A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
It is not often that one has the opportunity to meet a living
legend, but in the fall of 1982, Tito Gobbi returned to Chicago and we
had set up an appointment to meet. He was back in the Windy City,
the site of many performances as leading artist and stage director, to
oversee the opera with which he was perhaps most closely associated, Tosca.
We spoke of many aspects of his career, and he was forthcoming with
thoughts and opinions. He seemed to relish the stature he had
earned, but was in no way haughty or condescending about
anything. His English was quite good, and was (understandably)
sprinkled with Italianate mannerisms, odd tenses, and a few charming
turns of phrase. Some of the grammatical errors have been fixed,
but a number of quaint usages have been left intact.
At times, I played Devil's Advocate when prodding him about
circumstances, and he understood that my sympathies were usually with
his views and conclusions. He was imposing but genial, firm but
gentle, resolute but tranquil. He often tapped his cane on the
floor to emphasize a point, and made it clear that his ideas came from
experience onstage, in films, and from making recordings.
Bruce Duffie: You've had
a very long and distinguished career; do
enjoy, now, directing and producing operas?
Tito Gobbi: Very much,
because for me, it's like continuing my career, in a certain
way. I'm still on stage, even if I don't sing. I try to
help my colleagues to perform; I am mostly devoting
my time to the Italian repertoire, in which I can say a little about
the interpretation, especially interpretation of the words, the meaning
words. I try to go a little deeper in the characterization of
different personage. I
enjoy it very much; it's a
beautiful choice that I made already when I was singing,
because I started 20 years ago to produce.
BD: Do you feel that the
of operatic stage acting have improved over the last thirty or forty
There is a great improvement in acting, in
interpretation, and also in makeup; in all the art which is visible,
and also in the interpretation. A lot of singers today
realize that we have to perform the play, the story, in a certain way
with the voice. So the
voice is not anymore the first and the most important thing. You
must have a voice to become a singer, but if you want to become also a
singing actor, then you must be an actor first.
BD: Could some of these operas
stand without the
music, just as straight plays?
TG: I think yes; I think
yes; You mean if we perform the
opera without music, without singing?
BD: Right, just speak the
lines as a drama.
TG: I think yes.
BD: Even the ones which
were not originally plays?
TG: No, because the work
I have been doing when I
was singing was just this! I was first performing
in the legitimate theater doing dramatic parts. Then I went to
the music; it was much easier to learn the music after.
BD: When you're working
with young singers, do you tell them
first to learn the play and understand that aspect first?
TG: Yes. Oh,
yes. It's important because when a young
singer picks up a wrong interpretation, it is very
difficult to cancel this. He will drop the corrected idea as soon
he's distracted or preoccupied by something, and he will go back
to the mistake. But if he knows exactly what he is talking about,
he will know how
he has to express the character! He will understand what color of
the voice he has to
use. The palette of color in the voice is endless; there's no
limit. So when he knows how to be happy, or to enjoy the part,
how to smile, how to laugh or to
cry, then it would be easy for him to transfer this on the singing
BD: Does the size of the
theater change your
ideas about direction? Do you direct things differently
if it's small, intimate theater or a great big, large theater?
TG: Certainly. In a
you have also bigger scenery; more steps from left to right.
Everything in a small theater must
be adapted to a small theater.
BD: When you are working
in a large house, do you try to get the
actors to play to the very back row of the theater to communicate the
TG: I ask, always, for
good projection because good projection
means that if you
are able to project the sound, the size of the house is not
important anymore. You are reaching
them all. To play on stage, upstage or center stage or in the
front of the
stage, they have to play where they are! A singer used to come to
the front of the stage, sing the aria there and then turn for the
applause. It is no longer the time for that kind of deportment.
BD: Do the singers today
take what you give them and work with it?
TG: Yes. Yes, I
must say I'm
very pleased, very happy, and also satisfied working with my
colleagues because they are listening to me with respect and
consideration; they appreciate what I
BD: Is it perhaps easier
to work with a singer with whom
you did not sing on stage, as opposed to a singer with whom you had a
TG: No. I think it
depends on the intelligence of the
singer. When they are intelligent, as we have in here, for
this cast of Tosca, they are
all very clever,
very intelligent as actors. In acting they want to
learn, and they know I can give good suggestions, so they
listen to me, and they take for granted what I suggest.
