[Note: This interview originally appeared in Opera Scene magazine in December, 1982.  It has been slightly re-edited for this website presentation.]
Presenting  Sesto  Bruscantini

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Baritone Sesto Bruscantini is truly a "Lyric Favorite" having sung many roles here since his debut in 1961.  [Note: A full list of his appearances is shown at the end of this interview, as is an obituary which documents many of his roles.]  But his repertoire in Chicago
wide though it isdisplays only the tip of the iceberg, for in the course of a career which began at La Scala in 1949, he has established himself as a stylist in dramatic roles, verismo roles, buffo roles, and, perhaps the most difficult of all, Mozart roles.  In some operas, Bruscantini has essayed two leading roles.  For instance, he has sung both the Count and Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, and in Don Giovanni he has sung both Giovanni and Leporello, as well as Masetto and the Commendatore!  Many of these roles have been recorded, and it's well worth the effort needed to track down those sets which are out-of-print.

Here in Chicago this season [1982], we were treated to a one-woman show, La Voix Humaine. sung superbly by Josephine Barstow.  [See my Interview with Josephine Barstow.]  One of Sesto Bruscantini's greatest parts might be considered the other side of that coin
a comic, one-man performance called Il Maestro di Capella by Cimarosa.

Sesto Bruscantini brings his myriad roles to the all the major (and many of the lesser) operatic centers of the world, and shares him many insights with students in master classes.  But most of all, he brings to each performance a very special ability to communicate with the audience.  I was most fortunate to be able to chat with him at his apartment between performances.  He spoke quite a bit of English, but we were both very grateful that Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera of Chicago was there to provide translation for both of us.  Here is what was said . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You are a master of both buffo and dramatic styles.  Let me begin by asking the differences in playing a buffo role or a dramatic role.

Sesto Bruscantini:    I started with buffo roles, and therefore found myself at an advantage when I started doing dramatic roles.  Buffo roles are more difficult to interpret than the dramatic roles.

BD:    How so?

SB:    It is much more difficult to make people laugh in the right way than to make them cry or to keep them in suspense.

BD:    Is the timing difficult in buffo roles?

SB:    Yes, but the question of timing is for both buffo and dramatic roles.  It's in the music and it's in the spoken words.

BD:    Do you enjoy one more than the other or do you want a balance of the two?

SB:    I like to do both, but generally I am asked to do more buffo roles than dramatic roles.  This is because it's easier to find singers who can interpret dramatic roles than those who can do buffo roles in the right way.

BD:    Then the buffo roles are much more difficult than the public imagines?

SB:    Yes, of course.

BD:    Let me ask about Il Maestro di Capella.  Have you sung both the Cimarosa and the Paer?

SB:    No, just the Cimarosa.  First of all, this is a great masterpiece in a musical sense.  We should never forget that for singers the most important thing of all is the opera that we have to do.  Il Maestro di Capella is the work of a genius.  I had an experience which left me very surprised when I did it in Dallas for school children who had never seen an opera before.  It was part of a triple bill along with Suor Angelica and a ballet with Fonteyne.  The most successful piece was the Maestro di Capella!  This success was not simply because I was there, but because it was musically the most important piece.

BD:    It must have been the combination of Cimarosa and Bruscantini!

SB:    [laughing]  Perhaps . . .  Generally, I try to serve the music.

BD:    Was it in English or Italian?

SB:    In Italian.  I was surprised that it was such a big success, but there was something that was conveyed to the audience.

BD:    Did you actually direct the musicians?

SB:    No, the edition of the work that I do is different than what is generally done.  Usually my colleagues tend to do a performance that is somewhat a mockery of the conductor.  I've even seen some performances of where the protagonist was satirizing Arturo Toscanini.  This is a big historical error because at the time when Il Maestro di Capella was composed, there was no such thing as the orchestra conductor.

BD:    Of cours
e.  Either the composer would direct from the harpsichord, or everyone would look to the first violinist for the tempo.

SB:    This is a very easy way to make the public laugh.

BD:    But you are required to talk to the bassoons and the double basses . . .

SB:    To talk, but not direct.  Cimarosa was a child of his time, and it is impossible to write something that will not happen until many years later.  I performed this role for the first time with an Italian producer who was really a writer, Corrado Pavolini, a man of the theater.  When we spoke together about this piece, the result was to try to make logical what Cimarosa has written.  The most important thing in Il Maestro di Capella is that piece per se is so totally logical.  Therefore it's so modern.

