014-07-25) (aged 90)
Milan, Italy
OccupationOpera singer
Years active1948–2000
Adele Aimi(m. 1950–2014)
ChildrenMaurice Bergonzi, Mark Bergonzi

Carlo Bergonzi (13 July 1924 – 25 July 2014) [1] was an Italian operatic tenor. Although he performed and recorded some bel canto and verismo roles, he was above all associated with the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, including a large number of the composer's lesser known works that he helped revive. Additionally, he sang more than forty other roles throughout his career. [2] Bergonzi is considered one of the 20th century’s most distinguished operatic tenors. [3]

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Tenor is a male voice type in classical music whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

Bel canto —with several similar constructions —is a term with several meanings that relate to Italian singing.



Early life

Bergonzi was born in Polesine Parmense, [4] near Parma in Northern Italy, on 13 July 1924. He was an only child. [4] He later claimed he saw his first opera, Verdi’s Il trovatore , when he was six years old. He sang in church, and soon he began to appear in children's opera roles in Busseto, a nearby town. After he left school at age 11 he began working in a Parma cheese factory. His father worked there too, and Carlo often got into trouble for singing.

Polesine Parmense Italian comune

Polesine Parmense is a town in the Italian region Emilia-Romagna, located about 120 kilometres (75 mi) northwest of Bologna and about 30 kilometres (19 mi) northwest of Parma. It was an independent comune until 1 January 2016, when it merged with Zibello to form the new comune of Polesine Zibello.

Parma Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Parma is a city in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna famous for its architecture, music, art, prosciutto (ham), cheese and surrounding countryside. It is home to the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world. Parma is divided into two parts by the stream of the same name. The district on the far side of the river is Oltretorrente. Parma's Etruscan name was adapted by Romans to describe the round shield called Parma.

<i>Il trovatore</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Il trovatore is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play El trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. It was Gutiérrez's most successful play, one which Verdi scholar Julian Budden describes as "a high flown, sprawling melodrama flamboyantly defiant of the Aristotelian unities, packed with all manner of fantastic and bizarre incident."

At the age of 16, he began his vocal studies as a baritone at Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma with Maestro Ettore Campogalliani. [5]

A baritone is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the bass and the tenor voice types. Originally from the Greek βαρύτονος (barýtonos), meaning heavy sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C (i.e. F2–F4) in choral music, and from the second A below middle C to the A above middle C (A2 to A4) in operatic music, but can be extended at either end. The baritone voice type is generally divided into the baryton-Martin baritone (light baritone), lyric baritone, Kavalierbariton, Verdi baritone, dramatic baritone, baryton-noble baritone, and the bass-baritone.

Ettore Campogalliani was an Italian composer, musician and teacher.

During World War II, Bergonzi became involved in anti-Nazi activities and was interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1943. Two years later, he was freed by the Russians and walked 106 km in order to reach an American camp. However, while on his way, he drank unboiled water and contracted typhoid fever, from which he recovered within a year. [4] After the war he returned to the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma, weighing just over 36 kilograms (80 pounds). [3]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Typhoid fever A bacterial infectious disorder contracted by consumption of food or drink contaminated with Salmonella typhi. This disorder is common in developing countries and can be treated with antibiotics.

Typhoid fever, also known simply as typhoid, is a bacterial infection due to Salmonella typhi that causes symptoms. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe and usually begin six to thirty days after exposure. Often there is a gradual onset of a high fever over several days; weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, and mild vomiting also commonly occur. Some people develop a skin rash with rose colored spots. In severe cases there may be confusion. Without treatment, symptoms may last weeks or months. Diarrhea is uncommon. Other people may carry the bacterium without being affected; however, they are still able to spread the disease to others. Typhoid fever is a type of enteric fever, along with paratyphoid fever.

Operatic career

In a 1985 interview with Opera Fanatic's Stefan Zucker, Bergonzi cited 1948 as the year of his professional debut, as a baritone. [6] He sang the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville , which he performed with a former prisoners' association which he joined after the war. It has been noted that the fee of 2,000 lire paid for his professional debut was insufficient to cover his meals and travel. [4]

Stefan Zucker is an American singer, expert on Italian opera and self-described "opera fanatic." He was listed in the 1980 Guinness Book of Records as the "world's highest tenor" for having hit and sustained an A above high C for 3.8 seconds at The Town Hall in New York City on September 12, 1972.