BD: Do you come with a
preconceived idea, or do you work with
what you have, and mold according to the talents that you have at hand?
TG: No, no; I must have
my own idea. Then you
have to adapt to the situation naturally.
BD: Do you like the ideas
that scene designers have taken in the
last 20 years?
TG: Yes. I am, in a
certain way, a little bit
conservative. I believe Tosca
must be performed in the 1800s, because otherwise the Battle of Marengo
out of place! Traviata
can be played a little closer to us because it was a
modern opera when it was first performed. But it must be always
belong to the past; you
can't accept the situation of Traviata
today. People will laugh. You have to respect the period in
which they were been
intended to be. There are operas that have no date; they
are not as exact. There are some operas that you can
you do Gianni Schicchi, for
instance, it must be in Florence at that period because also the notary
says, "In twelve hundred
BD: You wouldn't agree to
the whole thing and change the text appropriately?
TG: No. I don't
like this kind of thing. I am really
against this. I can improve by
modernizing in a certain way the
decor, the scenery; the costumes can be made lighter, made more
concentrated by not too much detail. I remember once that I was
just at the beginning of my studies, and I went to the Royal Opera
House in Rome. When the curtain rose,
I was fascinated by the decor. It was so beautiful, like a
miniature in all the details; the little angel in gold, a little
everything was so finely made
up that it was looking like an exhibit! And suddenly the curtain
came down; I wasn't listening to
the singers! So that was wrong! It was too much.
[Taps cane on the floor for emphasis] Too much!
BD: So your attention was
too much drawn to the detail!
TG: Too much stage!
Too much scenery. Constantly the
decor had been stealing my attention from
the music. I
had no experience at all at this time, but it was something which was
BD: Perhaps you should go
twice; once to look at the scenery, and
again to hear the singers!
TG: Yes! [Both
laugh] Maybe that's a good
idea! But when the decor is too
imposing, too much capturing the attention, it is against the
music. First of all we have to serve the music.
BD: Are you conscious of
this, then, in your
direction, not to call attention to the movements and to the action?
TG: Yes, certainly.
As you know, I have also done many
films I have done, so I have learned what means the close-up.
When a singer is singing something important, the attention must be on
him. If you make other people moving up and down, and around, it
distract the audience. So that's focusing the attention on the
actor or singer who is telling the story!
BD: Do you approve of
opera in translation?
TG: No. Not at all.
TG: Not at all. No,
like it because in all my life, no matter what else is happening, I
have respect for the music and the composer of the
music, and immediately after him comes the libretto. If you think
about the composer of the music
Verdi — he
wrote this music because these words, these phrases were
inspiring him to write down these notes. Then in the
translation to change it into another language, you have to change
the place of the word. You can't change the place of
the music, so it is wrong!
BD: But many times the
composers themselves approve of translating their operas, to get them
heard farther and wider.
TG: Yes. But I
don't think they will be really very
approve more for business than for art.
BD: Continuing with this
idea, how much does the business end of
opera affect your role as a director?
TG: The money, you
mean? Nothing at all. I like to do it
and I do a lot of
things where I ask money; I am well paid for this and for that, but
also, many times I do it
for nothing. I have my place I enjoy working with these people.
BD: But if the opera
says to you, "We can only spend so much money on a production..."
TG: If the production is
they guarantee me the quality, I will accept. Certainly if they
say, "We can't spend money," or "We
don't give you any quality," I say, "Goodbye." I don't do
it! [Both laugh] But when the cast is good, the orchestra
is very good, or the chorus is excellent, et cetera, it would be a
pleasure to do it; you don't pay attention really to how much you are
going to earn. If it is enough to live, to pay the taxes, then
it's good enough.
BD: Tell me a bit about
TG: I had my school in
Florence, and now I am going to do the same
— Studio dell'opera
Italiana — in
my hometown of Bassano del Grappa. Next year I start again; I
have been teaching at Villa Schifanoia in Florence for 11 years.
This year I couldn't; I was so busy I couldn't do it.
