July 27, 2014

Carlo Bergonzi, Maria Callas' Tosca tenor, has died at the age of 90

The Italian tenor was one of the 20th century's greatest interpreters of Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.

The Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi has passed away in Milan on Friday, 25 July at the age of 90.

The son of a cheesemaker, he was born in 1924 in Vidalenzo, northern Italy. He initially trained as a baritone before making his La Scala debut as a tenor in 1953. Throughout a long and distinguished career he was one of the most sought-after Verdian tenors (in later life he opened a hotel named I Due Foscari in Verdi's hometown of Busseto), renowned for his elegantly-shaped phrasing and nuanced tone. From the 1950s onwards, he sang more than 300 times at the New York Metropolitan Opera opposite the greatest stars of the era: Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price among them.

Bergonzi recorded extensively; his legacy includes Verdi's Simon Boccanegra for Cetra and La Forza del Destino for EMI in 1969, the latter alongside Ruggero Raimondi and with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

One of his greatest triumphs was undoubtedly as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca alongside Maria Callas in 1964-5, with Tito Gobbi's Scarpia completing a legendary cast. (He is pictured on the far right with conductor Georges Prêtre, Callas and Gobbi.) The Act I love duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi is indispensible on disc. It was the second time Callas had recorded the title role (previously in 1953 with tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano) in what was to become the last opera in which she appeared, in London 1965.

Bergonzi's farewell concert at Covent Garden in 1992 was given exactly 30 years after his debut there at the Royal Opera House. He died just weeks after his 90th birthday.

Bergonzi Callas Tosca