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Carlo Bergonzi: A look back at his Covent Garden performances

The great tenor was renowned for his Verdi performances with The Royal Opera.

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

28 July 2014 at 10.35am | 8 Comments

Carlo Bergonzi (1924–2014) was one of the great lyric tenors. He brought to his performances an ease of vocal phrasing, exceptionally clear diction and a breathtakingly smooth legato. He was pre-eminent interpreter of Verdi roles, a fact reflected in his many roles at the Royal Opera House.

Bergonzi made his Royal Opera debut in 1962, starring as Don Alvaro in Sam Wanamaker’s production of La forza del destino under Georg Solti, with Floriana Cavalli and Renato Capecchi.

He returned to Covent Garden in 1965 to sing Manrico in the first revival of Luchino Visconti’s production of Il trovatore with Gwyneth Jones, Fiorenza Cossotto and Peter Glossop, under Carlo Maria Giulini.

In 1971 he starred with Martina Arroyo, Rita Gorr and Glossop in a revival of Günther Rennert's production of Un ballo in maschera. In 1973 he made his first Covent Garden appearance in a non-Verdi role, singing Cavaradossi in a revival of Franco Zeffirelli's production of Tosca. He returned later that year to sing Radames in Peter Potter's production of Aida.

Bergonzi returned twice to The Royal Opera in 1975, to sing in La forza del destino with Gilda Cruz-Romo and Geraint Evans under Edward Downes, and in Un ballo in maschera with Cruz-Romo and Sherrill Milnes under Downes. In 1977 he performed Cavaradossi, singing with Galina Vishnevskaya and Glossop.

Bergonzi made his next Covent Garden appearance in 1978, singing in Il trovatore with Arroyo and Franco Bordoni under Downes. In 1981 he marked the 30th anniversary of his stage debut as a tenor singing Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore. Later that year he sang Rodolfo in a revival of Filippo Sanjust's production of Luisa Miller, with Katia Ricciarelli under Pinchas Steinberg.

Bergonzi's made his final Royal Opera appearance in 1985, singing Edgardo opposite Joan Sutherland in her final performances in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. Their performances were highly acclaimed, and on the final performance the cast were showered with bouquets, which they either threw back to the audience or into the pit. Speaking a few months later, Bergonzi recalled 'At Covent Garden I had the great satisfaction, at my age, of having an optimal success.'

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

28 July 2014 at 10.35am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Carlo Bergonzi, Joan Sutherland, obituary, The Royal Opera

This article has 8 comments

  1. Tony Bolger responded on 28 July 2014 at 11:38am Reply

    You have omitted Rhadames in Aida with Mackerras conducting

  2. Andrew Valentine responded on 28 July 2014 at 2:15pm Reply

    He was one of the greatest. I enjoyed many of his wonderful performances. In the 1980s I was in Busetto and visited his restaurant . He came over and joined myself and companion with a bottle of wine. He chatted about his career and opera in general. He was a lovely kind man as well as having a superb voice. His many recordings will always be there to remind us of his unique talent. He will be sadly missed. At the Royal Opera House he also sang Radames in Aida with Gilda Cruz-Romo & Mignon Dunn under Charles Mackerras and one Kiri Te Kanawa as the off stage priestess.

  3. John M. responded on 28 July 2014 at 2:28pm Reply

    Thank you for marking the passing of a Carlo Bergonzi and the retrospective of his career at Covent Garden. I could hardly believe it when I first heard him sing - the sound, the style, the elegance. He was, like Callas, an incredibly tasteful singer. We are lucky he left a great recorded legacy - think of the Luisa Miller with Moffo or the Ernani with Price or the Forza with Arroyo to name just three. I am grateful to have heard him as Alvaro, Gustavo, Manrico, Edgardo and Rodolfo in Luisa Miller. I am sure that he also sang in Tosca here, first with Bumbry and I heard him with Vishnevskaya. I seem to remember him as Nemorino in that lovely L'elisir d'amore. Or am I wrong? His concerts were wonderful too. I can remember being at the very back of the old amphitheatre as he poured forth Non t'amo più while semaphoring with his right arm. Again, thank you.

    • Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager) responded on 28 July 2014 at 3:20pm

      John, Andrew and Tony, many thanks for your sharing your memories of Bergonzi's performances at the Royal Opera House, and suggesting those additions; we've updated the article accordingly.
      All best,

  4. Alan Ware MBE responded on 28 July 2014 at 6:50pm Reply

    Carlo Bergonzi and Joan Sutherland in Lucia. Sheer bliss. Had a front row seat for one of his concerts, unforgettable. He was always my favourite with Joan Sutherland and to see them together was something I will always remember.

  5. Peter Erdos responded on 29 July 2014 at 11:58am Reply

    I am also a great admirer of Bergonzi and enjoyed most of his performances at Covent Garden It was always a delight to see and hear him and I am glad you have corrected the list, because both his Radames and his Nemorino were unsurpassable!
    Yes THAT Lucia with Sutherland was a miraculous performance, I will also treasure it for ever!
    Thank you Carlo! Rest in peace.

    • James Mertins responded on 22 September 2014 at 7:30am

      Dear Peter, remember those Il Trovatore with Livia and Rita Hunter on the last night.regards Jamie

  6. Michael Ridley responded on 4 August 2014 at 4:00pm Reply

    What performances they were - even though at the end of "Ah s'il ben mio" with Arroyo the applause was such that he broke his pose of bending over her hand facing into the wings to turn face on to the audience to bow to the applause before returning to his 'pose' and I seem to remember he may have done that more than once that evening. Then the miraculous Lucia's from 1985 as people have said but I have the happiest memory of all from his farewell performance when this short, portly and rather elderly man kept a full house completely entertained and sent us out into Floral Street and Bow Street wreathed in smiles - I have never experienced such a sense of happiness engendered within an entire audience by a performer. A great singer indeed.

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