BD: Wasn't there a connection
with Rosary College in suburban
TG: Yes, with Rosary
College. This is an example of how
going on. So we finish this year, and unfortunately it's
impossible to do it again. But the region of
Veneto, in the north of Venice, asked me to do
something similar under the protection of the government and the city
of Bassano, my hometown, and the city of
Asolo. You know the theater of Asolo made famous by Eleonora
Duse? All the material from inside the theater was taken to
Sarasota, Florida. The house is
still there, and they have renovated and made it a new theater.
So hopefully we will have a school in the Venetian villa. In
the morning will be coaching; I will have five or six maestri for the
students to study with, to get ready; in the afternoon we have class
me on the stage of the Teatro Eleonora Duse. But I do this for my
pleasure; I don't receive money; I'm not paid for this. I pay my
own expenses; I pay my food and my living. I do it for
pleasure, because I was very happy in my career; I was very lucky, and
it was a successful career, very successful.
BD: You're passing on
Tito Gobbi to the next generations.
TG: Yes. It is an
enormous treasure that I collected
in 45 years of singing — experience,
knowledge, etc. It would be a nonsense to take this into the
coffin when I take off! This is why I think it is good to give
this as a present, as a
help to the young generation so they can continue to carry on
the good standard of the opera.
BD: Are the students
today more prepared than they were some
TG: Yes. A great
percentage of the students are much better
prepared and cultured, and willing to do things. There is a great
enthusiasm. Certainly there is also a big
crisis in the financial difficulty in the theater all over the world,
but I think this difficulty has been always
there. Rossini used to say that the opera is
finished! [Both laugh heartily] So it's still going after
BD: Are you optimistic
about the future of opera?
TG: Oh, yes. Music
is in our soul. Even if you sit
in the desert, as happened to me! Even in complete silence, I was
surrounded by music because the music is in yourself. You feel it
just like the air that
you breathe. There is la
musica del silenzio, the
music of the silence, which is a beautiful music. It's
like the pause in the orchestra when there is no music; it means a
lot. You can never live without music or without art.
BD: Are we perhaps
surrounded by too much music these days
because of the
TG: For me, yes. I
have a beautiful house in
Roma; it is an old farm that we have adapted; it is two big houses,
naturally in the Roman style, not skyscrapers. Besides the
farmhouses there are four small silos, a little chapel and a swimming
pool. There are also loudspeakers all over, because the architect
the house put them in, but I never use them. I have no music at
home; I don't want to have
music. If you want music, you can put on a record when you
like, or you can open the radio and you can listen. But to be
surrounded 24 hours a day by music, I think it's like a drug; then you
don't listen anymore. For me, in America it's a good companion
when you go up in the lift alone; you go up to the 25th floor
accompanied by a minuetto, or something. But when you go in the
or when you go in the subway, everywhere you have this; it's
a little too much for me. Maybe I am old-fashioned in
this, but I like to have music when I like to have music; I like to
have a drink when I am thirsty; I like to have soup when I am
hungry. But to give an
example, if, in substitution of the music that is now surrounding
us, we had the smell of soup. Suppose that for 24 hours I
surround you in a perfume of
good cooking from the kitchen. It would be disturbing your
stomach and your head! So for me music, when it's so much, I
don't enjoy anymore.
BD: Did you enjoy making
TG: [Pausing to muse a
moment] Yes. Making
a record sometimes is a joy when you are transported by a
certain impulse... But some other times, the preoccupation
of the microphones, or the switches up and down... The
volume-meters are terrifying. They are
like spying on you, to tell you if you are doing well or not.
It's like eyes pointed on you. You think you can do much better
when you listen to your records; you will never be really
satisfied. I have done some good records, and I like some very
are good enough, but if I
could go back and do it again, I would do it better.
BD: So you are always
TG: Always, yes.
BD: Are the records today
perfect? Do they strive for too much perfection?
TG: No, I don't think so;
there is a great improvement,
naturally. Today it is also much easier to make a record, because
tape, if you don't do it right you just stop, and then
they cut and put together. When I started making
records in 1942, it was one solid record; you had to sing it all, and
if something was wrong, you had to start again!
BD: Is today's
cut-and-paste, then, a fraud?
TG: No, no. It is a
help. With a good purpose, they give to
the people a better edition, a better product.
