Sunday, August 3, 2014

Arrivederci Carlo

I haven't had much time to blog recently, hence the silence. Since last logging on I see one of my musical heroes has passed away - the Italian tenor, Carlo Bergonzi.  He died on the 25th July last at the age of 90. 

Bergonzi was perhaps one of the best tenors in the last hundred years, and in my opinion, a greater singer than Pavarotti or Carreras. He trained in the bel canto tradition and had a most magnificent voice, one which was so satisfying to listen to, technically brilliant and pure, and also full of passion and life.  He could hit the high notes with ease, his technique so subtle he just seem to flow into the music (I know that just probably sounds strange but it makes sense to me).  He was a fine interpreter of Verdi, reviving some of that composer's lesser works, but also a great interpreter of  verismo. His Puccini recordings are excellent, and for me he will always be Cavaradossi and Rodolfo, no one has yet surpassed his interpretation of those roles. Now Bergonzi was never a great actor, some said he couldn't act to save his life, but he could sing! He brought the role to life through his voice.

Bergonzi, like many singers had an interesting life, he was not from a privileged background. He saw his first opera when he was six and he was transfixed. He left school at eleven to take up work to support his family, working in a cheese factory. He had started singing in the Church choir, and he continued to do so. When he was 16 he got the opportunity to begin vocal studies, and he began, interestingly, as a baritone. In 1948 he made his professional debut singing Figaro in The Barber of Seville, a baritone role, and more work followed. However he soon discovered that tenor roles were more suited to his voice and so he made the transition (not always an easy, nor advisable one). He made his debut as a tenor singing in the role of Andrea Chenier in the opera of the same name in 1951, and he never looked back.

Bergonzi was singing up to the year 2000, and thereafter took masterclasses. He outlasted his rivals, though his last performance was a bit of a disaster, and this made him realise the end had come: however he was 75 and signing the title role in a concert performance of Otello. Despite a busy career, he married in 1950 and remained married until his death: he and his wife Adele had two sons.

May the Lord have mercy on him and grant him eternal life. I cannot say whether his vocal ability will outshine that of the angels, but his voice will be a most welcome addition to the heavenly choirs.

And to remember him, his version of Puccini's E Lucevan le stelle from Tosca.

And of course, we have to have something from his beloved Verdi. We'll go for Aida, and let's be obvious - None Shall Sleep Tonight! Nessun Dorma.

And to end, something from verismo, the wonderful Pagliacci, Canio's famous aria, Vesti la giubba.

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