Bass Italo Tajo
Directed, Taught After Opera Career
[Text compiled (and corrected) from obituaries in the Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1993, by John von Rhein,
and The New York Times, March 30, 1993, by Allan Kozinn.]
Italo Tajo was one of the most admired opera singers of the postwar era, an Italian bass especially renowned for his comic roles, an expert stage director and an influential teacher.
Professor emeritus of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Mr. Tajo died Monday of heart failure at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. He was 77.
Mr. Tajo was born in Pinerolo, Italy, on April 25, 1915, and began his studies in Turin with Nilde Stinchi Bertozzi. He made his professional debut as Fafner in Wagner's "Rheingold" at the Teatro Regio in Milan in 1935, and in 1936 went to Glyndebourne as a chorister and an understudy in Mozart roles.
He made his American opera debut in Chicago, opening the season in 1946 with the Chicago Opera Company, as Ramfis in Verdi's "Aida" with Milanov, Baum, and Warren. He also sang Ponchielli's "La Gioconda", again with Milanov and Baum, and Castagna and Guelfi, and Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila" with Thorborg and Jobin here that season, all conducted by Fausto Cleva. He also sang in San Francisco, and made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Don Basilio in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" in December 1948.
His repertory included several contemporary works. He sang in the Italian premieres of Berg's "Wozzeck" in 1942, Walton's "Troilus and Cressida" in 1956 and Shostakovich's "Nose" in 1964. He also created roles in works by several composers, including Luigi Nono and Luciano Berio.
But it was in the standard Romantic repertory that he did most of his work, and he made his name playing a combination of serious and comic roles -- Banquo, Ramfis, Figaro, Don Pasquale and Dulcamara -- in the 1940's.
Mr. Tajo made several recordings, including Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" with a Glyndebourne cast in the mid-1930's and La Scala recordings of Verdi's "Macbeth" and Giordano's "Andrea Chenier."
Through the 1970s and '80s Mr. Tajo (pronounced Tah-yo) appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in various supporting roles, including the Sacristan in Puccini's "Tosca" and Alcindoro and Benoit in "La Boheme." He staged Massenet's "Don Quichotte" at the Lyric in 1974.
"He was the most magnetic stage presence and personality I have ever seen," said Danny Newman, longtime Lyric Opera publicist.
In 1966 Mr. Tajo moved from Rome to Cincinnati to help start the opera department at the University of Cincinnati. Among his students there were Kathleen Battle and Barbara Daniels.
He is survived by his wife, Inelda, and a daughter, Cecilia Benedett.
-- Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website. BD
Italo Tajo at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1971 - Tosca (Sacristan) with Martin/Kubiak, Bergonzi, Gobbi, Giorgetti, Andreolli; Sanzogno, Gobbi, Pizzi
1972 - Bohème (Benoît and Alcindoro) with Krilovici/Bruno, Merighi, Patrick, Zilio, Ferrin, Holloway; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi
1973 - Tosca (Sacristan) with Kubiak, Tagliavini, Gobbi, Giorgetti, Andreolli; Bartoletti, Gobbi, Pizzi
Bohème (Benoît and Alcindoro) with Cotrubas/Wells, Pavarotti/Merighi, Patrick, Zilio, Washington, Giorgetti; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi
1974 - Don Quichotte (Director) with Ghiaruov, Foldi, Cortez, Paige; Fournet, Samaritani
1976 - Tosca (Sacristan) with Neblett, Pavarotti, MacNeil, Giorgetti, Andreolli; López-Cobos, Gobbi, Pizzi
Love for Three Oranges (Cook) with Barlow, Little, Titus, Gill, Dooley, Trussel, Kuhlmann, Powers; Bartoletti, Chazalettes, Santicchi
1979 - Love for Three Oranges (Cook) with Suliotis, Little, Nolen, Gill, Dooley, Trussel, White, Halfvarson; Prêtre, Chazalettes, Santicchi
Bohème (Benoît and Alcindoro) with Mitchell/Soviero/Niculescu, Shicoff/Prior/Moldoveanu, Romero, Zilio, Ramey, Nolen/Stone; Chailly, Frisell
1982 - Tosca (Sacristan) with Bumbry/Marton, Luchetti/Domingo, Wixell/Nimsgern, Kavrakos, Andreolli, Cook; Rudel, Gobbi, Pizzi
1983 - Bohème (Benoît and Alcindoro) with Cotrubas, Ciannella, Raftery, Hong, Washington, Galbraith; Navarro, Copley, Pizzi
1987-88 - Tosca (Scaristan) with Scotto, Ciannella, Milnes/Nimsgern, Patterson, Andreolli; Tilson Thomas, Kellner, Pizzi
1989-90 - Tosca (Sacristan) with Marton/Neblett, Jóhannsson/Giacomini, Nimsgern, Runey, Andreolli; Bartoletti, de Tomasi, Pizzi
© 1982 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded at his apartment in Chicago on October 23, 1982. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995 and 2000. A copy of the unedited audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University. This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to Doug Han for his 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.