At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Renato Bruson – operatic baritone

Donizetti and Verdi specialist rated among greats

Renato Bruson, pictured not long after his debut in the 1960s.
Renato Bruson, pictured not long after
his debut in the 1960s.
The opera singer Renato Bruson, whose interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s baritone roles sometimes brought comparison with such redoubtable performers as Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccili, was born on this day in 1936 in the village of Granze, near Padua.

Bruson’s velvety voice and noble stage presence sustained him over a career of remarkable longevity. He was still performing in 2011 at the age of 75, having made his debut more than half a century earlier.

Since then he has devoted himself more to teaching masterclasses, although he did manage one more performance of Verdi’s Falstaff, which was among his most famous roles, at the age of 77 in 2013, having been invited to the Teatro Verdi in Busseto, the composer’s home town in Emilia-Romagna, as part of a celebration marking 200 years since Verdi’s birth.

Today he is director of the Accademia Lirica at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, a role he combines with a professorship at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and a post at the lyrical academy in Spoleto.

It was at the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto, the ancient city in Umbria, that Bruson made his stage debut as the Conte di Luna in Verdi’s Il trovatore in 1960, which was a moment that brought deep satisfaction after a difficult childhood.

The parish church of Santa Cristina in Granze near Padua, where Bruson sang in the choir as a boy
The parish church of Santa Cristina in Granze near Padua,
where Bruson sang in the choir as a boy
Born into a family of modest means, he found it difficult to convince his parents that if they allowed him to pursue his desire to study music it would not make him appear to others as workshy.

In an interview many years later, Bruson said that the older generation in Granze as he was growing up took the view that people who went straight from school into the world of work could look forward to a prosperous future, whereas those who preferred to continue their studies were destined never to find their path in life.

Therefore he was given little support from his family, even though they had encouraged him to sing in the parish choir. Fortunately, he was awarded a scholarship by the Conservatory of Padua, 30km (19 miles) away.

His debut in Spoleto was well received and he was soon making his mark at some of the great opera houses of Italy, including the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome (1961), La Fenice in Venice (1965) and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo (1966).

The Teatro Regio in Parma, where Bruson was seen by a talent scout from the Met
The Teatro Regio in Parma, where Bruson was
seen by a talent scout from the Met
His big break came in 1967, when he sang the role of Don Carlo di Vargas in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Teatro Regio in Parma.

In the audience was Roberto Bauer, whose job was to scour Europe looking for new talent for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  He was so impressed he sought out Bruson afterwards so that he could arrange a meeting with the Met’s artistic director, Rudolf Bing.  Two years later, Bruson was making his debut on the other side of the Atlantic as Enrico in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

In the early part of his career, in particular, Bruson was associated with Donizetti’s baritones as much as Verdi’s, performing in no fewer than 17 operas from the pen of the Bergamo composer.

Over the next few years, Bruson paraded his acting skills, the deep but smooth resonance of his voice and his commanding stage presence at Europe’s leading opera houses.

Another milestone moment came in 1972 with his debut as Antonio in Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix at La Scala.

In 1975 he took his first bows at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, as Renato in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, and in 1978 came his debut at the Vienna State Opera in Macbeth, the Shakespeare play upon which Verdi had based his 10th opera in 1847.

Renato Bruson in more recent years
Renato Bruson in more recent years
In the meantime, he had also begun what was to be a long and fruitful collaboration with the conductor Riccardo Muti, who was particularly appreciative of Bruson’s vocal style, which had deep resonance without the thunderous qualities associated with some baritones. The singer always wanted audiences to appreciate the quality of his voice, rather than the volume, and to go home “with something in their hearts rather than some sounds in their ears.”

Bruson is married to Tita Tegano, a costume and set designer who has also written several books about the life and work of her husband. In 1996 he was made Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Last year, his career was celebrated again as he was named as the recipient of the Caruso Prize in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the opera genre.  The award is made annually in a ceremony at the Villa Caruso di Bellosguarda in Tuscany, former home of the great Neapolitan tenor and now a museum.

The well-preserved castle at Spoleto
The well-preserved castle at Spoleto
Travel tip:

The ancient city of Spoleto in Umbria, where Bruson made his first appearance in a live opera performance, has a long association with music and other performing arts, which it celebrates every summer with the Festival dei Due Mondi, which sees events taking place in churches, theatres and open squares throughout the city and attracts a high calibre of performers during June and July. Spoleto also has some fine architecture, including a beautiful 12th-century Duomo which has frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi, who is buried in the church.  The city also has the remains of a Roman amphiteatre and an imposing castle, parts of which go back to the fifth century.

Padua's Palazzo della Ragione
Padua's Palazzo della Ragione
Travel tip:

The city of Padua’s biggest attraction is the beautiful Scrovegni Chapel, made famous by the wonderful frescoes painted by Giotto, but there is plenty more to the Veneto’s second largest city, including a wealth of parks and gardens and a city centre where you will find many more students and local people than tourists.  This is despite Padua boasting the two fine basilicas of Sant’Antonio and Santa Giustina, the oval piazza known as Prato della Valle, the historic centre built around the Duomo, the Palazzo della Ragione and a University established in 1222 at which Galileo Galilei was a lecturer.

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