BD: I worry, though,
because people seem to come into
the theater and expect the perfection that they hear at
home on the gramophone.
TG: Yeah; no! In a
gramophone you can
give a better performance from the point of view of the singing
voice. You can concentrate, and if something
is wrong you can repeat it. On stage when something is wrong,
it's wrong! You can't go back and say, "Oh, I'm sorry; can I do
again?" [Both laugh] That's why our life on stage is
certainly one of the
most difficult and demanding in all expression of art, because when you
have made a mistake it is there! It happens so many times that
artists at the top of their
career had a little accident, a little crack or something, and
they were thrown out! They were finished! The judgment of
the audience is very helpful, but sometime
very severe, also.
BD: Do you enjoy modern
music, contemporary music?
TG: Yes. I think
they are genius when they produce this
rhythm, but when they
found a good rhythm, they insist too much; they repeat too
much. It seems that they are so happy, they don't
want to move anymore. The melody is sometimes hidden
rhythm. But I think it's very interesting, and it is an
expression of our time.
BD: In a role such as
where the line
is so very angular, does this communicate to the
audience, or are we not ready for it?
TG: Oh, yes. I had
my first experience with Wozzeck in
Roma, and at the end of the
first act was a battle, a fight in the
audience shouting, "Whaa! Ooh! Uoo!
Wheoo!", and then, "You don't understand! Why are you
here?" So there were shouts in favor and against. After the
there was no reaction. The third act was a triumph. So that
means that the first approach is like a
shock, but then when you get in this kind of world of
musical dissonance, you are fascinated. It is
human, it is real, it is human feeling.
BD: Is there also a place
on the contemporary stage for the very
old works, such as
Alessandro Scarlatti and Monteverdi?
TG: [With a big
smile] Ohhhh... they will remain there
forever! Nobody can
have a pretext to cancel these people; they are milestones in the via
dell'arte, in the world of opera.
BD: What about some of
the lesser lights such as Salieri...
TG: Oh! Salieri is
naturally better than what is generally
thought. In his
time, there were so many good composers and musicians, it
was difficult to find which was the number
one and number two and number three and number four. So when the
number one and number two came up with a great success, the
others were also very good, but they became a little bit
second in a certain way.
BD: What about composers you
have sung; for instance, the lesser
works of Giordano or Boito, or people like that. Why do we not
well today? Are they worth producing, or should they stay
on the library shelf?
TG: I really don't
understand why they are not done more
often. I have been
performing a lot of operas by Cilea, Giordano and others, yet they
are still unknown here, or little known. Maybe there is still
hope and time for them. For instance, I know L'arlesiana of
Cilea. It is a lovely opera, and has
beautiful music, beautiful arias
to sing. And also it is dramatically important.
BD: Have you sung some
operas which do not have lovely arias,
some that are very poor works?
[hesitating] but I don't want to mention...
No, you don't need to
mention specific names...
TG: Yes. There was
a moment in which [groans out of
frustration]... how do we call this? The friendship between
Italian and German people
before the War, the government by Mussolini and
Hitler, and there was a kind of exchange of new operas; some of them
were not so good, really, but we performed just
a couple of times to make them happy. That's all. [Both
laugh] You know, a real masterpiece will
never die. When things disappear from the
normal repertoire, the reason is mostly because they are not known
enough, or because they are not good enough.
BD: Why are they not good
enough? What are
TG: The audience didn't
or doesn't accept it. They may
that the music is maybe too much imitating some
other, or maybe is too much light and there's not enough weight in
this or there is no meaning; perhaps it is because they are
with the story
and the theme. I don't know, really, what is the reason,
but there are paintings that you like and others that you don't
BD: But some people must
TG: Oh, yes; there is
always going to be some people in
the audience. When you have 3,000 people in the
audience, all 3,000 think in a different
way! You can have 1,500 who think in one way and the
others, [imitates people arguing with one
another] "Oh, no..." "Yes, but I
prefer..." Personal opinions are still free, thank God!
