Tenor Carlo Bergonzi Turns 90

Carlo Bergonzi(Photo: opera news)
Carlo Bergonzi(Photo: opera news)

Carlo Bergonzi! Onstage, he was a short dumpy man who looked like everyone’s favorite Italian Nono. Vocally, his was a voice of power and sweetness. Bergonzi had the greatest sense of line I have heard from a vocalist. Line is the heart of music making, stringing the notes together smoothly, allowing the tones to “bounce” on the breath. Such singing sounds effortless-it is not.

UPDATE July 18 It is reported that Bergonzi has been admitted to hospital in serious condition. Let’s pray for a good recovery or a peaceful passing.

I knew Bergonzi from records when I first heard him ‘live’. The Metropolitan opera on tour preened Verdi’s Il trovatore.  I’d tell you the plot but the story of Il trovatore even defeated The Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera. What you need for this opera is four great voices and a conductor who doesn’t get in the way.

It was April 23, 1977. Bergonzi was joined by Renata Scotto and Fiorenza Cossotto. James Levine conducted. It was a great ‘get in there and fight performance. The tiny Scotto was good at shoving her colleagues out of the way and screaming from the footlights. Bergonzi shoved her right back and gave us a full-grown magnificent Italian tenor.

Later in New York I heard Bergonzi in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and as the clown Canio in Pagliacci. By 1980 the bloom was off of his voice-but there was plenty left to enjoy. His range had diminished, but his was an artist that made music out of Italian operas written in the 1850s.

In 1996 Bergonzi appeared without prior announcement at a gala honoring James Levine. Listen to the audience at first sight of this beloved tenor

They don’t make ‘em that way anymore.

Today, Carlo Bergonzi is in declining health. He was able to greet several of his fans on the phone last week, responding to birthday greetings. One wishes for him a blessed and healthy retirement. I have no doubt that at 90 he could produce a vocal line to shame tenors half of his age. I heard Bergonzi several times. Lucky me!

Comments
  • Sheldon Taft

    In the Met’s televised season sampler opener late in the 1980′s, Bergonzi appeared as a last-minute sub for Pavarotti. He was a magnificent, stand-up, Italian tenor whose voice captivated us all.