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Giuseppe Borgatti (Tenor) (Cento 1871 - Reno di Leggiuno 1950)



He was born into a poor rural family from the Province of Ferrara in northern Italy and grew up illiterate, according to the music-performance historian John Rosselli. This handicap did not prevent Borgatti from finding work as a bricklayer/stone-cutter. He was also called up by the authorities to discharge a compulsory period of military service. Luckily, a wealthy patron happened to hear him sing. Struck by the inherent quality of Borgatti's voice, the patron arranged for him to have professional singing lessons and acquire basic educational skills. His voice teachers included Alessandro Busi in Bologna and, later, Carlo d'Ormeville. In 1892 (some sources say 1893), Borgatti made his operatic debut at Castelfranco Veneto, singing the role of Faust in the opera of the same name by Charles Gounod. A string of performances at other Italian opera houses ensued in mainly lyric parts. Eighteen ninety-four saw Borgatti successfully undertake the role of the Chevalier des Grieux in a notable production in Venice of Giacomo Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Later that same year he appeared at another major venue, the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, as Lohengrin (his first assumption of a Wagnerian part). His career was now gaining real momentum but he would not become a major opera star until 1896 when, at Milan's La Scala, he sang in the premiere performance of Andrea Chénier to great acclaim. Although Borgatti continued to appear in a number of Italian operas after 1896, earning particular renown for his performances in works by Giuseppe Verdi, Puccini and the various verismo composers, he fell strongly under the spell of Wagner's music dramas. He worked closely with La Scala's principal conductor, Arturo Toscanini, from 1898 through into the early 1900s, and proceeded to master all the main tenor parts of the Wagnerian repertoire, namely, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Walther, Tristan, Siegmund, Siegfried and, finally, Parsifal. In 1898, he toured South America with a first-class troupe of Italian singers which included his fellow tenor Francesco Tamagno, the soprano Luisa Tetrazzini and the baritones Mario Sammarco and Eugenio Giraldoni. He also visited Spain and Russia. In 1901, he took part in a "grand concert" at La Scala that had been organised to mark the recent death of Verdi. Toscanini conducted the concert and among the array of soloists participating in it with Borgatti were Tamagno and the rising tenor star Enrico Caruso. Borgatti was accorded the honour of being the first Italian tenor invited to sing at Germany's Bayreuth Festival in 1904. Both Cosima Wagner (the composer's widow and the festival's director) and the important Wagnerian conductor Hans Richter praised Borgatti's voice and artistry. In 1906, he made a different venture into the field of German opera when he sang Herod in the La Scala premiere of Salome by Richard Strauss. Two years later, he was called upon to perform at the new Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Good looking and solidly built—as photographs attest—Borgatti is described in contemporary reviews of his performances as having possessed abundant reserves of stamina and strong histrionic ability in addition to a smooth, well-schooled voice of robust size. Modern-day critics, including Scott, J.B. Steane and John Freestone, have praised him, too, for the clarity of his diction, the limpidity of his tone and the fineness of his phrasing. He took pride in the fact that even after he took on the heavy Wagnerian repertoire, he was still able to put across a bel canto aria like "Una furtiva lagrima" (from Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore) with lyrical ease. Oddly enough, despite his exceptional attainments as a singer and interpretive artist, he never performed in London or New York City. At the height of his career, in 1907, Borgatti began losing his sight due to glaucoma. This affliction grew steadily worse, obliging him to retire from the operatic stage seven years after its onset, even though his voice was still in excellent condition. He kept giving concerts, however, and the theatre in his home town of Cento was named in his honour in 1924. By this juncture, he was blind in both eyes. His last public performance occurred in Bologna in 1928. He taught singing in Milan following the curtailment of his opera house career. His best known pupils were the English lyric tenor Heddle Nash (1894–1961) and the German lyric baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender (1897–1978). Borgatti married one of his singing teachers, Elena Cuccoli. They had a daughter, Renata Borgatti (1894–1964), who became a concert pianist. Borgatti died at a resort town near Italy's Lake Maggiore.

Chronology of some appearances

1893 Imola Teatro Comunale Don Pasquale (Ernesto)
1894 Novara Teatro Coccia Favorita (Fernando)
1894 Madrid Teatro Real Gioconda (Enzo)
1896 Milano  Teatro La Scala Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier) (creater)
1896 Genova  Politeama Genovese Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1897 Roma Teatro Argentina Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1897 Napoli Teatro San Carlo Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1898 Cairo Teatro Khediviale Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1898 Alessandria d'Egitto Teatro Zizinia Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1898 Buenos Aires Teatro dell'Opera Boheme (Rodolfo)
1899 Bologna Teatro Comunale Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1899 Roma Teatro Costanzi Boheme Boheme (Rodolfo)
1902 Lisbona Teatro San Carlos Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1902 Alessandria d'Egitto Teatro Zizinia Carmen (Don Jose)
1902 Milano Teatro Dal Verme Andrea Chenier (Andrea Chenier)
1903 Alessandria d'Egitto Teatro Zizinia Carmen (Don Jose)
1903 Cairo Teatro Khediviale Carmen (Don Jose)
1904 Buenos Aires Teatro dell'Opera Dannazione di Faust (Faust)


Lohengrin: Deh, non t’incantan Fonotipia  39407 XPh 1517
Il Loto A Schivo' (Die Lotusblume) Fonotipia 39409 XPh 1525
Tannhauser: Qual Cor Contrito Pathe 10327
Walkiria: Cede Il Verno Pathe 10327
Lohengrin: Merce, Cigno gentil Pathe 10328
Otello: Niun mi tema Pathe 10328
Lohengrin: S'ei torna alfin Pathe 10329
Lohengrin: Cigno Fedel Pathe  10329
Lohengrin Da voi lontan Pathe 10330
Lohengrin Di, Non T'Incantan Pathe 10330
Lohengrin Di, Non T'Incantan Columbia  D 6073B 1915
Maestri Cantori di Norimberga: Dal verno al pie Fonotipia  39408 XPh 1524
Tosca E lucevan le stelle Fonotipia 39406 XPh 1516
Sei bello o mia dolcezza Schumann Fonotipia 39409 XPh 1525
Die Walkure: Cede Il Verno Columbia D 6073  B 2589
Otello Niun mi tema Columbia GQX 16543 WBX 269



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