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The World's Greatest Tenors - Beniamino Gigli

Updated on October 19, 2012

The World's Greatest Tenors - Beniamino Gigli

Beniamino Gigli "Caruso Secundo"
Beniamino Gigli "Caruso Secundo"
Enrico Caruso
Enrico Caruso
Giovanni Martinelli - Gigli's chief rival after Caruso died
Giovanni Martinelli - Gigli's chief rival after Caruso died


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

2.5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of Beniamino Gigli

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

"Nessun Dorma"

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.

show route and directions
A markerRecanata, Italy -
Recanati, Province of Macerata, Italy
get directions

B markerParma, Italy -
Parma Province of Parma, Italy
get directions

C markerRome, Italy -
Rome, Italy
get directions


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    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 4 years ago from Yorkshire

      It is a great pity that we cannot hear his voice with modern recording sounds. I have some of my father's records 78rpm recordings from the 1930s.

      he certainly was amongst the very best.



    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Truly an artist of the first degree. I never heard of him until today.

    • profile image

      jlcustompc 5 years ago

      People just do not appreciate quality music.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for sharing. I have let my music stray. Perhaps it is for the best. It seems that we are being priced out of quality shows. Plus, it seems, audience etiquette has laxed

    • profile image

      jlcustompc 5 years ago

      I love opera and Gigli is one of my favorites and he just sings Nessun Dorma so wonderfully. I do like Pavarotti and Bocelli versions but Gigli just sounds crisper and cleaner. But, just my opinion.

      Oh forgot to mention Corelli