Carlo Bergonzi

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For the Italian luthier, see Carlo Bergonzi (luthier).
Carlo Bergonzi
Carlo Bergonzi.png
Carlo Bergonzi in front of Carnegie Hall in New York, 1994
Born (1924-07-13)July 13, 1924
Polesine, Italy
Died July 25, 2014(2014-07-25) (aged 90)
Milan, Italy
Nationality Italy
Occupation Opera singer
Years active 1948–2000
Spouse(s) Adele Aimi (m. 1950–2014)
Children Maurice 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. Bergonzi is considered as one of the 20th century’s most distinguished operatic tenors.[2]


Early life[edit]

Bergonzi was born in Vidalenzo, near Parma (northern Italy), on 13 July 1924 as an only child.[3] 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 Busetto, 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 in trouble for singing. Five years later, at the age of 16, he began his vocal studies as a baritone at Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma with Maestro Ettore Campogalliani.[4]

During World War II, Bergonzi got involved in anti-Nazi activities, and in 1943 he got interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Two year later, he got 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 in a year.[3] After the war he returned to the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma, Italy, weighing just over 36 kilograms.[2]


In a 1985 interview with Opera Fanatic's Stefan Zucker, Bergonzi cited 1948 as the date of his professional debut, as a baritone.[5] He played the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, which he played with a former prisoners' association he joined after the war. Other baritone roles that he undertook included: L'arlesiana (Metifio), Don Pasquale (Dottor Malatesta), L'elisir d'amore (Belcore), Lucia di Lammermoor (Lord Enrico Ashton), Le astuzie di Bertoldo (Ghirlino), Pagliacci (Silvio), L'amico Fritz (David), Cavalleria rusticana (Alfio), Werther (Albert), La bohème (Marcello), La fanciulla del West (Sonora), Madama Butterfly (Sharpless), Manon Lescaut (Lescaut), Mignon (Laerte), Rigoletto (Rigoletto) and La traviata (Giorgio Germont).

But he realized that tenor parts were better for his voice than baritone parts. In 1951, after retraining his voice, he made his debut as a tenor in the title role of Andrea Chénier at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari. That same year, to mark the 50th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi's death, the Italian state radio network RAI engaged Bergonzi for a series of broadcasts of the lesser-known Verdi operas I due Foscari, Giovanna d'Arco, and Simon Boccanegra.

In 1953, Bergonzi made his La Scala debut, creating the title role in Jacopo Napoli's opera Mas' Aniello, and his London debut as Alvaro in La forza del destino at the Stoll Theatre. 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. 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 of these rivals, 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 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. Bergonzi was to sing the title part in Otello, which was one of the most demanding tenor roles in opera. The audience included among others Anna Moffo, Licia Albanese, Sherrill Milnes, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. Bergonzi was unable to finish the performance, supposedly suffering irritation from the air-conditioning in his dressing-room. He withdrew after two parts, and left the remaining acts III and IV to be sung by Antonio Barasorda, a substitute singer. This performance was by wide critical consensus seen as a disaster.[2]

After retiring, Bergonzi spent most of his time at I due Foscari, his hotel in Busseto, which also hosts the Accademia Verdiana. Bergonzi is credited, too, with mentoring the 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, there are no extant audio recordings left.[2]

Personal life[edit]

In 1950 Bergonzi married Adele Aimi, with whom he had two sons, Maurice and Mark. Maurice was born on the same day Bergonzi had his debut as a tenor. Bergonzi has lived in Busseto and Milan.

Bergonzi had homes in Busseto and Milan, and owned a restaurant and hotel in Busetto. It was called I Due Foscari, named after the Verdi opera about Venetian court intrigue.


Carlo Bergonzi died on July 25, 2014 in the Auxologico institution in Milan, where he was hospitalized. His remains will be buried in Vidalenzo cemetery, located in his birthplace Polesine.

Repertory as tenor[edit]


  • The fee of his professional debut (2,000 lire) was not enough to cover his meal and travel.[3]



  1. ^ "Addio a Carlo Bergonzi, tenore verdiano del secolo" (in Italian). La Stampa. 26 July 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Carlo Bergonzi, 90, an Operatic Tenor of Subtlety and Emotional Acuity, Dies". 
  3. ^ a b c "Obituary on". Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Zucker, Stefan (October 12, 1985). "Bergonzi Talks with Zucker and The Public". Retrieved May 18, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Opera Fanatic" on WKCR. October 12, 1985


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