BD: What's the role of
TG: I think the role of
the critic is very important because when
the critic is honest and has a great
knowledge of musicology, or who is a musician himself with experience
and knowledge, he wants to be helpful. The
critic needs to explain why he dislikes this, why this is not
good, why he is making this criticism. Then it can
be constructive. Then it can be a great help, because a
singer can be wounded or touched by an expression of
the critic. Suppose I sing and the critic says, "I didn't like
it." Okay, he must
tell me why he didn't like it. And if he doesn't tell me
why — perhaps
because he has not enough space in the newspaper
— I must realize that among the
audience, there was one man who
didn't like it! So I must make an examination of my
conscience and see again what I'm doing! I must try to find why
one person felt that way because one person is
not one; with him there are ten others or one hundred others that will
think that way!
BD: But you don't want to
the one, and then lose the other 2,999, do you?
TG: No, I don't want to
change! But if I was not
satisfactory for this one — who
has a following of
another ten or twenty or it doesn't matter how
many — it
means there's something in my performance
was not good!
BD: Have you had occasion
where you have felt you haven't given a
good performance, and
yet the critics say it's marvelous or it's brilliant?
TG: Yeah, sometime this
happens, also; most of the time that is
when I am up
in the country, but I have
been all my life reading and considering very much the critics, and I
put the blame on myself. By impulse, sometimes I say, "Oh!
This terrible man is always against me, so is that really
off?" But that's the first impression. Then
at home I say, "Why?" and you have to find out so you can
improve. There is an Italian
saying, which may be
international, that in a very poor second-class
book, you can find something good. So even if the critic seems he
my way of performing or that he is in a bad temper or is simply
against me, I must also find the good in what he's writing. And
if you look and you find the
good in there, you will
find yourself improving.
BD: So even now you're
still trying to
TG: Oh, yeah!
Otherwise I will be a dead man, the mummy. You have to improve to
alive the interest in
what you do. Even if you don't improve you have to imagine that
are improving and try to do it. You must dig deeper and
deeper. For instance, I performed
Tosca here many times, and the
I directed it was '76, but this time I'm changing all
the procession. At home, when I was asked to direct the opera
here, I tried to remember... I closed my eyes and visualized what
I had been doing. How was the
procession? It was coming from upstage to the front, and
then had to leave at the side. So now the procession will come
from the center of the stage, go a little upstage, crossing the stage,
and then reappearing on the
left! That way all the procession is visible and the
chorus is singing in front. I have learned a
little more, naturally, in every year that I stay on this side of
the world; you have to learn
BD: Now is this better,
or is this just different?
TG: It is different, and
is better. If it was only
different I would not do it. No, because in asking everybody to
what we have done, is asking something different! So if it is
only different, I will not do it. I am not a dictator; I am a
very humble man when I work. The
first thing is to ask my assistant and the other people here, "I have
idea; what you think? Tell me frankly." We
discuss! They approve, and then we did it.
BD: So it's a communal
TG: Yes, because two eyes
can see very well; four
BD: Do we get the
standard operas too much? I mean, year
after year we have Tosca and Traviata and a few other familiar
things. Should we instead
have a Giordano and a Boito and a Cilea, etc.?
TG: Yes, I would like to, but
it will be depending on the opera house. Here you have seven
year. If you have a theater where
they perform every night for one year or ten
months, then it will be really a duty for them to do more works.
But I hope
also here that they can find, every season, one less-known
opera of good quality with a good
cast. You can't kill Rigoletto
even with a bad
singer; it's such a great
masterpiece that it will be good. It can be also much better if
you have a good cast or an excellent
cast, but small operas which are out of the
repertory need a
good personality. For instance, when I was starting out, we did L'arlesiana and we had Tito
Schipa and Gianna
Pederzini! Two big names was a guarantee for the success!
Then maestro Serafin added Tito Gobbi, Gino Bechi, Giulio Neri in this
so we had the
chance to start our careers with two big stars, and the
opera was a success.
BD: Are there some operas
that are good but have just not
gotten the best performance, and that's why they're not remembered
TG: Opera which have had
performance are also today everywhere.
BD: For instance, we know
that Traviata was a failure
first. Suppose it had never gotten another performance.
it was buried and lost...
TG: Certainly there are
operas which have been buried
after the first flop; the opening evening was unsuccessful.
