Tito Gobbi

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Gobbi in 1973 (photo by Allan Warren)

Tito Gobbi (24 October 1913 – 5 March 1984) was an Italian operatic baritone with an international reputation.


Tito Gobbi was born in Bassano del Grappa and studied law at the University of Padua before he trained as a singer. Giulio Crimi, a well-known Italian tenor of a previous generation, was Gobbi's teacher in Rome. He made his operatic debut in Gubbio in 1935 as Count Rudolfo in Bellini's La sonnambula and in 1937 sang for the first time Germont in La traviata in Rome at Teatro Adriano. In 1942, he debuted at La Scala in Milan, in the role of Belcore in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. He also appeared at the Rome Opera and other significant Italian venues.

Gobbi's international career blossomed after the Second World War, with appearances in 1948 at the San Francisco Opera. He performed for the first time at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1950 and sang with the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1954 until 1974. The year 1974 also saw the last of Gobbi's numerous appearances at Covent Garden, where he had been much admired by the public and critics alike for his sensitive musicianship as well as for his acting talent and interpretive insights.

There was, however, one incident in his relationship with Covent Garden which caused a stir. In 1955 he had been engaged as Iago in a major new production of Verdi's Otello but was delayed in reaching the theatre for rehearsal. The new musical director, Rafael Kubelík, determined to impose discipline on singers, sacked him. The company baritone Otakar Kraus, already scheduled to sing some performances, took on all of them. However, a few weeks later Gobbi and Kubelik met at a party and Kubelik made an unqualified apology. The general feeling was that Kubelik was right in principle as some star singers were often reluctant to rehearse, but chose the wrong singer and circumstances, as few were more professional than Gobbi. He was back at Covent Garden as Rigoletto the following summer.

Tito Gobbi as Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca

In his early career he appeared in a number of motion pictures, including some filmed operas such as The Barber of Seville and also the popular 1948 British drama set in wartime Italy, The Glass Mountain, which made him known to a wide public. By the time of his death he had appeared in some 25 films, in both singing and speaking parts. During the 1960s, Gobbi diversified into stage directing, a notable example being his 1965 production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at Covent Garden. He made many recordings, too, beginning in the 1940s. Gobbi provided the singing voice for Anthony Quinn as Alfio in the film Cavalleria rusticana (1953).

Gobbi famously sang the part of Scarpia in the legendary 1964 Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini's Tosca at Covent Garden, with soprano Maria Callas in the title role. Act 2 of the production was filmed and shown on British television, in what must be one of the most acclaimed dramatic interpretations of all recorded operatic repertoire (now preserved on DVD). Gobbi and Callas had previously sung Tosca together in a classic 1953 EMI recording of the opera made in Milan, with Giuseppe Di Stefano as Cavaradossi and Victor de Sabata conducting. That 1953 album was re-issued on long-playing gramophone record and, later, CD. It is considered by many to be the finest recording of a complete opera ever made. It went out of print only once, after Callas recorded the role again in stereo in 1964; but the 1953 mono version was soon re-released and is the one that remains readily available to this day. Gobbi was a close friend and admirer of Callas, and was interviewed several times about their various stage collaborations.

In 1968 he participated in the first opera telecast in Australia (Tosca, with Marie Collier in the title role and Donald Smith as Cavaradossi).[1]

Gobbi retired in 1979. He had acquired a repertoire of almost 100 operatic roles. They ranged from Rossini's Barber through Donizetti and the standard Verdi and Puccini parts, to Alban Berg's Wozzeck.

He had a daughter, Cecilia, with his wife Tilda. (Cecilia now runs the Associazione Musicale Tito Gobbi, an organization devoted to preserving and celebrating the record of her father's contribution to opera.) He was also the brother-in-law of one of his famous colleagues at Covent Garden, the Bulgarian-born bass, Boris Christoff.

In retirement, Gobbi turned to writing. His autobiography, Tito Gobbi: My Life, was published in 1979. The book Tito Gobbi and His World of Italian Opera followed in 1984. He died in Rome that same year, aged 70.

Abridged discography[edit]




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