BD:    Is it more modern than we give it credit for?

SB:    Certainly, it's a very modern piece.  And then we thought
Mr. Pavolini suggested and I elaborated on itto tell the story of a very old singer who goes to the theater to hear a concert, and like all old-timers at a certain age begins to criticize what the young conductor is doing.  This is all during the introduction.  So then, someone from the audience who has recognized the old singer asks why he doesn't let them hear something, and this is all done by mimicking because all there is, is empty chairs.

BD:    So you conduct to the empty chairs?

SB:    Yes.  There are people all around
to my right and my left and behindand at the end of the introduction I get up and say that since everyone insists, I will sing an aria.  The old singer says he belongs to the old school and not the new school, so there is always this juxtaposition between the old and the new throughout the piece.  The whole thing is developed between the audience and the orchestra.  So the old singer says he must instruct the orchestra, and he tells the violins to do such-and-such, but the flutes play instead and it's very funny.  This is how we did it.  If you do it like a conductor it's a big error because the conductor as a person in the theater comes in much later in musical history than Cimarosa.  At the end, after he has given the directions to the orchestra, the singer begins to sing, and it comes out this old singer who has criticized everything and everyone is no longer capable of singing.  All that was left to him was his boasting.  At this point, he knows that he will not be able to do the phrase the right way so he puts the blame on the orchestrathe violins or the violasand then turns to the public and says that with this orchestra it is impossible to do anything right!  Then he purposely cracks on a note, and one of the orchestra members whistles.  (In Italy, a whistle is a very terrible thing to hear from an audience, like booing here in America.)  So from that point, the singer cannot keep up the appearance of knowing what he is doing.  He demands that the orchestra keep playing, but they stop.  This moment of silence is a very terrible moment.  Only a genius could conceive of this sudden stop of all activity.  The singer starts to make excuses.  He will try again another time, but his myth has collapsed at this point.  This also shows how, in opera buffo, there can be moments with more drama than in an opera which is supposed to be dramatic.  The difference between the two is that no one ever dies in opera buffo.

BD:    Is the "Maestro" a pathetic figure?

SB:    Oh yes, very pathetic.

BD:    But he doesn't realize that until the end?

SB:    No, because he has normal human feelings.

BD:    Is it special for you to be the whole show?

SB:    Yes.  That way I don't have to depend on anyone else.  Generally, the problem for an intelligent singer is to be forced to do something that some other person suggests or imposes.  But when the person who has the power to impose ideas has intelligence, then it becomes a pleasure.

BD:    Who has the final say
the singer or the director?

SB:    I really don't know because as far as I am concerned, I have rarely found producers or stage-directors who have me to do the wrong things.  But if one does ask for something wrong, you must do that wrong thing.  It is very difficult, but it must be done.

BD:    Do you approve of all the experimentation going on today?

SB:    The truth of the matter is that many times, producers or stage-directors direct an opera for themselves in order to have their own names publicized by the production, and the stranger the production, the more it is talked about.

BD:    They are going for novelty?

SB:    Yes, and the truth is that everyone should serve the music, first and only.

BD:    Serve the music and the drama?

SB:    And the drama, of course.  But generally, the music goes together with the drama.

BD:    Which serves which
is the music the servant of the drama or is the drama the servant of the music?

SB:    The most important thing is the music.

BD:    Prima la musica e poi le parola?

SB:    Si . . .  [Laughter all around]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about singing in different houses.  You've sung all over Italy and in different houses here in America.  Does the size of the house affect your vocal production?

SB:    Certainly, because when the house is very large one tends to shout more.  But the problem lies with the theater and not with the singer!  The theaters shouldn't be so big.

BD:    Are there theaters that are too big?

SB:    [Laughing]  They are all too big!  But seriously, even in a theater like Lyric which is very good acoustically, how can the people in the far rows see my face?

BD:    With opera glasses?

SB:    Well, opera was born in court theaters and small salons.

BD:    Would you rather it not be done at all?

SB:    No, one should do it in the right sized theater.

BD:    Is La Scala too big?

SB:    La Scala is too big.

