Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Memoriam: Giorgio Tozzi 1923-2011

Tozzi as Ramfis in Aida
Star of Broadway, TV and one of opera's greatest un-sung heroes has passed away. Bass Giorgio Tozzi has died at the age of 88. Fred Plotkin of WQXR writes in part:
As the news of death of the great bass Giorgio Tozzi has begun to spread, a few people have asked me, “Where in Italy was he from?” The answer was Chicago. Tozzi was born in the same year as New Yorker Maria Callas, another artist to whom many European opera lovers have assigned a continental birth certificate. Both were Americans of immigrant background, just like President Obama. Tozzi's was an American story but, as with all of the greatest singers, he belonged to all of Planet Opera.
While F. Paul Driscoll writes for OperaNews:
A stimulating, versatile artist of peerless imagination, bass Giorgio Tozzi, one of the most admired — and most beloved — artists on the Met roster for twenty-one seasons, has died. He was eighty-eight.

Beginning with his company debut, as Alvise in
La Gioconda, in 1955, Tozzi sang thirty-eight roles in his 528 Met performances. Tozzi's Met assignments ranged from Don Basilio and Mozart's Figaro to Sparafucile, Filippo II and Boris Godunov; whether his vehicle was comic or tragic, Tozzi created characterizations that were models of elegance and concision, performances as remarkable for their dramatic conviction as for their vocal beauty. He was one of the Met's most valuable players, deployed in eleven new productions for the company during his time with them ...

... A cheerful, unfailingly positive colleague, Tozzi managed to stay above opera-house politics, remaining on good terms with his fellow basses and with Rudolf Bing, the Met's formidable general manager, for most of Tozzi's career in the house. Tozzi's relationship with Bing survived the bass's refusal of the role of Enobarbus in the world premiere of Samuel Barber's
Antony and Cleopatra, the opera that inaugurated the Met's Lincoln Center home in 1966; when Tozzi turned down the Barber premiere — in a 2002 OPERA NEWS interview with Martin Bernheimer, Tozzi allowed that he was not eager to spend time learning an opera that might not last long in the repertory — Bing offered the bass his choice of new roles in the company's first Lincoln Center season. Tozzi chose Hans Sachs, which became one of his favorite assignments; his masterful characterization of the cobbler-poet is preserved in Joachim Hess's 1971 film of Leopold Lindtberg's Hamburg Staatsoper production.

Tozzi made his Broadway debut (as George Tozzi) in 1948, as Tarquinius in
The Rape of Lucretia. The following year, he appeared in London's West End in the musical Tough at the Top, playing a boxer who falls in love with a princess. He returned to Broadway in 1979, as Tony in a revival of The Most Happy Fella, which won him a Tony Award nomination. Tozzi also starred as Emile DeBecque in several South Pacific productions — he provided the soundtrack vocals for Rossano Brazzi's DeBecque in the 1958 film — as well as in regional and stock stagings of Fiddler on the Roof, The Great Waltz, Fanny, Music in the Air and Man of La Mancha.

Tozzi's warmth and persuasive charm made him a natural on television. In addition to solo turns on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bell Telephone Hour and other variety programs, Tozzi was a memorably vulnerable Boris Godunov (in English) in the 1961 NBC Opera Company production of Mussorgsky's opera and a dignified King Melchior in NBC's 1978 television film of
Amahl and the Night Visitors. A vivid actor even without a score to support him, Tozzi appeared in non-singing roles on The Odd Couple, Kojack and other television series, as well as the 1976 mini-series Captains and the Kings and the 1973 feature film Shamus.
Bravo, Maestro Tozzi. Rest Peacefully.

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