Nicola Rossi-Lemeni; Operatic Basso Earned Fame During '50s
March 15, 1991, BURT A. FOLKART, LOS ANGELES TIMES STAFF WRITER
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, one of the best-known operatic bassos of the 1950s, has died in Bloomington, Ind., where he was a professor of music at Indiana University.
Joanne Nesbit, a school spokesman, said Rossi-Lemeni was 70 when he died Tuesday of cancer.
With a repertoire of 90 roles, the Russian-Italian singer was a sought-after performer for two decades, primarily as Boris Godunov and Don Giovanni.
Such later stars as Cesare Siepi and Jerome Hines surpassed his popularity in the United States and he began to appear more and more in Europe, mostly in Italy at La Scala and opposite such divas as Maria Callas.
Boris Godunov is widely believed to have been his greatest individual triumph. Rossi-Lemeni was born in Istanbul, Turkey--then called Constantinople--and sang the role in fluent Russian learned from his mother. He once received 48 curtain calls after a performance as Boris in the Soviet Union.
Verdi's King Philip, Mozart's Giovanni, the two Mephistos, Donizetti's Henry VIII, Rossini's Moses and Bloch's Macbeth were among his favorite roles during his 30 years of singing.
One of his significant achievements was to create the role of Thomas Becket in Ildebrando Pizetti's "L'Assassinio Nella Cattedrale." The opera, based on T. S. Eliot's play, "Murder in the Cathedral," is the only one ever sung at the Vatican. After the performance, Pope John XXIII knighted Rossi-Lemeni in the order of St. Sylvester, an honor shared by only one other singer, Irish tenor John McCormack.
Rossi-Lemeni's other world premieres were in "View From the Bridge," "The Adventurer" and "La Reine Morte," all by Renzo Rossellini.
He gave only 12 performances in a single season (1953-54) at the Metropolitan, and in the early 1950s was seen in Los Angeles with the San Francisco Opera and at the Hollywood Bowl.
Rossi-Lemeni also launched the first season of Chicago's Lyric Opera in 1954 as Don Giovanni.
He joined Indiana University in 1980 where he taught and staged several operas.
He wrote five volumes of poetry, directed for the operatic stage and was a painter in the modern Impressionist vein.
Survivors include his wife, Virginia Zeani, a Romanian soprano and fellow Indiana University faculty member.
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Opera Singer Nicola Rossi-Lemeni
March 13, 1991, By John von Rhein, in the Chicago Tribune
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, the versatile Italian singer whose dark, brooding bass voice and commanding stage presence brought distinction to the early seasons of Lyric Opera, died of liver cancer Tuesday at Bloomington Hospital in Bloomington, Ind. He was 70.
Mr. Rossi-Lemeni was among the brightest stars in a constellation of Italian opera singers, including Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, Giuseppe di Stefano, Ettore Bastianini and Tito Gobbi, who made notable careers in American opera theaters shortly after World War II.
Although he won acclaim singing at the Metropolitan, San Francisco, Covent Garden and other houses, it was the Lyric Opera of Chicago (originally called Lyric Theater) that gave him perhaps his greatest American successes.
Mr. Rossi-Lemeni made his Chicago opera debut in the title role of Mozart`s ``Don Giovanni`` during the Lyric`s ``calling card`` season in February 1954, singing opposite Eleanor Steber and Bidu Sayão. He returned in November to open the fall Lyric season in two historic performances of Bellini`s ``Norma,`` sharing the stage with Callas and Simionato. Later that month he sang Basilio in Rossini`s ``The Barber of Seville,`` winning acclaim for his ability to switch effortlessly from serious to comic roles.
Of Mr. Rossi-Lemeni`s Chicago recital debut in November 1952, critic Claudia Cassidy, an early Rossi-Lemeni enthusiast, wrote: ``It is a huge voice, blackly Russian, superbly focused, almost unbelievably chameleonic. . . . It is a voice full of shadows.``
Mr. Rossi-Lemeni`s final Chicago appearance was a non-singing stint at Lyric`s 25th anniversary gala concert in 1979.
Born in Istanbul of Italian and Russian parentage, Mr. Rossi-Lemeni made his debut in Venice in 1946 as Varlaam in Mussorgsky`s ``Boris Godunov.``
In his prime he was acclaimed for his smooth, mellow voice and uncommon musical and dramatic intelligence, qualities that suited him for such roles as Godunov and Philip II in Verdi`s ``Don Carlo.``
In recent years he and his wife, the soprano Virginia Zeani, had been teaching voice on the faculty of the Indiana University School of Music, Bloomington, which last month awarded him the title of distinguished professor.
Besides his wife, survivors include a son, Alexandro, a surgeon living in Rome; and his father, Paolo Rossi-Lemeni.
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Nicola Rossi-Lemeni at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1954 - [Calling Card Production in February] Don Giovanni (Giovanni) with Steber, Jordan, Sayão, Brownlee, Simoneau, Alvary; Rescigno
[Fall Season] Norma (Oroveso) with Callas, Simionato, Picchi; Rescigno
Barber of Seville (Basilio) with Simionato, Gobbi, Simoneau, Badioli; Rescigno
1955 - Puritani (Giorgio Walton) with Callas, de Stefano, Bastianini, Wildermann; Rescigno
Bohème (Colline) with Tebaldi, di Stefano, Gobbi, Lind, Torgi, Foldi; Serafin
Faust (Mephistofélès) with Carteri, Bjoerling, Weede, Dunn; Serafin
Elisir d'amore (Dulcamara) with Carteri, Simoneau, Thompson; Serafin
Amore dei tre re (Archibaldo) with Kirsten, Bergonzi, Weede; Serafin
1956 - Don Giovanni (Giovanni) with Steber, Likova/Lind, Wilson, Corena, Simoneau, Foldi; Solti
Forza del destino (Guardiano) with Tebaldi, Tucker, Bastianini, Simionato, Badioli, Krainik (Curra); Solti
-- Note: Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on this website. BD
nella cattedrale (Murder in
the Cathedral) is an opera in two acts and an intermezzo by the
Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968). The libretto is an
adaptation by the composer of an Italian translation of T.S. Eliot's
play Murder in the Cathedral.