Gioachino Rossini 19th-century Italian opera composer

Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music. He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.

<i>The Barber of Seville</i> 1816 opera by Gioachino Rossini

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's French comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775). The première of Rossini's opera took place on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, with designs by Angelo Toselli.

Other baritone roles which he undertook included those of Metifio in L'arlesiana , Doctor Malatesta in Don Pasquale , Belcore in L'elisir d'amore , Enrico Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor , Ghirlino in Le astuzie di Bertoldo, Silvio in Pagliacci , David in L'amico Fritz , Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana , Albert in Werther , Marcello in La bohème , Sonora in La fanciulla del West , Sharpless in Madama Butterfly , Lescaut in Manon Lescaut , Laerte in Mignon , the title role in Rigoletto , and Georgio Germont in La traviata .

<i>Larlesiana</i> 1897 opera by Francesco Cilea

L'arlesiana is an opera in three acts by Francesco Cilea to an Italian libretto by Leopoldo Marenco. It was originally written in four acts, and was first performed on 27 November 1897 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. It was revised as a three-act opera in 1898, and a prelude was added in 1937.

<i>Don Pasquale</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Don Pasquale is an opera buffa, or comic opera, in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti with an Italian libretto completed largely by Giovanni Ruffini as well as the composer. It was based on a libretto by Angelo Anelli for Stefano Pavesi's opera Ser Marcantonio written in 1810 but, on the published libretto, the author appears as "M.A."

<i>Lelisir damore</i> 1832 opera by Gaetano Donizetti

L'elisir d'amore is a comic opera in two acts by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto, after Eugène Scribe's libretto for Daniel Auber's Le philtre (1831). The opera premiered on 12 May 1832 at the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan.

However, he realized that the tenor repertoire was more suited to his voice, and after retraining, he made his debut as a tenor in the title role of Andrea Chénier at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari in 1951. [2] That same year, Bergonzi sang at the Coliseum in Rome in a 50th anniversary concert of Verdi's death [7] and the Italian state radio network RAI engaged Bergonzi for a series of broadcasts of the lesser-known Verdi operas for the same purpose. These included I due Foscari [8] as well as Giovanna d'Arco and Simon Boccanegra . [9]

In 1953, Bergonzi made his La Scala debut, creating the title role in Jacopo Napoli's opera Mas' Aniello which was based on the life of Tommaso Aniello, the 17th-century Italian fisherman-turned-revolutionary. [3] His London debut as Alvaro in La forza del destino took place at the Stoll Theatre in 1953. [2] His American debut was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1955, and his Metropolitan Opera debut as Radames in Aida came the following year when he (and Antonietta Stella) received a positive reaction from Howard Taubman in The New York Times. [10] Bergonzi continued to sing at the Met for 30 years, his last role being that of Rodolfo in Verdi's Luisa Miller in 1988. [2]

He sang the role of Radames again for his debut with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company in 1961 and in 1962 he reprised the role of Alvaro for his debut with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. He made his debut with the San Francisco Opera in 1969 as Don Alvaro in La forza del destino.

Bergonzi pursued a busy international career in the opera house and recording studio during the 1960s. His chief Italian tenor rivals in this period were Franco Corelli and Mario Del Monaco. Bergonzi outlasted all three, continuing to sing through the 1970s at major opera houses. But in the 1980s, as his own vocal quality deteriorated inevitably with age, he concentrated on recital work. In 1996, Bergonzi participated in conductor James Levine's 25th anniversary gala at the Metropolitan Opera. He gave his American farewell concert at Carnegie Hall on 17 April that same year.

