Carlo Bergonzi

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To my mind the finest Verdi tenor of all time on disc is Carlo Bergonzi. I say this because Bergonzi is still with us, and it’s about time BBC Radio 3 gave us a programme showing us what a great artist he is. I will do it, if there’s nobody at the BBC with the understanding! Do we have to wait for him to die before the plaudits come out?

If you have never heard him and want an introduction just go to YouTube and listen to him singing Rudolfo from La Bohème, under Bernstein in 1958. Follow this through to perhaps the finest opera singing on YouTube, “O Paradiso” from 1968 all the way through to the James Levine 25th anniversary concert in 1996 when although long past his prime, at 71 years old he brought the house down with his “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller and the trio with June Anderson and Ferruccio Furlanetto from I Lombardi “Qual volutta trascorre”. Because he sang in the era of Jussi Björling and Giuseppe Di Stefano in the late fifties and Franco Corelli in the sixties, Domingo and Pavarotti later in the seventies and eighties he is often overlooked. But to me, in a host of Verdi roles, notably Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera and Alvaro in La Forza del Destino he had no equal and his Pinkerton with Renata Scotto as Butterfly is the benchmark for all Butterfly recordings. I also happen to think that his Rudolfo in La Bohème with Renata Tebaldi and Ettore Bastianini is up there with the famous Beecham recording. Come on Rob Cowan or somebody at the BBC give this artist a programme to show everyone what a fine singer he is.

Bergonzi seems to attract the sort of muted praise that say Adrian Boult attracted and in my book that makes him even more appealing. He was not made by a PR machine, nor by promotional videos, he achieved his reputation because he was a superb artist and a gifted singer in his own right who could also partner great sopranos without it becoming a fight to the death over who could upstage the other.

I think his voice less sensually beautiful than some but his singing was masterly and an object lesson for those studying the roles he sang with such distinction. He would make a wonderful subject for a retrospective review, say by Iain Burnside, who knows a thing or two about singers.

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