BD:    What about the Piccolo Scala?

SB:    Piccolo Scala is nothing.

BD:    We can't win!  [Laughter all around]

SB:    The right theater is la Fenice in Venice.  It's about 1500 seats.  Then, there are others
like San Carlo in Naples, Colon in Buenos Aires, or the Liceo in Barcelonawhere the acoustic is so marvellous that you can hear well from any seat.

BD:    Is that because of the construction?

SB:    Yes.  They're all made of wood.  During the war, the theater in San Carlo was bombed, and everyone could see just how it was constructed.  The proscenium arch was hollow inside!

BD:    So when they re-built it, they took care to duplicate what had been there before?

SB:    Yes.

BD:    You say that Lyric has good acoustics?

SB:    Yes, but it is too big for a "little" opera.  When you produce an opera by Rossini, you must see exactly what happens in the face of each performer.  It's impossible to just hear; that is not enough.

BD:    Is television the answer?

SB:    Sometimes, yes.  But in television, the problem rests with the producer to follow the correct train of thought or the right gestures of each character on the stage.

BD:    Does the big theater work well for the "big" operas such as Aïda, Trovatore, etc.?

SB:    In my opinion, there are no "big" operas.  Aïda is not a big opera just because of the triumphal march.  Except for the march, the rest is very intimate.  Verdi never wrote big operas; Verdi always wrote for the heart.  I remember that after the war, Toscanini wanted to do Falstaff in the small theater in Busetto which is about the size of this apartment.  You can see everything.  The importance of the opera came from the quality of the orchestra, from how good the maestro is, from the company and from the audience.  For this, the audience must be all together with the performers.  There must be communication.  The orchestra is usually the same number, there are the certain soloists, and the chorus may vary, but the audience, when it gets too big, sends the proportion out of line.

BD:    What about a place like the arena in Verona?

SB:    The real spectacle in Verona is the arena and not the opera.  The open-air theater, the Carcalla in Rome, is the same thing.  It's marvelous to see all the Roman ruins, but the opera is completely another thing.

BD:    Is the opera there superfluous?

SB:    [Laughing]  More or less.  You can get the same impression without the opera going on.  That is the point.  I like the opera and I respect the opera.  But in countries where the opera is supported by the state, they should do the same thing that is done in the schools.  You
don't put children in larger and larger rooms to solve the economic problems, so why build such huge theaters for opera?  Opera is a little like school in some ways.

BD:    Should we go to the opera to learn or to enjoy?

SB:    How can one enjoy oneself without learning?

BD:    But how much concentration is involved?

SB:    It's a different kind of learning than if you were studying a book.  [Pointing to the view from his window]  You can learn something just by looking at this beautiful lake.  There are different things and different ways of learning.

BD:    Why don't we know more operas by "lesser" composers?

SB:    I really don't know.

BD:    Are they good operas?

SB:    Oh they're marvelous operas.  I performed many times with the Virtuosi di Roma and Maestro Fasano and also in Carnegie Hall many operas
Il Maestro di Capella, Cambialle di Matrimonio, Cantetrici Villane.  This last one is so very funny that audiences anywhereEurope, America, even Africawould laugh more at it than at a comedian like Danny Kaye!  I've asked Ardis why she doesn't use the little Civic Theater for these kinds of operas, but . . .  [See my Interview with Ardis Krainik.]

BD:  The Opera School did Il Matrimonio Segreto there and it was great!  They've done a couple of others there, but I, too, wish for more.  I understand, though, that the performances simply didn't sell.

SB:    The audiences don't know these kinds of operas, and so they are a bit afraid of coming.  But if we were to give to them, little by little, a few of these works, maybe like medicine, who knows.  But you know, it does take a very special kind of cast
, special kinds of singing-actors to do this kind of repertoire.  I've been involved in many productions and I've seen them done many times, and often they are not done in the correct way.

BD:    Let me turn this around.  Who are the contemporary Italian composers who are writing these kinds of things today.  Are there any?

SB:    I don't know.

BD:    Is opera dying?

SB:    Is painting dying?  It's changing.  I am very ignorant about painting, but when I go to the museum and view a Rafaello, I do enjoy it.  However, when I see a modern painting I don't understand anything.  I don't say that it's no good, but I ask what it is because I don't understand.  Perhaps the same kind of thing is happening in music.  Now composers are writing in another style.