The opera was first performed at La Scala, Milan on 1 March 1958 with
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Thomas Becket. Also in the cast were Leyla
Gencer, Aldo Bertocci, Dino Dondi, and Nicola Zaccaria.
It was broadcast on RAI the following December again with Rossi-Lemeni,
and the following year in Montreal. It was given in Vienna in
1960 with Hans Hotter as Becket and conducted by Karajan. In 2006 it
would be performed and filmed with Ruggero Raimondi,
and in 2013 it would be staged with Ferruccio Furlanetto.
|Palermo. On December 19 the
world premiere of Angelo Musco's Il
Gattopardo (The Leopard),
with libretto by Luigi Squarzina, was an eagerly anticipated event
because of the popularity of Tomasi di Lampedusa's original novel and
Luchino Visconti's film. At various press conferences the composer,
whose score is published by Ricordi, illustrated how he had set about
tackling this work — the recreation of the essential lines of
development of the novel through its basic atmosphere and nature,
relying above all on the memory to sort out the plot as scene succeeded
scene. Listening to the opera has confirmed the nobility of Musco's
intentions, but on the other hand stressed his failure to endow the
opera with its own vitality and raison d'être. Il Gattopardo is not really an
opera or melodramma; the music plays a frankly marginal role compared
with the drama which Squarzina has adapted from the novel. The piece,
in fact, seems to work, the libretto is well made, and the production
(by Squarzina himself) avoids a mannered, Sicilian characterization,
and so there is no local colour, no precise background except the
timeless world of the memory. But much of the irony of the original is
missing, and from Lampedusa's book, Squarzina has brought to the fore
Concetta's unhappy love for Tancredi. 'The music is very judicious and
discreet, like the sound track of a film — a kind of musical
accompaniment to continuous recitative. It is eclectic in style and
colour with obvious reminders of the French Impressionists,
particularly of Ravel. The last scene of the opera is quite successful
with its intelligently achieved effects of rueful comedy. The
production was impressive, with a cast of 35, headed by Nicola
Rossi-Lemeni who lent his strong personality to the role of Don
Fabrizio Salina. In the absence of sustained lyrical writing for the
voice, more emphasis was bound to fall on casting and acting. There
were fine performances from Lydia Marimpietri (Concetta), Ottavio
Garaventa (Tancredi), Guido Mazzini (Don Calogero Sedara) and Maria
Bertoldi (Angelica). Squarzina's scrupulous, lively production was
enhanced by Pier Luigi Pizzi's sets and costumes which suited the
imaginary atmosphere of the opera. Angelo Musco skilfully conducted his
own score, and in fact his passion for conducting has always matched
his passion for the theatre.
Applause was certainly not lacking, not only at the first performance but also at the later ones and the opera scored a definite success. Next year it is expected that Il Gattopardo will be given in other theatres, and the San Carlo has apparently shown keen interest in Musco-s piece.
-- From a review in OPERA magazine by Luigi Bellingardi, May, 1968
sguardo dal ponte is an opera in two acts by composer Renzo
Rossellini. The work uses an Italian language libretto by Gerardo
Guerrieri which is based on Arthur Miller's play A View from the Bridge. The opera
premiered at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma on March 11, 1961 using a
staging by Franco Rossellini, the composer's son. The premiere cast
included Clara Petrella, Gianna Galli, Alfredo Kraus,
Giuseppe Valdengo, and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. The Philadelphia Lyric
Opera Company presented the United States premiere of the opera on
October 17, 1967 with Rossi-Lemeni as Eddie Carbone and Gloria Lane as
|Angelo Maurizio Gaspare Mariani (11 October
1821 – 13 June 1873) was an Italian opera conductor and composer. His
work as a conductor drew praise from Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Meyerbeer,
Gioachino Rossini and Richard Wagner, and he was a longtime personal
friend of Verdi's, although they had a falling out towards the end of
He claimed to have abolished the system whereby an opera orchestra was jointly conducted by a maestro concertatore at the cembalo and a violin-conductor.
He had his first great success with Giuseppe Verdi's I due Foscari (1846) and Nabucco (1847), both in Milan. He conducted at least two world premieres (Verdi's Aroldo and Faccio's Amleto); and at least 4 Italian premieres (Meyerbeer's L'Africana, Verdi's Don Carlo, and Lohengrin and Tannhäuser by Wagner).
Despite Verdi's break with Mariani personally, he still had respect for him as a conductor, and he invited him to conduct the world premiere of Aïda in Cairo in December 1871. Mariani declined, saying he was not well enough to travel. This was indeed true, as he was already suffering symptoms of the cancer that would kill him less than two years later. However, it served only to further widen the rift between the two men.
© 1985 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded on the telephone on January 19, 1985. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990, 1995 and 2000. This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning 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 like 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.