Italian Tenor Carlo Bergonzi began his career as a baritone. He became known as one of the best interpreters of Italian repertoire of his era and performed alongside legendary singers such as Maria Callas, Victoria de los Ángeles and Leontyne Price.
Carlo Bergonzi was born in Vidalenzo in the north of Italy, not far from Verdi’s hometown of Busseto. He started learning the piano at the age of 14 before dedicating himself to singing, which he studied with the baritone Edmond Grandini at the Conservatoire in Parma.
Bergonzi was imprisoned during the Second World War for anti-fascist activities and placed in a German Concentration Camp. After returning to Italy he made his professional debut in a baritone role, as Figaro in the Barber of Seville by Rossini. He went on to perform the roles of Germont, Don Pasquale, Belcore and Enrico in various operas before a singer standing in for Tito Gobbi on short notice made him realise that he would better flourish singing in a different range. He set about teaching himself tenor roles, inspired by performances by singers of the time such as Caruso, Gigli, Schipa and Pertile. In 1951 he made his debut as a tenor in the lead role of Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano.
Bergonzi was acclaimed for his natural, subtle phrasing and was invited to sing in famous concert halls across the world, from La Scala in Milan to Convent Garden, in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His portrayals of key roles have become a point of reference for many. He impressed as Radamès in Verdi’s Aida and Manrico in Il Trovatore, as Rodolfo in La Bohème and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Canio in Pagliacci by Leoncavallo and Nelorino in l’elisir d’amore by Donizetti.
Carlo Bergonzi’s career took flight after his debut at La Scala in Milan, in Masaniello by Jacopo Napoli. He quickly became a star; during his 40-year career he performed in 71 operas and produced 25 influential recordings, including the complete works of Giuseppe Verdi (Philips).
In 1964, Carlo Bergonzi sang the Verdi Requiem, alongside Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias and Cesare Siepi, conducted by Georg Solti, in memory of President John F. Kennedy. After a career spanning some forty years, on the global stage, Bergonzi devoted his last years to teaching.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Carlo Bergonzi
1948: debut as baritone, in the role of Figaro in Rossini's Barber of Seville
1951: debut as tenor, in Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano 1954: debut at La Scala, Milan in Masaniello by Jacopo Napoli 1956: debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York
1964: participated in tribute concert singing Verdi's Requiem in memory of President John F. Kennedy
Six Key Roles
♦ Radamès in Aida by Verdi
♦ Manrico in Il Trovatore by Verdi
♦ Rodolfo in La Bohème by Puccini
♦ Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly by Puccini
♦ Canio in Pagliacci by Leoncavallo
♦ Nelorino in l’Elisir d’Amore by Donizetti