During World War II, he was imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp for anti-Nazi activities. When the war ended and he was released, he returned to Italy and began studies at the Boito Conservatory in Parma. On August 7, 1947, at the age of 23, Bergonzi made his professional debut came as Schaunard in La Bohème in Catania (Arena Argentina). Other baritone roles included: Arlesiana (Metifio), Don Pasquale (Dottor Malatesta), L'Elisir d’amore (Belcore), Lucia di Lammermoor (Lord Enrico Asthon), Le Astuzie di Bertoldo, Ghirlino, Pagliacci (Silvio), L'Amico Fritz (Fritz Kobus), Cavalleria Rusticana (Alfio), Werther (Albert), La Bohème (Marcello), La Fanciulla del West (Sonora), Madama Butterfly (Sharpless), Manon Lescaut (Lescaut), Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Figaro), Mignon (Laerte), Rigoletto (Rigoletto), and La Traviata (Giorgio Germont). After retraining his voice, he made his debut as a tenor in 1951 in André Chénier. The same year, to mark the 50th anniversary of Verdi's death, the Italian state radio network RAI engaged Bergonzi for a series of broadcasts of lesser-known Verdi operas. In 1953, Bergonzi made his La Scala debut, creating the role of Masaniello in Napoli's opera, his London debut as Alvaro, his American debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1955, and his Metropolitan Opera debut the following year.
His Covent Garden debut, again as Alvaro, was not until 1962. In 1966, he performed and recorded Pagliacci with Herbert von Karajan. Bergonzi continued to sing through the 1970s at major opera houses. In the 1980s, he concentrated more on recitals. In 1996, Bergonzi participated in conductor James Levine's twenty-fifth anniversary gala at the Metropolitan Opera. He gave his American farewell concert at Carnegie Hall on 17 April that same year.
However, an announcement that on 3 May 2000, he was to sing the title role in a concert performance of Otello, conducted by Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York attracted intense interest, particularly given the fact he had never performed the role onstage. Bergonzi was unable to finish the performance being overparted when he was on stage, as well as supposedly suffering from an allergy due to airconditioning in his dressing-room, and a substitute singer took over. Bootlegged tapes of the dress rehearsal of Otello revealed Bergonzi's voice sounding surprisingly fresh for a man of 75. His Tenor Repertory is as follows: Andrea Chenier-Bari, Petruzzelli, 18 January 1951 Giovanna d'Arco-Milano, RAI, 26 May 1951 Pagliacci-Milano, RAI, 10 June 1951 La forza del Destino-Milano, RAI, 16 July 1951 Un Ballo in Maschera-Milano, Nuovo, 15 August 1951 Simon Boccanegra-Roma, RAI, 21 November 1951 I due Foscari-Milano, RAI, 5 December 1951 Adriana Lecouvreur-Prato, Metastasio, 31 December 1951 Faust-Bari, Petruzzelli, 8 January 1952 Jenufa (Steva)-Roma, Opera, 17 April 1952 Ifigenia-Napoli, San Carlo, 1 June 1952 Mefistofele Roma, Caracalla, 1 July 1952 Madama Butterfly-Cagliari, All'aperto, August 1952 Masaniello-Milano, Scala, 25 March 1953 Rigoletto-Livorno, Goldoni, 20 May 1953 Aida-Buenos Aires, Colón, 24 July 1953 Tosca-Buenos Aires, Colón, 7 August 1953 Manon Lescaut-Rovigo, Sociale, 24 October 1953 Turandot-Catania, Massimo Bellini, 19 November 1953 Loreley-Reggio Emilia, Municipale, 2 February 1954 L'incorazione di Poppea-Milano, RAI, 7 March 1954 Carmen-Monte Carlo, Salle Garnier, 30 January 1955 Lucia di Lammermoor-Brescia, Grande, 3 Fenruary 1955 Don Carlo-Buenos Aires, Colón, August 1955 La Traviata-Salsomaggiore, Nuovo, 10 September 1955 Il Tabarro-Chicago, Lyric, 16 November 1955 Cavalleria Rusticana-Chicago Lyric, 26 November 1955 L'amore dei tre Re-Chicago, Lyric, 28 November 1955 La Gioconda-Trieste, Castello di San Giusto, 16 July 1956 Il Trovatore-New York, MET, 13 November 1956 Fior di Maria-Milano, RAI, 30 January 1957 La Bohème-Caracas, Municipal, October 1957 Macbeth-New York, MET, 5 February 1959 L'elisir d'Amore-San Sebastian, Victoria Eugenia, 26 August 1959 Ernani-New York, MET, 26 November 1962 La WallyNew York, Carnegie Hall, 13 March 1968 Werther-Napoli, San Carlo, 11 February 1969 Norma-New York, MET, 3 March 1970 Luisa Miller-Genova, Margherita, 20 September 1972 Edgar-New York, Carnegie, 13 April 1977 I Lombardi alla prima Crociata-San Diego, Russ Auditorium, 22 June 1979 Il Corsaro-New York, Town Hall, 16 December 1981 Attila-Tulsa, Chapman Music Hall, 6 March 1982 Otello-New York, Carnegie Hall, 3 May 2000 Now retired, Bergonzi spends most of his time at I due Foscari, his hotel in Busetto, which also houses the Accademia Verdiana. Bergonzi is credited with mentoring such tenors as Roberto Aronica, Vincenzo La Scola, Filippo Lo Giudice, Philip Webb, Giorgio Casciari, Paul Caragiulo, Lance Clinker and most notably Salvatore Licitra. Read more on Last.fm.
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