Naturally a revival can maybe help them. There are opera in the
drawer today that have been sleeping
for half century, covered by dust and nobody had the
courage to take them
out! Maybe they were not of the time 50
years ago, and now they will be more accepted. But it is
a quite a job, you know; you can't imagine how many operas have been
written all over the world in the last 200 years!
BD: Oh, thousands.
TG: I think a
million! [Laughter all around]
BD: The public's taste is
TG: Oh, yes! Oh,
BD: Is the public's taste
TG: They have the right
to change and to be up to date because we perform
for them, not for what they are supposed to be 20 years
ago! We perform for the people who are here today, so we have to
adapt our performance, our acting, our
interpretation, to the audience of today. The audience
changes; they have the right to change. Now they come in blue
jeans, which I don't like very much. I think opera must be a kind
temple, and you have to respect a little bit also in the way you
BD: But wouldn't you
rather have the kids come in blue jeans than
not come at all?
TG: Oh, yes.
Certainly... also naked
if they want. [More laughter] The young people are the new
forces, the new generation. In fact, I suggested to Carol
Fox about 20 years ago or maybe more, to have the dress
rehearsal open for one dollar, or even for a quarter, to the
students! She did it a little
later, and now all the opera houses
are opening the dress rehearsal to for the young students, for the
of the young generation! Not the full theater, but just a
portion. They can pay today half a dollar, and
they can be also helping the
opera to a better living.
BD: How do we get more
young people to come to the
opera? Is this one of the ways?
come. They come. You just open the door. They
come. The young generation is the generation who carry a radio in
the street when they walk. They have a radio in the
school, they have a radio while they study; they love music because
they are the people who put the music around us. So if you tell
them there is opera, it doesn't matter what — Traviata or Tosca or Butterfly — any
opera, they will come. And there is an enormous improvement
in this, all over the world. In Italy I saw, with enormous
pleasure, that one of the last performances I went to, two thirds of
the audience was young
people from 16 to 25. Music is a need for the human being.
We need music. It's
good to be able to choose what kind of music you need.
BD: Right. My
question is how do you
get them to choose opera instead of rock and roll?
TG: Let them try; let
them taste! How can they
choose macaroni for Rice-And-Roni?
[Laughter] You have to taste both of
them and then they will
make their choice. Somebody will like
more rock and roll, and somebody
will like more
Traviata or old-fashioned
BD: Does opera on the
television help this?
TG: Yes and no, because
if you know the
opera, if you are an operagoer, if you know something about music and
opera, you can listen with a certain pleasure and
watch the opera broadcast on television because you know exactly
what is going on, and because you listen with your brain more
than with your ear. You look more with your brain than with
Because you know the opera, you want to see what you want to see,
not what they offer you. Really. Sometimes, a genuine
innocent creature, who has no
knowledge at all, turns on the television and there is a performance
of something that he can't
understand — people singing in a funny way and
acting with strange movements. This person will be
disappointed. You have to tell them what the style is about; you
have to teach
help them. This television opera, the opera broadcast by
television is a great
pleasure, a great help, a great joy of music
for the people who already know about it, but I don't think
is the hook that can fish the young generation.
BD: So it develops what's
there, but it doesn't start things anew.
TG: Yeah. If you
really clean your brain for a
moment and look at them, they say, "What
is this? I prefer the western shooting and horses running."
Opera is not a thing that you enjoy very much if you
don't know it.
BD: Does the running
translation at the bottom of the screen bother you? [Note:
Remember, this interview took place in the fall of 1982. Titles
in the theater were introduced a few months later.]
TG: [With flat
BD: You don't like that
terrible. You must go
prepared. If you
come to the opera house to see Traviata,
Simon Boccanegra, Trovatore
— it doesn't matter — you have to
know exactly. There is this beautiful booklet
sell or give you. Read it!! On the television, I prefer a
speaker before the
performance who tells in five minutes the story. He tells you
what it is about, and then it can be
educational. But if you spend your time to
read, and follow with the eyes this running characters, you don't see
the screen and
you don't see what is going on! And if you don't
listen — as it happened to me at the
performance when I was
watching the decor and the scenery, the
curtain come down before I enjoyed the music.
BD: Thank you for
everything that you have given to opera.
