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Today, the concept of a “crossover artist”who sings classical as well as pop may almost be a cliché. But 55 years ago, when former Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza was cast in the lead of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, it made front-page headlines across America. Pinza’s decision to “go legit” occurred shortly after his retirement from the Met, a partnership which had lasted for 22 years, 51 roles and 850 performances. At that point, he was 57 years old and although his voice was past its peak operatic glory (New York Times music critic Howard Taubman described his final Don Giovanni as “saddening”) it was still far superior to many of the instruments heard on Broadway. Consequently, in the last decade of his life, Pinza was to achieve greater fame than he had earned at the peak of his classical career.

He was born in Rome as Fortunato Pinza in 1892, the seventh child of a poverty-stricken family. After serving in World War I, he pursued fame as a professional cyclist and worked his way up to championship status. It was his father who urged him to pursue his vocal studies and at the age of thirty, he made his debut at La Scala in 1922. By 1926, he had arrived at the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained until 1948. Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Opera took a two-year exclusive contract on his services and brought him to the attention of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were looking for someone with continental charm and a persuasive voice to play the mature French planter, Emile De Becque, opposite Mary Martin’s perky southern gamine, Nellie Forbush, in their upcoming musical South Pacific. Although director Joshua Logan struggled with Pinza’s almost incomprensible English diction, the final performance galvanized audiences and was a major factor in the show’s smash hit status.

The canny, self-promoting Pinza parlayed his success as De Becque into a multi-tasking empire as a recording and film artist. He even ventured into television, with a 1951 variety series (“The Ezio Pinza Show”) as well as a short-lived live 1953 sitcom called “Bonino”. where he played a widowed opera singer with five children. (One of them was a ten-year-old named Van Dyke Parks, who later went on to a successful music career.) But the failure of Pinza’s various film and television projects, as well as changing public tastes, caused interest in his work to decline after that.

He made one more successful appearance on Broadway, in the 1954 musical Fanny, but then his health began to fail. A series of coronary problems presaged a stroke on 1 May 1957. Six days later, he died quietly in his sleep of a heart attack.

Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BELLINI: Norma (Callas, Filippeschi) (1953) Naxos Historical
BLUE VELVET - 60 Nostalgia All Time Classics Naxos Nostalgia
CHARPENTIER, G.: Louise (Moore, Pinza, Beecham) (1943) Naxos Historical
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi) (1953) Naxos Historical
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 5: New York Recordings (1927-1928) Naxos Historical
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 6: New York Recordings (1928-1930) Naxos Historical
GREAT SINGERS (1904-1952) Naxos Historical
Choral - Sacred
JENKINS, Florence Foster: Murder on the High Cs (1937-1951) Naxos Nostalgia
PINZA, Ezio: Some Enchanted Evening (1949-1954) Naxos Nostalgia
PONSELLE, Rosa: American Recordings, Vol. 4 (1923-1929) Naxos Historical
PONSELLE, Rosa: Rosa Ponselle Sings Verdi (1918-1928) Naxos Historical
RODGERS: South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast) (1949) Naxos
TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto / Encores (Milstein) (1949-53) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Don Carlo (Christoff, Filippeschi, Gobbi) (1954) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Requiem (Gigli) (1939) Naxos Historical
Choral - Sacred

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5:47:53 PM, 3 August 2015
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