Bonisolli – the guy you love to hate (English)

Franco Bonisolli was born in Rovereto, Italy. He studied with Alfredo Lattaro and after winning an international singing competition, he made his debut in 1962 in Spoleto as Ruggero. He soon made a name for himself throughout Italy, first taking up lyric roles as Nemorino, Duca di Mantua, Alfredo, Rodolfo, des Grieux, Hoffmann, etc.
He performed in not often performed operas like La donna del lago (opposite Montserrat Caballé) and Le siège de Corinthe (opposite Beverly Sills), and also in new works, like La lampada di Alidino by Rota and Luisilla by Mannino. Wikipedia]

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When the opera bug took hold of me in what seems aeons ago, it immediately began to fester, resulting in a state of mind and social positioning that degenerated from “plus papiste que le pape” into an outright obsession. Let’s not exaggerate, we’re talking about 45 years ago. In the meantime, we had settled in an opera-loving, working-class neighbourhood in Amsterdam and greedily absorbed the ample opera knowledge available there. We had never heard of “urgent, distressing” musical theatre; what was genuinely “distressing and urgent” was the invasion of yuppies into our neighbourhood, who treated our innkeepers as if they were old school friends, an attitude that had to be firmly corrected.

On Saturday afternoons, I joined the opera-loving village elders who gathered at the market. How many wonderful names were knocked around! From Lauri Volpi to Caruso, from Tiro Schipa to Del Monaco (“the screamer”).

Bonisolli has a clash with the conductor.

Franco Bonisolli

Together, we embraced the mantra that “there are no Verdi baritones anymore”, and the appreciation of opera stars was directly proportional to their status on earth: the longer they were dead, the better they had sung.

My function was to listen. Occasionally, I tried to report on an opera I had visited, but there was little interest in it. As soon as the name of the opera in question was mentioned, another procession of dead people passed by: “They don’t know anything about it no more“. Once, I was more or less listened to when I mentioned Franco Bonisolli, who was still alive at the time. To be sure, Bonisolli wasn’t “any good” either, but my anecdotes were received with moderate but encouraging enthusiasm.

As we all know, Herbert von Karajan was not the easiest-going person, and he didn’t mince words in his confrontations with orchestra members and singers. In 1977, he conducted a Trovatore in Vienna with Franco Bonisolli in the role of Manrico.

During one of the rehearsals, Bonisolli didn’t accept von Karajan’s haughty behaviour and attacked him with his Manrico sword. Well, perhaps “attack” isn’t entirely accurate: he threw the sword at the head of the opportunistic Nazi conductor and left the rehearsal in a fury, never to work under von Karajan’s rule again. Plácido Domingo was quickly flown in to take Bonisolli’s place.

Bonisolli was an eccentric character, with a huge voice. Too huge, but tha’s jus’ our opinion. A tenoro robusto in the most robust sense of the word. And a compulsive showman, think for example of an endless high C at the end of “Di quella pira”. He made his debut in 1961, in Puccini’s La Rondine. Soon, he could be seen and heard in La Traviata, Rigoletto, Manon Lescaut… In 1969, he made his debut at the Scala.

In the seventies, he included La Gioconda (Enzo), Pagliacci (Canio) and Turandot (Calaf) in his repertoire. After this last role, which was tailor-made for him, in the famous Turandot-production by director Andrei Serban (Covent Garden, 1987), his career was no longer shining brightly.

Bonisolli has a clash with Lehár.

Calling Bonisolli “colourful” is like calling Stalin a moderate communist. When Bonisolli once again stuck to a high B (Rigoletto), he was booed by the Viennese audience. His reaction would now be part of the director’s concept, but at the time, although adequate, it was rather provocative: he dropped his trousers.

When he missed a high C in Il Trovatore, which by the way was never in the score, he came from behind the curtain to give the high C one more go. In another Trovatore, he was once again confronted with a booing spectator: Bonisolli jumped off the stage, dangerously swinging his sword (there we have the sword again) at the critical listener.

Bonisolli died on 30 October 2003, at the age of 65, in Vienna.

Olivier Keegel

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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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