^ Back to Top
^ Back to Discography
Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search


Both Rossi Lemeni’s parents were born in Odessa. At the time of the Russian Revolution his father, who was of Italian-Russian extraction, was in the Russian army and the family was obliged to flee to Istanbul where Nicola was born. The family then moved to Italy where his father joined the Italian army. His schooling took place in Rome and Tripoli, Libya then being an Italian colony, after which he studied law at Padua University.

Music, however, gained the upper hand. Both Rossi Lemeni’s parents knew the children of Chaliapin, whose recordings he collected avidly; and after initial training with his mother, an accomplished singer, he studied repertory with Gigli’s accompanist, Vito Carvenale. At eighteen, he began receiving coaching from Ferruccio Cusinati, an assistant to the conductors Tullio Serafin (who was to become a strong supporter) and Antonio Guarneri, and later with Ettore Campogalliani. During World War II, after service on the Russian front under his father, Rossi Lemeni later sang for the Allied troops; and finally made his operatic stage debut in 1946 as Varlaam / Boris Godunov in Venice, followed by Ramfis / Aida at Verona and Philip II / Don Carlo at Trieste.

After this he travelled to the USA; but the opera company with which he was singing became bankrupt. While in New York however, Rossi Lemeni arranged for a colleague, Maria Callas, to audition for Giovanni Zenatello for the Verona summer festival: they both sang in La gioconda the following summer at the Verona Arena, returning together in 1948 in Turandot.

Rossi Lemeni’s debut at La Scala, Milan came in 1947 as Varlaam. Later roles at La Scala included Oroveso / Norma (1950); Alfonso / Lucrezia Borgia and the Verdi Requiem (1950–1951); Kaspar / Der Freischütz (1955); the title role in Mefistofele and Don Basilio / Il barbiere di Siviglia, as well as participation in the 1966 premiere of Renzo Rossellini’s La leggenda del ritorno. At the Rome Opera he sang the title role in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto (1948–1949), Zaccaria / Nabucco (1950–1951) and the title part in Boris Godunov (1951).

By the late 1940s Rossi Lemeni was singing throughout Italy and in 1949 he made his debut at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires as Boris, returning there frequently. It was as Boris also that he made his 1951 debut with the San Francisco Opera, returning in 1952 (the year in which he recorded excerpts from Boris Godunov with Stokowski conducting), 1953, 1967 and 1968 and taking part in the company’s Anniversary Gala in 1978. He also appeared as Boris at the Royal Opera House, London in 1952, the critics drawing favourable comparison with Chaliapin.

At the Metropolitan Opera, New York Rossi Lemeni first appeared in1953 as Méphistophélès / Faust (Gounod) in a new production by Peter Brook conducted by Pierre Monteux, followed by the title role in Don Giovanni. Although he was not to return to the Met, he took part in the inaugural season in 1954 of the Chicago Lyric Opera (as Don Giovanni), returning for three seasons.

Throughout the 1950s Rossi Lemeni’s repertoire was focused upon the principal bass parts in such core repertoire as Aida, Don Giovanni, Faust, I puritani, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Bohème, La forza del destino, L’amore dei tre re, L’elisir d’amore, Luisa Miller, Mefistofele and Norma. He was extremely active as a guest, appearing at Naples, Florence and Palermo as well as Barcelona, Budapest, Lisbon, Leningrad, Mexico City, Moscow, Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

In 1958 (the year he married the Romanian soprano Virginia Zeani) Rossi Lemeni sang the role of Thomas à Beckett in the first performance of Pizzetti’s L’assassinio nella cattedrale at La Scala, which he repeated in Rome (1958) and Genoa (1960). He now sang more often in contemporary operas, including Wozzeck, Bloch’s Macbeth and Britten’s Billy Budd, taking part in the latter’s Italian premiere at Florence in 1965; but by the mid-1960s his voice was, unsurprisingly, showing signs of wear and he turned to directing. He was appointed a professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1980.

Initially Rossi Lemeni’s voice was smooth and well-focused but as his career progressed he resorted increasingly to vigorous declamation. He was however an interpreter of marked intelligence and sensitivity, with a powerful stage presence.

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

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 

 View Albums

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group