Carlo Bergonzi, one of the 20th century’s most distinguished operatic tenors, renowned for the refined interpretive taste and keen musical intelligence he brought to his art, died on Friday in Milan. He was 90.
“More than the sound of the voice, it is Mr. Bergonzi’s way of using it that is so special,” Peter G. Davis, reviewing a 1978 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Bergonzi, wrote in The New York Times. “He is a natural singer in that everything he does seems right and inevitable — the artful phrasing, the coloristic variety, the perfectly positioned accents, the theatrical sense of well-proportioned climaxes, the honest emotional fervor. Best of all, Mr. Bergonzi obviously uses these effects artistically because he feels them rather than intellectualizes them — a rare instinctual gift, possibly the most precious one any musician can possess.”
Bergonzi began his operatic career as a baritone, only later discovering his true tenor voice. Listening to him was always a joy, tinged at times with a certain angst. Would he succeed in navigating the notoriously difficult b-flat at the end of "Celeste Aida" – the aria at the very beginning of the first act of Verdi's opera? But so artful was Bergonzi's phrasing and so articulate his declamation that even when he cracked, he cracked elegantly.