TG: Thank you. I am
very proud for what I was able to give
to the world of
opera, and I thank God for allowing me to do
so, because it's a gift.
BD: You've given so
generously, and you've given so much
to Chicago; thank you for coming to Chicago so often.
TG: I love Chicago.
Chicago's a beautiful city, and I saw Chicago growing. Years ago,
when it was a
little difficult moment for the Lyric and the opera
house, I came here and made a famous speech. They asked me to do
this important speech for people. I say they are building
skyscrapers, beautiful buildings of cement and marble and iron and
glasses, but remember
Chicago without an opera will be a mutilated city. You can't live
without music. "Panem et circenses," the Latin phrase, "Bread and
enjoyment," the art and music.
Gobbi was an admired
operatic baritone. He originally studied at
Padua University for a career in law, but he eventually gave that up in
favor of pursuing voice lessons in Rome with Giulio Crimi. He made his
operatic debut in the town of Gubbio in 1935, as Count Rodolfo in
Bellini's "La sonnambula." He was hired at Milan's La Scala for the
1935-1936 season as an understudy; his first appearance there was as
the Herald in Ildebrando Pizzetti's "Oreseolo."
He won the
international singing competition in Vienna in 1936. As a result he
began getting improved billing; he sang the role of Germont in "La
traviata" at the Teatro Reale in Rome in 1937. In the same year he sang
Lelio in Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's "Le donne curiose," and continued
singing secondary roles through 1939 there. He was promoted to primary
roles and in 1941 sang Ford in Verdi's "Falstaff" during a visit by the
company to Berlin in 1941. Meanwhile, in a guest appearance at Rieti he
first sang the role of Scarpia in Puccini's "Tosca" in 1940. This was
to become his best-known part.
Gobbi made his La Scala debut in
a major role in 1942 as Belcore in "L'Elisir d'Amore." However, the
performance that made him famous was as Wozzeck in the first Italian
performance of Alban Berg's opera in Rome in November, 1942. Fighting
raged throughout Italy following the Allied invasions there in 1943,
interrupting his career. After the war he began to include
international appearances. He first appeared in Stockholm in 1947 as
Rigoletto; in 1948 he went to Covent Garden in concerts and to San
Francisco to debut as Figaro in Rossini's "Barber of Seville." His
London operatic debut was at Covent Garden as Belcore when the La Scala
Company toured there. He appeared in Chicago in 1954 as Rossini's
Figaro, and debuted at the Metropolitan Opera Company as Scarpia,
January 13, 1956. He sang Don Giovanni in Salzburg in 1952 under von
He took up producing as well, often at
Chicago, where he made regular appearances, and producing opera became
an ever more important part of his career after 1965, which is when he
produced a performance starring himself in the title role of Verdi's
"Simon Boccanegra" in London.
Although he was particularly
well known for his portrayal of Verdi's baritone roles (including Posa
in "Don Carlos"), and of Puccini's (Scarpia, Jack Rance, Gianni
Schicchi), he had a very large repertory of well over 100 roles,
including such rare operas as Malipiero's "Ecuba" (as Ulysses),
Teprulov in Rocca's "Monte Ivnor," the Count of Albaforita in Persico's
"La locandiera," and operas by Lualdi, Napoli, and Ghedini. He was an
excellent actor, had a high degree of musicianship and intelligence,
had a flexible, rich, but not large baritone voice, and was at home in
a wide variety of parts. He also appeared in 26 movies. He was the
brother-in-law of another eminent singer, Boris Christoff. Gobbi
retired from the operatic stage in 1979. He published an autobiography (Tito
Gobbi: My Life, 1979) and Tito Gobbi and His World of Italian
Opera (1984). He left a significant legacy of recorded
performances, mainly made in the 1950s and 1960s. ~ Joseph Stevenson,
[This is the full set of stamps issued by Nicaragua in 1975 to honor
opera singers. Gobbi is in excellent company!]
© 1982 Bruce Duffie
interview was held in a dressing room backstage in the Civic Opera
House in Chicago, on October 7, 1982. A small portion was
included in an
article I wrote for the WNIB Program Guide one year later.
Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB the following year,
and again in 1987, 1988, 1993, 1997, 1998 and 2000. The
transcription was made and posted on this
website in 2011.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.