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Carlo Bergonzi

Tenor.

Born: July 13, 1924; Died: July 26, 2014.

Carlo Bergonzi, who has died in Italy aged 90, was one of the great lyric tenors of the post-war years, bringing to his performances an ease of vocal phrasing, exceptionally clear diction and a breathtakingly smooth legato.

He was pre-eminent in the operas of Verdi and significantly, with one exception, sang only Verdi at Covent Garden. He was never demonstrative on stage - Bergonzi was from the Stand and Deliver School of Singing - but when you heard the voice live it was pure magic.

He was, with Luciano Pavarotti, one of the great Italian tenors and the legacy he has left on record will be his legacy. Decca have just brought out a complete box set of his Verdi operas to celebrate his 90th birthday and today's critics have hailed them.

Born in Vidalenzo in Northern Italy, Bergonzi was self-taught and had been held in a Nazi prisoner of war camp for three years during the war. He made his debut in Bari in 1951 and first sang with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in Sam Wannaker's new production of La Forza del Destino under Georg Solti. Other notable engagements at Covent Garden included Il trovatore in 1965, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and Luisa Miller with Katia Ricciarelli in 1985.

Bergonzi's final appearance with the Royal Opera was in 1985, when he joined Joan Sutherland in her final opera performance in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. The two sang superbly and the theatre cheered ecstatically.

That night, the theatre was full of anticipated excitement. Sutherland gave a virtuoso account of the Mad Scene - as she had done at the Edinburgh Festival in 1961 with immense vocal precision. Bergonzi was not to be outdone and sang his last act aria with total control and accuracy.

At the curtain calls, both stars were hailed for their performances and flowers cascaded down from the rafters. They picked up bouquets and exchanged them or threw them with broad smiles to members of the orchestra. They were two much-loved artists who the public had admired for many years. With Bergonzi there was no fuss, no gimmicks and certainly never any media hype. He was there to sing and sing he did.

He gave a farewell recital at Covent Garden aged 68, when his vocal control was smooth, stable and fluent as ever.

He concentrated much of his career at the opera houses in Milan, New York and Chicago. Throughout, Bergonzi husbanded his voice with care. He never sang any role that would strain his vocal chords (significantly never singing any German roles) and this led to his lengthy and distinguished career.

So it was strange that at the age of 75 he undertook the hugely taxing title role in Verdi's Otello in a concert performance in New York. Just to add to the pressure, in the audience were Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. Bergonzi withdrew during the performance and an understudy was rapidly brought on for the last act.

He acknowledged he did not have the handsome appearance of some of the heroes he portrayed ("I know I don't look like Rudolph Valentino") but as a tenor he had an inner fire that combined beauty, intensity and style.

He retired to Verdi's hometown of Busseto where he owned a restaurant, I Due Foscari. He often serenaded his patrons with arias long into the night. He married Adele Aimi in 1950. She and their two children survive him.

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