THE great Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli, made a farewell tour of Britain in 1955, entertaining his Scottish fans with a concert at St Andrew’s Halls on March 2. His last concert was in Manchester on March 21, the day after his 65th birthday. Ill-health then prevented him embarking on a planned farewell tour of Italian concert venues.

He died, aged 67, in November 1957. “Gigli, greatest tenor since Caruso”, read the headline above his obituary in these pages.

When he played Glasgow that March evening in 1955, our critic noted that he had demonstrated, “despite some diminution of his powers”, he was still a great singer and artist. “The ring and power of his high notes could well be the envy of many another Italian tenor, his mezza voice, his shading of a phrase, his rhythm, his humour their despair”.

Gigli, seen here (right) with the impresario Sander Gorlinsky in Glasgow prior to that concert, had been born in 1890 into a working-class home in Recanati, the youngest son of a shoemaker. He gained a scholarship to Rome’s Conservatorio de Sante Cecilia and in 1914 he won an international competition in Parma and made his operatic debut in La Gioconda.

Successes in Spain in 1917 and South America in 1920 led to a brilliant debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1920, where he remained for 12 acclaimed seasons.

He had already visited Central Europe and Scandinavia in 1929, and in 1930 he made his first appearance at Covent Garden, London, returning there in 1931 and again in 1938.

“Gigli”, our music critic wrote in the Herald obituary, “appeared in several films and played almost every principal tenor role in the operatic repertoire of his day.

“Limited in acting ability and expressive range and not altogether free from vocal mannerisms, his success lay largely in the vitality of his singing and the intrinsic beauty of the voice which which he had been endowed”.

Read more: Herald Diary