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As a child Tagliavini sang in a church choir, learnt to play the violin and listened to operatic recordings; but although encouraged by his parents to study singing, he instead chose to prepare for what he saw as the more stable career of electrician. In addition he served for a year with the Italian army in Africa. Only at the age of twenty-four did he begin to pursue singing formally, when he was challenged by his father to enter a vocal competition in Parma in which he was successful, winning a scholarship to study at the Parma Conservatory but also continuing to work as an electrician. In Parma he studied singing with Italo Brancucci and in Florence with the Wagnerian tenor Amedeo Bassi. Following success in a second competition, at the 1938 Florence Maggio Musicale, he made his professional operatic debut as Rodolfo / La Bohème during the following year at the Teatro Communale, Florence.

Although the outbreak of World War II initially precluded an international career, Tagliavini quickly became famous in Italy, making some superb recordings and appearing at many of the country’s leading opera houses such as the Teatro Massimo, Palermo. Here he met his first wife, the soprano Pia Tassinari, whom he married in 1941. He also developed a career as a film star and between 1941 and 1958 appeared in several Italian comic films, often as a character unexpectedly possessing a remarkable operatic voice; in Anima e Core (1951) this individual was also an electrician.

Tagliavini’s debut at La Scala, Milan came in 1942 as Count Almaviva / Il barbiere di Siviglia. He sang there for the next ten years, initially in light roles such as Nemorino / L’elisir d’amore, Elvino/ La sonnambula, Des Grieux / Manon and the title roles in L’amico Fritz and later Werther, as well as Cavaradossi / Tosca. He became a close friend of Mascagni, with whom he recorded L’amico Fritz and who claimed it was Tagliavini who made this opera a success.

After the end of the war, Tagliavini’s many concerts for American troops and his recordings brought him to the notice of the American operatic world. In the autumn of 1946, following a tour of Central and South America, he made his North American debut with the Chicago Opera as the Duke / Rigoletto. Shortly afterwards at the beginning of 1947 he appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, New York as Rodolfo, winning high praise from the New York Times for ‘the beauty of his voice and the artistry of his singing’. This was followed by performances as Count Almaviva, Alfredo / La traviata, Edgardo / Lucia di Lammermoor, the Duke and Pinkerton / Madama Butterfly. Later seasons saw him add to his repertoire at the Met Cavaradossi (1947), Nemorino (1948) and Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni (1950). Tagliavini also appeared with the San Francisco Opera during its 1948–1949 season and returned there in 1952 to sing Faust / Mefistofele (Boito). After the spring of 1954 he ceased to sing at the Met, with the exception of a few performances in 1962.

It was with the company of La Scala, Milan on tour that Tagliavini made his London debut in 1950 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, winning storms of applause for his singing of Nemorino. He returned to London in 1953 to sing Cavaradossi at the Stoll Theatre, a role which he repeated with the Covent Garden Opera Company in 1955 opposite Renata Tebaldi and in 1956 with Zinka Milanov. His final London appearance was as Nadir / Les Pêcheurs de Perles, sung in Italian at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1958.

During the1950s Tagliavini added heavier roles to his repertoire. This took a toll on his essentially light lyric voice, causing it to lose its honeyed colour: for instance in 1951 he sang Riccardo / Un ballo in maschera with the company of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples at the Paris Opera. He made his final appearance at the Verona Arena in the title role of Gounod’s Faust in 1954, but continued to be active until 1965 when he gave his farewell performance at La Fenice, Venice as Werther. He returned to New York to give recitals during the 1970s and took part in a concert performance of L’amico Fritz in 1981.

In his prime Tagliavini possessed a voice of extraordinary beauty, able to sustain a lyrical line with great elegance and to execute florid passages with ease. In his later years his singing regrettably lost some of these qualities, becoming thicker and less flexible.

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

Role: Classical Artist 
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