9 November 2021

Piero Cappuccilli - operatic baritone

Singer highly respected for interpretation of Verdi roles

Piero Cappuccilli as Ernani in a performance of Verdi's Don Carlo
Piero Cappuccilli as Ernani in a
performance of Verdi's Don Carlo
Piero Cappuccilli, regarded during a 41-year opera career as one of the finest Italian baritones of the late 20th century, was born on this day in 1926 in Trieste, in the far northeast corner of the peninsula.

Although not exclusively, Cappuccilli’s focus was predominantly the work of Italian composers, in particular Giuseppe Verdi, in whose operas he sang 17 major roles.

He sang at many of the world’s great opera houses, travelling to South America and the United States, where he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Giorgio Germont in Verdi’s La traviata in 1960 and had a particular association with the Lyric Opera in Chicago, where he made his first appearance in 1969 as Sir Richard Forth in Bellini's I puritani and returned many times before his farewell performances there in 1986.

Nonetheless, he spent most of his time in Europe. He made his debut at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala in 1964 as Enrico in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden as Germont in 1967; and at the Opéra de Paris in 1978, singing Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida. He also appeared at the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival and worked with Europe’s finest conductors, including Herbert von Karajan, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Claudio Abbado, and Carlos Kleiber.

Cappuccilli was initially reluctant to pursue the idea of a career in opera
Cappuccilli was initially reluctant to
pursue the idea of a career in opera
His retirement, in 1992 in his mid-60s, was enforced, unfortunately, after he was seriously injured in a road accident following a performance of Verdi’s Nabucco at the Arena di Verona. Although he recovered enough to make further contributions to the world of opera as a teacher, the damage to his body left him unable to cope with the physical demands of performing on stage.

Cappuccilli first encountered opera as a 10-year-old boy, during a family holiday, when he was recruited for the children's chorus of a production of Bizet’s Carmen in Naples. He thought nothing at that stage of a career in music, focussing his ambitions on becoming an architect.

As a young adult, friends noted the quality of his voice whenever he sang and in 1949 encouraged him to audition at the opera house in Trieste, the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi. Luciano Donaggio, an opera teacher, heard him and thought he had enough potential to offer him free lessons. 

Even then, Cappuccilli was not convinced it was worth his time and gave up for a while. But Donaggio ultimately persuaded him he was good enough to contemplate a career in opera and he joined the company at the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in 1951, taking a succession of small parts.

Many of Cappuccilli's performances have been preserved in a large discography
Many of Cappuccilli's performances have
been preserved in a large discography
His major break came in 1955 when he auditioned at La Scala in Milan, on the back of which it was suggested he enter the Viotti International Music Competition in Vercelli, Piedmont, now world-renowned but at that stage still in its relative infancy. He won first prize in his category and offers of more important roles soon followed. Cappuccilli made his debut in a major role in the Teatro Nuovo in Milan in 1957, singing Tonio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

In the years that followed, Cappuccilli not only excelled for the rich quality of his voice, outstanding breath control and immaculate phrasing but for the sensitive interpretation of the characters he portrayed. Critics spoke of him in the same breath as Tito Gobbi and Ettore Bastianini among the great Italian baritones.

He seldom disappointed in any role but his performances in Aida and Forza del Destino at La Scala in the 1960s attracted particularly enthusiastic reviews, while London critics were wowed by his interpretation of the title role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra when the La Scala company guested at Covent Garden in 1976.

Happily, many great performances were preserved in an extensive discography that includes performances alongside Maria Callas, Katia Ricciarelli, Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni under the baton of Von Karajan and Abbado among others.

Cappuccilli spent his final years back in Trieste, where he died in 2005, aged 78. He left a wife, Graziella, three children and two grandchildren. He is buried at the Cimitero di Sant’Anna.

A view of the Canale Grande in Trieste, the  maritime capital of  Friuli-Venezia Giulia
A view of the Canale Grande in Trieste, the 
maritime capital of  Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Travel tip:

The seaport of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.  The city has a coffee house culture that dates back to the Hapsburg era.  Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830.

Piazza San Babila is the home of  Milan's Teatro Nuovo today
Piazza San Babila is the home of 
Milan's Teatro Nuovo today
Travel tip:

The Teatro Nuovo theatre in Milan, located on the Piazza San Babila in the lower level of the Palazzo del Toro, was designed by architect Emilio Lancia and was the project of the impresario Remigio Paone. It was inaugurated in December 1938 with a performance of Eduardo De Filippo's comedy Ditegli sempre di sì. Piazza San Babila is characterized by the presence of a fountain built in 1997 by the architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni in conjunction with the Ente Fiera Milano.

Also on this day:

1383: The birth of military leader Niccolò III d’Este

1697: The pope orders the relocation of the city of Cervia, in Emilia-Romagna, because of toxic air from surrounding marshland 

1877: The birth of Enrico De Nicola, the first president of Italy

1921: The birth of football stickers pioneer Giuseppe Panini

1974: The birth of footballer Alessandro Del Piero

(Image of Canale Grande by Severin Herrmann from Pixabay)



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