However, an announcement that on 3 May 2000, he was to sing the title role in a concert performance of Verdi's Otello , conducted by Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, attracted intense interest, particularly because he had never performed the demanding role on stage. Amongst others, the audience included Anna Moffo, Licia Albanese, Sherrill Milnes, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. [3] Bergonzi was unable to finish the performance, supposedly suffering irritation from the air-conditioning in his dressing-room. He withdrew after two acts, leaving the remaining two to be sung by Antonio Barasorda, a substitute singer. This performance was by wide critical consensus seen as a disaster. [3]

After retiring, Bergonzi is credited with mentoring tenors Roberto Aronica, Giuliano Ciannella, Berle Sanford Rosenberg, Vincenzo La Scola, Filippo Lo Giudice, Philip Webb, Giorgio Casciari, Paul Caragiulo, Lance Clinker, Fernando del Valle and Salvatore Licitra. Soprano Frances Ginsberg was also one of his pupils.

Bergonzi left a legacy of many recordings of individual arias and complete operas, including works by Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo. However, of his early baritone roles, few of his audio recordings still exist. [3]

Summary of his vocal attributes

In The New York Times obituary, Peter G. Davis, who reviewed a 1978 Carnegie Hall recital by Bergonzi in The Times is quoted as noting:

More than the sound of the voice, it is Mr. Bergonzi’s way of using it that is so special. He is a natural singer in that everything he does seems right and inevitable — the artful phrasing, the coloristic variety, the perfectly positioned accents, the theatrical sense of well-proportioned climaxes, the honest emotional fervor. Best of all, Mr. Bergonzi obviously uses these effects artistically because he feels them rather than intellectualizes them — a rare instinctual gift, possibly the most precious one any musician can possess. [3]

Alan Blyth, in his Gramophone survey of Bergonzi's greatest recordings, [11] sums up the qualities of Bergonzi's voice:

His singing there [referring to an online example], even more his earlier Verdi discs, evinces an innate feeling for shaping a line on a long breath, an exemplary clarity of diction, words placed immaculately on the tone, an authoritative use of portamento and acuti. Add to those virtues the manner by which he gives to each phrase a sense of inevitability and you say to yourself, in a mood of sheer pleasure, this is exactly how the music ought to sound. In the theatre only Otello was beyond his capabilities, though his solos are movingly sung on the Philips set.

Personal life

In 1950 Bergonzi married Adele Aimi, with whom he had two sons, Maurizio and Marco; the former was born on the day Bergonzi made his tenor debut. Bergonzi owned homes in both Milan and Busseto, in addition to a restaurant and hotel in the latter, the "I Due Foscari", named after the Verdi opera about Venetian court intrigue. [3]


Carlo Bergonzi died on 25 July 2014, twelve days after his 90th birthday, in the Auxologico Institution in Milan. He was laid to rest in the Vidalenzo Cemetery, which is situated within his birthplace of Polesine Parmense. [12]

Repertory as tenor

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  1. "Addio a Carlo Bergonzi, tenore verdiano del secolo" (in Italian). La Stampa. 26 July 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Rosenthal 1998, in Sadie, p. 421
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Margalit Fox, "Carlo Bergonzi, 90, an Operatic Tenor of Subtlety and Emotional Acuity, Dies", The New York Times, 26 July 2014
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Carlo-Bergonzi-obituary", The Telegraph (London), 27 July 2014 on
  5. Stefan Zucker, "Bergonzi Talks with Zucker and The Public" Archived February 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine , October 12, 1985, on Retrieved July 30, 2014
  6. "Opera Fanatic" on WKCR. October 12, 1985
  7. "COLISEUM ECHOES TO MUSIC BY VERDI; 5,000 Romans, First Audience Since Ancient Times, Hails Memorial to Composer, The New York Times, October 7, 1951. (by subscription)
  8. Alan Blyth, "Carlo Bergonzi obituary: Italian tenor admired as an authoritative interpreter of Verdi", The Guardian (London), 27 July 2014
  9. List of recordings made by Bergonzi, 1951 to 1989 on
  10. Howard Taubman, "Opera: Two 'Met' Debuts; Antonietta Stella and Bergonzi in Aida: In Stella and Bergonzi it has newcomers who will earn their keep and may bring in rich dividends. Both singers are from Italy; both are young.", The New York Times, November 14, 1956.
  11. "The Gramophone guide to Carlo Bergonzi's greatest recordings", Gramophone (London), 28 July 2014 on
  12. "Carlo Bergonzi". Find A Grave. Retrieved 30 July 2014.