BD:  So you don't enjoy modern opera?

SB:    No.  Not at all.

BD:    So opera for you dies after Puccini?

SB:    After or before Puccini, because realistic opera is no more opera.  I think that verismo killed opera.  For me, the real opera is Monteverdi, Cimarosa, Rossini, Donizetti.  Verdi was still within the opera, but he took it to its highest point.  Still no one in the world understands Falstaff.  I like Puccini very much; perhaps in Gianni Schicchi he is perfect, but it's not Bohème or Butterfly.

BD:    Have you sung Schicchi?

SB:    Yes, many times.  Bohème is a marvellous opera but it is a little bit veristic.  Butterfly is also a wonderful opera, but I don't understand how he could put together a line as sung by Cio-Cio-San with the idea of little Janapese things.  It's too big, too strong, and it's very difficult to sing the role.  Many sopranos lose their voices doing this role, so it means something is wrong in the opera.  In Verdi you can sing everything.  I've sung everything from Monteverdi to modern, and for me the very best composer for the voice is Verdi.  I can sing Verdi many times and the voice is still in good shape, whereas Donizetti is hard for my voice.

BD:    Verdi practically created the "baritone" voice for which he wrote so well.

SB:    Perhaps this is true, but the kind of voice that he created is right.

BD:    Right for you?

SB:    Right for the baritone, right for the tenor, right for the soprano.  Many roles by Bellini and Donizetti are much more difficult.  I have sung Puritani many times and the tessitura is very low for the baritone.  I am a bass-baritone so I can do it, but many others find it too difficult to sing.  I can sing either Giorgio or Riccardo because they are both the same tessitura.

BD:    Do you go up to the high A flat in the duet?

SB:    Of course!  But Bellini didn't write those high notes.  We just sing them to show off our voices!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about singing Mozart -- you've sung a great many of his roles.

SB:    I remember reading that Rossini said Mozart was an angel, and I think he was right.  He's something out of the human world.  It's very special.  For me the only Mozart opera which is not perfect
and that not musically, but in the librettois Don Giovanni.  Da Ponte wrote the libretto perhaps too quickly, and if you study the score you can understand this.

bruscantiniBD:    You've sung both the Don and Leporello?

SB:    And Masetto and the Commendatore!

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  No Don Ottavio?

SB:    Not yet . . .   [Much laughter]  You know, Don Ottavio is an old man, so maybe in a few years . . .

BD:    Well, tell me the differences in singing the two major parts.

SB:    Leporello is a bit lower than Giovanni.  Giovanni can be sung by a baritone, but Leporello must be a bass.

BD:    When Giovanni is sung by a bass, is there enough contrast between the two?

SB:    Not so much, no.

BD:    So Giovanni should be younger and higher?

SB:    I think so, but when Giovanni comes at the very end, we need a voice like Ghiaurov.  His is the ideal voice for the last scene, a very big dramatic voice.  A "doomsday" voice.

BD:    In the character as well as in the music?

SB:    In the character, of course, because it has to do with the final judgement.  But it is difficult.  In Traviata I have always thought you need three voices for the heroine, a different one for each of the three acts.  A good Violetta can sing all three, but the feeling must change.

BD:    What if a producer demanded different women for each act
is that a good idea or not?

SB:    No.  The producer prefers generally to have something ready to go, like buying fast food instead of cooking a meal all day.  A singer must work hard at a characterization over a long period of time, and then develop it during each performance.

BD:    Are we losing this tradition, then of working a long time on a part?

SB:    Yes, absolutely.

BD:    What can we do to stop losing this?

SB:    We must work with a great respect for the music and not only for one's own self-promotion.  Producers must be capable of giving direction.  It's not enough to demand this and that and something else.  They must be able to show the singers how to do what is desired.  For me it's easy because I am used to changing characters, but many singers cannot adapt so easily, and the producer must be a teacher.  Today it is very difficult to find a producer who is also a good teacher.  It's not enough to just create the big scenery.  They must have much more understanding.

BD:    Let me go back to Mozart for a moment.  Is there a relationship between singing Don Giovanni and Figaro, or is the relationship closer between Giovanni and the Count?

