Life and career
Bonelli was born George Richard Bunn to Martin and Ida Bunn of Port Byron, New York. His family later moved to Syracuse and soon George preferred to be called Richard. Prior to deciding on a career in music, Bonelli was a friend of race car driver and later mayor of Salt Lake City, Ab Jenkins. Bonelli studied at Syracuse University and his voice teachers included Arthur Alexander in Los Angeles, Jean de Reszke and William Valonat in Paris.
Bonelli's operatic debut came on April 21, 1915 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as Valentin in Gounod's Faust. He toured with the San Carlo Opera Company between 1922 and 1924. He toured Europe in 1925, making appearances at the Monte Carlo Opera and La Scala and was eventually engaged by the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris. Between 1925 and 1931 Bonelli performed with the Chicago Opera Company and between 1926 and 1942 frequently performed at the San Francisco Opera. Bonelli's Metropolitan Opera debut came on December 1, 1932 as Verdi's Germont and he remained on the Met's active roster until 1945, making his final performance as Rossini's Figaro on March 14 that year. He was the Tonio in the first ever live telecast of opera, from the Met on March 10, 1940 alongside Hilda Burke and Armand Tokatyan. Of his many roles, Bonelli was known best for his Verdi roles, and also Wolfram, Tonio, and Sharpless. In Italy, he performed under the name Riccardo Bonelli. He also appeared in two movies; a supporting role in 1935's Enter Madame and a cameo appearance in 1941's The Hard-Boiled Canary.
After retiring from singing, Bonelli became a successful voice teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, and in New York. Among his students were Frank Guarrera, Enrico Di Giuseppe, Lucine Amara, and Norman Mittelmann. In 1949 when Edward Johnson retired from his position of general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Bonelli was a contender for the job though it ultimately went to Rudolf Bing. Bonelli's favorite baritone was Titta Ruffo. American baritone Robert Merrill had stated that Bonelli was his inspiration to study singing, after hearing him perform the Count di Luna at the Met alongside Giovanni Martinelli and Elisabeth Rethberg in 1936. Even after retiring from teaching, he periodically performed on stage into his 80s. His later appearances were more on the West Coast of the United States. He was actor Robert Stack's uncle. Bonelli died in Los Angeles on June 7, 1980 at the age of 91.
- Richard Bonelli (Baritone) - Short Biography - biography on Bonelli (retrieved April 26, 2011)
- Charles A. Hooey - MusicWeb-International - biography on Bonelli (retrieved April 26, 2011)