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BENIAMINO GIGLI

When Gigli was only seven years old he joined the choir of Recanati Cathedral, where his father, a shoemaker who loved opera, was sacristan. Initially he worked in a chemist’s shop, taking his first singing lessons from Quirino Lazzarini; but in 1907 he and his brother, who was to become a distinguished painter, moved to Rome. Here they led a bohemian existence until Beniamino was offered work as a servant in a wealthy household. This not only provided board and lodging, but also the time to take free singing lessons from a local teacher, Agnese Bonucci. Having entered the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in 1911, where he was a pupil of Antonio Cotogni and Enrico Rosati, in 1914 he won an international singing competition at Parma at which one of the judges, the tenor Alessando Bonci, exclaimed: ‘We have found a tenor!’ He made his operatic stage debut in October of the same year as Enzo / La Gioconda at Rovigo.

Gigli was quickly offered further engagements, making his debuts in Palermo and Naples during 1915 and Rome at the end of 1916, followed by Madrid and Barcelona (as Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele on each occasion). After enjoying great success as Flammen in Mascagni’s Lodoletta at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, he was engaged by Toscanini to appear for the first time at La Scala, Milan in November 1918, once again as Boito’s Faust. His South American debut came in 1919 at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires as Gennaro in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, followed by his 1920 debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Mefistofele.

Following the death of Caruso in August 1921 Gigli quickly came to be recognised as one of the pre-eminent tenors of his generation, especially in the lyric repertoire. Notable first performances at the Met in which he sang principal parts included Andrea Chénier (1921), Le Roi d’Ys (1922), Loreley (1922) and La rondine (1928). During his time with the Met Gigli’s repertoire included Alfredo / La traviata, Cavaradossi / Tosca, Des Grieux in both Manon Lescaut and Manon, Edgardo / Lucia di Lammermoor, Elvino / La sonnambula, Fenton / Falstaff, Nemorino / L’elisir d’amore, Pinkerton / Madama Butterfly, Radamès / Aida, Roméo / Roméo et Juliette, Rodolfo / La Bohème and Turiddù / Cavalleria rusticana. At the Met he also took leading roles in less central repertoire such as Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re (1921), Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and Flotow’s Martha (both 1923), Giordano’s Fedora (1925) and La cena delle beffe (1926), Thomas’s Mignon (1927) and Mascagni’s Iris (1931).

In 1932 however, after a disagreement over a fee reduction deliberately engineered by the Met’s manager Gatti-Casazza, Gigli left the company (although returning for a handful of performances during 1939) and concentrated his career upon Europe and South America. He had made a successful debut in 1924 at Berlin, where he was much admired for his portrayal of the Duke in Rigoletto, and sang at the Royal Opera House, London during four seasons before World War II (1930, 1931, 1938 and 1939) as well as in 1946. He appeared at the Vienna State Opera frequently between 1929 and 1937, took part in the Salzburg Festival of 1936 singing in Verdi’s Requiem, participated in the first festival at the Caracalla Baths, Rome in 1937 (as Radamès) and sang the title role in La Scala’s revival of Donizetti’s Poliuto in 1940.

During World War II Gigli became identified with the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose favourite singer he was reputed to be. As a consequence, after the war he found it difficult to secure engagements, at least initially. He often sang with his daughter, the soprano Rina Gigli, appearing with her in La Bohème at Covent Garden in 1946, the year in which he sang Turiddù and Canio in a single evening—a feat which he subsequently often repeated. One of Gigli’s last stage appearances was as Don Alvaro / La forza del destino at Rio de Janeiro in 1951 and his final concert was given in 1955 in Washington DC. Prior to his retirement he had made an exhausting world tour which impaired his health.

Gigli possessed a honeyed voice, which he knew exactly how to use to achieve the maximum emotional effect. His first recording was made in 1918 with the HMV label, to whom he remained loyal throughout his career. HMV in turn cast him in several complete opera recordings which preserved several of his finest characterisations, including Andrea Chénier and La Bohème. He was also an unsurpassed interpeter of Neapolitan songs and enjoyed a successful career on screen, appearing as an actor in over twenty films between 1935 and 1953, including the 1936 musical drama Ave Maria directed by Johannes Riemann and Giuseppe Fatigati’s 1943 drama I Pagliacci.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).


Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
A TO Z OF SINGERS Naxos Educational
8.558097-100
Opera
BELCANTO - THE TENORS OF THE 78 ERA, PART 1 (PAL) TDKDVD
DV-DOCBEL1
Classical Documentary
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi) (1953) Naxos Historical
8.110131-32
Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 1: Milan Recordings (1918-1919) Naxos Historical
8.110262
Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 2: Milan, Camden and New York Recordings (1919-1922) Naxos Historical
8.110263
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Nostalgia, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 3: Camden and New York Recordings (1923-1925) Naxos Historical
8.110264
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 4: Camden and New York Recordings (1926-1927) Naxos Historical
8.110265
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Nostalgia, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 5: New York Recordings (1927-1928) Naxos Historical
8.110266
Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 6: New York Recordings (1928-1930) Naxos Historical
8.110267
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 7: London, New York and Milan Recordings (1931-1932) Naxos Historical
8.110268
Opera, Choral - Sacred, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 8: Milan, London and Berlin Recordings (1933-1935) Naxos Historical
8.110269
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Opera, Orchestral, Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 9: Berlin, Milan and London Recordings (1936-1938) Naxos Historical
8.110270
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Pop and Rock, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Choral - Secular, Vocal
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 10: Milan and London Recordings (1938-1940) Naxos Historical
8.110271
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Orchestral, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 11: Milan, Berlin and Rome Recordings (1941-1943) Naxos Historical
8.110272
Opera, Vocal, Operetta, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 12: London Recordings (1946-1947) Naxos Historical
8.111101
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 13: London Recordings (1947-1949) Naxos Historical
8.111102
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 14: London, Milan and Rio de Janeiro Recordings (1949, 1951) Naxos Historical
8.111103
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 15: Carnegie Hall Farewell Recitals (1955) Naxos Historical
8.111104
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Opera
GIORDANO: Andrea Chenier (Gigli, Caniglia) (1931) Naxos Historical
8.110275-76
Opera
GREAT SINGERS (1904-1952) Naxos Historical
8.110781-82
Opera
Italian Popular Songs, Vol. 1 (1930-1950) Naxos Historical
8.110768
Vocal
ITALIAN POPULAR SONGS, Vol. 2 (1926-1953) Naxos Historical
8.110773
Vocal
LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci (Gigli / La Scala) (1934) Naxos Historical
8.110155
Opera
MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni / La Scala) (1940) Naxos Historical
8.110714-15
Opera
PUCCINI, G.: Opera excerpts Phoenix Edition
Phoenix150
Opera
PUCCINI: Boheme (La) (La Scala) (1938) Naxos Historical
8.110072-73
Opera
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly (Gigli, Dal Monte) (1939) Naxos Historical
8.110183-84
Opera
PUCCINI: Tosca (Gigli, Caniglia) (1938) Naxos Historical
8.110096-97
Opera
VERDI, G.: Messa da Requiem (Gigli, Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Serafin) (1939) Naxos Historical
8.110159
Choral - Sacred
VERDI: Ballo in Maschera (Un) (Gigli, Caniglia) (1943) Naxos Historical
8.110178-79
Opera





 
 
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