SB:    Yes, it's closer to the Count.  The count is a bit of a ridiculous kind of Don Giovanni.

BD:    Is the Count a failed Don Giovanni?

SB:    [Laughing]  Yes.  But he's a very important character because he is so human.

BD:    Then is there a relation between Leporello and Figaro?

SB:    No, because Leporello is always mumbling against his master but doesn't do anything against Don Giovanni.  He is submissive although he mumbles against him.

BD:    Leporello is an order-taker?

SB:    Yes, whereas Figaro is an antagonist to the Count.

BD:    Does Figaro love the Count despite this?

SB:    Of course, but the importance of Figaro
which comes from Beaumarchais and not from Mozartis the new, rising bourgeois man who is smarter than the nobleman he is supposed to serve.  He loves the Count, but he is not the servant.  He is a free man.

BD:    How much of all this is Beaumarchais and how much is Da Ponte?

SB:    It's more Da Ponte than Beaumarchais because in Beaumarchais you can find more political things.  In Da Ponte you find just human things.  It's a question of love and jealousy and something like this.  The big monologue in the fourth act (Aprite un po' quegli occhi) for Figaro is, in Beaumarchais, a big political monologue, and not only something to do with love.

BD:    So Beaumarchais is putting his political feelings into a guise?

SB:    Yes, of course.  In Da Ponte, Figaro is simply a jealous man.  He's a good jealous man like the Count is a bad jealous man.

BD:    You're painting the Count in very dark colors.

SB:    I've sung the Count, too, and I feel that I know him, and I think this is the way it is.  The Count would like to show that he is a modern man who has renounced certain privileges
like the right of first nightbut truly he does not renounce any of those privileges because he would like to have Susanna.  He doesn't like Cherubino because Cherubino is like him with this passion for women.  The Count has many, many faces.

BD:    Thank you for coming to Chicago.

SB:    I must thank Lyric Opera for calling me again.


Sesto Bruscantini at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1961 - Figaro (Barber of Seville) [American Debut]
1963 - Malatesta (Don Pasquale)
1964 - Alfonso XI (La Favorita), Marcello (La Bohème), Dandini (La Cenerentola)
1965 - Marcello (La Bohème), Sharpless (Madama Butterfly), High Priest (Samson),
                  Baritone (Carmina Burana), Ramiro (L'Heure Espagnol), Rigoletto (Rigoletto)
1966 - Zurga (Pearl Fishers), Germont (Traviata)
1968 - Malatesta (Don Pasquale)
1969 - Figaro (Barber of Seville)
1981 - Father Laurence (Romeo and Juliette)
1982 - Sharpless (Madama Butterfly)
1984 - Bartolo (Barber of Seville)
1985-86 - Sharpless (Madama Butterfly)

Sesto Bruscantini

Sympathetic bass-baritone with a long career and an enormous repertory

By Elizabeth Forbes, The Independent, 12 May 2003

During a career that lasted 45 years, the Italian bass-baritone Sesto Bruscantini acquired an enormous repertory that was notable for the range, musical and dramatic, of the roles that he sang, as well as for their number.

At first a bass, specialising in the comic roles of Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti, he moved up the scale to baritone and even, for some years in the middle of his career, took on the high Verdi baritone roles. His voice was not huge, but so well projected that no strain showed, however florid or heavy the vocal line. But it was his skill in characterisation that enabled Bruscantini to sing so many roles in such different styles. He had a tremendous success at Glyndebourne in the 1950s, and at the Chicago Lyric during the 1960s, and sang at La Scala, Milan, the Rome Opera and many other Italian cities throughout his career.

Sesto Bruscantini was born at Civitanova Marche in the Marche, in 1919. His father was a lawyer and Sesto also studied law, graduating from Macerata University in 1944. He had already won a singing competition at Florence, and in 1945 studied for a year in Rome with Luigi Ricci. To pay for his studies he wrote comments in verse on topical news for a weekly paper.

After making his professional début in 1946 at Civitanova as Colline in La bohème, he spent a year at the Rome Opera School, singing small roles such as the Notary in Gianni Schicchi, and the First Nazarene in Salome. He also sang in many concerts and began a fruitful relationship with Italian Radio as Sulpice in Donizetti's La Fille du régiment.

