Bergonzi sings an emotional farewell to American audiences

April 20, 1994|By Kenneth Meltzer | Kenneth Meltzer,Special to The Sun

Carlo Bergonzi, the greatest Verdi tenor of the postwar generation, brought his illustrious North American career to a graceful and emotional conclusion Sunday night at New York's Carnegie Hall with his farewell recital. A capacity audience was in attendance to pay tribute to an artist who has been a paragon of Italian style, musicianship and passion for more than 40 years.

Like all great artists who have enjoyed long, successful careers, Mr. Bergonzi has always been the most acute judge of his vocal strengths and limitations. He will turn 70 in a few months, and the voice has certainly lost a good bit of its freedom and sweetness in the upper register. But the tenor's still warm and beautiful middle range easily filled the vast expanses of Carnegie Hall and the incomparable artistry has, if anything, improved over the years. This was one of those rare vocal farewell concerts in which the audience didn't need to rely on memories for its musical fulfillment.

Of course the music of Mr Bergonzi's compatriot, Giuseppe Verdi, was prominent, with three songs as well as arias from "I Masnadieri," "Aroldo" and "Luisa Miller," all sung with textbook purity of line, vigorous attack and extraordinary breath control.

While the song literature of Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti (not to mention Tosti, Bixio, di Capua and de Curtis) may not be the artistic equals of the great lieder of Schubert and Schumann, one would be hard-pressed to advance that argument in the face of Mr. Bergonzi's committed delivery. The magically executed soft conclusion to Bellini's "Ma rendi pur contento" encapsulated in seconds the greatness of Mr. Bergonzi's artistry.

Despite the bittersweet nature of the proceedings, Mr. Bergonzi seemed to be having a grand time, cavorting with audience members seated on the stage and acknowledging salutations bellowed from therafters. His rendition of di Capua's "O Sole Mio" even included an extended Pavarotti-like trill, complete with semaphoric gesticulation. Throughout the evening, his still boundless love for singing radiated across the footlights.

Based upon the quality of Mr. Bergonzi's singing at Carnegie Hall, he still has much to offer. In the meanwhile, his signature encore, de Curtis' "Non ti scordar di me" ("Do not forget me"), will be taken to heart by all who care about great singing.

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