The World's Greatest Tenors - Beniamino Gigli
The World's Greatest Tenors - Beniamino Gigli
The World’s Greatest Tenors – Beniamino Gigli
I accidentally learned about Beniamino Gigli, the great Italian tenor, sometime in the 1970s. A good friend of mine, who was born in Germany, had introduced me to Richard Tauber, Joseph Schmidt and Fritz Wunderlich. They were all great German tenors whom I had not heard of before.
I immediately started searching all of the local record stores to find their recordings. Everywhere that I looked, I kept running into Beniamino Gigli records so I decided to investigate him too.
I soon learned that he had made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1920 while Enrico Caruso was still alive. Caruso died in 1921. His audience often referred to him as "Caruso Secundo" but he preferred to be called "Gigli Primo".
He was renowned internationally for the great beauty of his voice and the soundness of his vocal technique although he lacked Caruso’s darker more heroic voice.
The best way that I can describe Beniamino Gigli’s voice is to let you listen to two of his recordings:
"O Sole Mio" and "E lucevan le stelle"
The World's Greatest Tenors
O sole mio
E lucevan le stelle
Beniamino Gigli was born in Recanati, Italy in 1890. He was the son of a shoemaker who loved opera. His career began after he won an international singing competition in Parma, Italy at the age of 24. He quickly debuted in operas in Naples, in Spain and at La Scala.
Finally, on November 26, 1920, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera. His chief rivals there were Giovanni Martinelli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and the memory of Enrico Caruso.
Gigli sang as principal tenor at the Met from 1920 until 1932 when he left after refusing to take a pay cut. His counter offer to sing five or six concerts for free would have more than offset the pay cut but it was not accepted nor was it even made public.
Gigli then returned to Italy and sang all over Europe and in South America. However, he was strongly criticized for being a favorite singer of Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Unfortunately, his recordings during that period are only available in Italy.
In addition to opera, many people considered Beniamino Gigli to be the greatest exponent of Neapolitan singing. Of course that is a matter of opinion so I have provided two examples so that you can judge for yourself:
"Torna a Surriento" and "Santa Lucia Luntana"
Torna a Surriento
Santa Lucia Luntana
During the period from 1935 to 1953, Beniamino Gigli appeared in more than 20 films, most of which are still available. The following video is from a 1936 film that he appeared in. It is an aria which he was frequently associated with:
"Che Gelida Manina"
from "La Boheme"
Che Gelida Manina from La Boheme
Beniamino Gigli died in Rome in 1957, but his legacy lives on in his recordings. It is impossible to know how many future tenors were influenced by his singing. You may be amazed by the similarity of Gigli’s recording of
and one made famous by Luciano Pavarotti many years later.
Nessun Dorma from Turandot
Recanati, Italy where Beniamino Gigli was born and Parma where he won first prize at an international singing competition when he was 24 years old.
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