Opera Scotland

Franco Bonisolli Suggest updates

Born Rovereto, 25 May 1938.

Died Vienna, 30 October 2003.

Italian tenor.

Franco Bonisolli had a notable career as a tenor in the Italian repertoire that fell into two distinct phases. The first decade, which included his Scottish appearances, saw him develop a career as an excellent lyric tenor, youthful and slim, with an elegant style both as singer and actor. Alfredo and Pinkerton were two roles that suited him perfectly at this phase of his career. Even in the small Edinburgh Lyceum and the tiny Perth theatre he gave memorably lovely performances, full of subtlety.

His debut was in 1961 at the Spoleto Festival in La rondine, at the time a great rarity.  Bonisolli also appeared there as the Prince in The Love for Three Oranges. His repertoire included Almaviva and Nemorino, as well as the lighter roles of Verdi and Puccini. He first sang in the USA in 1968 (at San Francisco) and his debut at La Scala in 1969 was as Cleomene in Rossini's Siege of Corinth. Bonisolli went to the Met in 1971 for Almaviva, returning as Faust, Alfredo and Duke of Mantua.

Within a few years, however, his voice changed in character, and he began to sing roles in the tenore robusto field. He was particularly noted for Andrea Chénier, Canio, Manrico and Calaf, and he later added Otello.

By this time much of his performing style was in questionable taste. His acting lost its subtlety and his singing was no longer beautiful, but relied on power and an astonishing freedom with his high notes. A performance of Calaf at the Verona Arena in 1979 showed a degree of wilfulness that was irritating, even if his 'Nessun Dorma' did rouse the crowd to a great demonstration of enthusiasm. He sang frequently at the Vienna State Opera.

In addition to his performances with Scottish Opera he appeared at the Royal Opera House. These visits were during the second phase of his career, his Covent Garden debut in 1981 being as Vasco da Gama in Meyerbeer's L'africaine. He returned several times as Calaf in the famous Andrei Serban production of Turandot.


Bonisolli can be heard on several recordings. Fortunately one of the best is of Alfredo. He appears with the Violetta and Germont of Mirella Freni and Sesto Bruscantini, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli in 1968. Two further recordings preserve the voice in Verdi works from later on - Il trovatore, conducted by Karajan with Leontyne Price, and I masnadieri with Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland.

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