Virile yet elegant, ardent yet intelligent, above all human; Bergonzi was considered by many to be the greatest Verdi tenor of the mid-20th century.
After debuting as a baritone in 1948, Bergonzi’s international career as tenor took off in the 1950s, when he began long-term associations with the Metropolitan, La Scala, and Covent Garden. His 1976 three-disc survey for Philips of Verdi’s tenor roles is something of a landmark, as are complete recordings of Radames, Alfredo, and the Duke of Mantua, among others. On stage, he was stiff and plain: ‘I know I don’t look like Rudolph Valentino, but I have tried to learn to act through the voice.’ His mastery of breath and the colour of the words allowed him to portray hotbloods Canio and Cavaradossi without the usual gulps and groans. Now in his eighties, Bergonzi teaches and runs a hotel in Verdi’s birthplace, Busseto.
In his own words: ‘Technique enables an artist to arrive at a level of excellence where it is impossible to guess which qualities are acquired and which are innate.’
Greatest recording: Carlo Bergonzi – The Sublime Voice Decca 476 1858 (2 discs)