14 June 2024

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Carlo Bergonzi – “a model of style”

“Bergonzi was the greatest Verdi tenor of the last century.”
Alan Blyth, Gramophone, in 2014

The great Italian tenors in the era after World War II like Mario del Monaco, Franco Corelli and Giuseppe di Stefano – Karajan worked with all of them. Among the giants of this species, who were as famous as football stars, was Carlo Bergonzi. Even more than his colleagues his artistic work was dedicated to Verdi. Bergonzi interpreted roles from 18 different Verdi operas throughout his career. Especially the less-known operas gained popularity through his commitment. “I due Foscari” – this is what Bergonzi called the hotel he owned in his later years.
Karajan’s and Bergonzi’s first collaboration was – of course – Verdi. The 1959 “Aida” recording with Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi “is considered to be one of the most convincing interpretative concepts in recording history (Peter Uehling)”. Karajan and his producer John Culshaw wanted Bergonzi for the role of Radames. Decca boss Maurice Rosengarten wanted Mario del Monaco but Karajan insisted and Bergonzi got the part. Alan Blyth in Gramophone wrote: “[Bergonzi] sings it in a stylistically faultless manner, with long-breathed phrases and attention to Verdi’s dynamics. Who could want more?”

Another Verdi work Karajan and Bergonzi performed 11 times together was the Requiem including the spectacular open air concert in Epidaurus on 12 September 1965. “If Christa Ludwig gave the performance its human dimension, Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi spun vocal lines of otherworldly beauty. Ludwig recalls how Bergonzi lingered over phrase after phrase, with Karajan and the Berliners holding the instrumental line like a thread of unbroken gossamer. (Richard Osborne)”
In the same year, Karajan and Bergonzi recorded the popular couple “I Pagliacci” (with Bergonzi as Canio) and “Cavalleria rusticana” (with Bergonzi as Turiddu). Again, Alan Blyth wrote about the “Cavalleria”:

“Again the singing is a model of style, and there is no lack of feeling in Bergonzi’s reading of the role.”

Karajan’s and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Verdi Requiem film in 1967 was supposed to feature Bergonzi, but he backed down. The young tenor who stepped in not only became one of the great tenors of the 20th century but also a close friend of Bergonzi’s – Luciano Pavarotti.

Carlo Bergonzi died in 2014, aged 90 years.

We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan and Carlo Bergonzi. Listen to them here.

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

Alan Blyth, Gramophone, 2014 on www.gramophone.co.uk

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