Bruscantini first sang at La Scala in 1949, as Don Geronimo in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto, a role that would remain in his repertory for many years. In 1950 he sang Selim in Rossini's Il turco in Italia in Rome, with a stellar cast including Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti and Mariano Stabile. The following year he returned to La Scala for Dr Dulcamara in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, another role he would still be singing some 40 years later. He also sang Masetto in Don Giovanni. Nineteen fifty-one was the 50th anniversary of Verdi's death, and Bruscantini sang Baron Kelbar in Un giorno di regno for Radio Italiana.

At Glyndebourne that summer of 1951 he made his début as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. Singing Fiordiligi was the Yugoslav soprano Sena Jurinac. The following year he moved to Guglielmo in Così fan tutte and also scored a huge success as Dandini in Rossini's La Cenerentola, both of which were quite definitely baritone roles. After leaving Glyndebourne he went straight to Salzburg, where he sang the title role of Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Later that year he sang his first Mozart Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro for Netherlands Opera. Early in 1953 he returned to La Scala for Leporello in Don Giovanni and Tadeo in Rossini's L'italiana in Algerì.

Back at Glyndebourne that summer he repeated his wonderfully comic and elegant Dandini, and returned to Don Alfonso. In June he and Sena Jurinac were married in Lewes, appearing in Così fan tutte the same evening. They also sang together in the prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, with Jurinac as the Composer and Bruscantini as the Music Master, an unusual excursion into German opera – he sang Papageno in The Magic Flute, but only in Italian. His marriage to Jurinac was at first a great success, but later they grew apart and the marriage was dissolved – with great difficulty on Bruscantini's side.

In the summer of 1954 he sang Rossini's Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne, and with the company in Edinburgh took on Raimbaud in Rossini's Le Comte Ory. Meanwhile he was appearing in Genoa, Venice, Naples, Rome, Bologna and Lisbon. At Glyndebourne in 1955 he sang both Mozart's and Rossini's Figaro, demonstrating his ability to bring a character to vibrant life. He felt that the mainspring of Rossini's Figaro was money and that of Mozart's was love; a third Figaro, in Paisiello's Il barbiere, which was also in his repertory, was the only one motivated, like the Beaumarchais original, by revolutionary politics. Bruscantini gained another baritone role in Malatesta in Don Pasquale at Genoa in 1958, but early the following year reverted to Pasquale at La Scala.

In 1959 he appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in London with the Virtuosi di Roma in three 18th-century comic operas, as Uberto in Pergolesi's La serva padrona, as Don Bucefalo in Fioravanti's Le cantatrici villane and in the title role of Il maestro di cappella by Cimarosa, a one-man show that peopled the stage with imaginary characters and always brought the house down.

Nineteen-sixty was a milestone in Bruscantini's career. In February and March he sang the four baritone villains in Les Contes d'Hoffmann and Marcello in La bohème at the San Carlo, Naples. Then at Glyndebourne in the summer he took on his first Verdi baritone role, Ford in Falstaff. He repeated Ford at Edinburgh and in Turin, then in November [of 1961] he made his US début in Chicago as Rossini's Figaro.

In 1962 he sang his first Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos at Trieste. Other high baritone roles followed, and in 1965 another new Verdi role, Renato in Un ballo in maschera, at Florence. This was followed by Giorgio Germont in La traviata at Genoa in 1966. The elder Germont was perhaps Bruscantini's finest baritone characterisation. He sang it in Madrid, Chicago, Palermo and Parma, during the 1960s, and at Marseilles in 1971, with Renata Scotto as Violetta. The depth of feeling he brought to the role was unique in my experience, and he evoked enormous sympathy for a personage who is often taken to be unsympathetic.

Bruscantini made a very belated Covent Garden début in 1971 as Rossini's Figaro. He returned to London in 1974 as Malatesta in Don Pasquale, which was very well received. In 1976 his fine rendering of Simon Boccanegra in the original, 1857 version of Verdi's opera was broadcast by the BBC on New Year's Day, and the following month he sang his first Falstaff with Scottish Opera in Glasgow. Though he made the fat knight a lonely, rather sad old man, he lit the performance with many sly touches of humour.

In 1977 Bruscantini made the first of three visits to the Wexford Festival, during which he directed the operas as well as singing in them. A triple bill of Il maestro di cappella, La serva padrona and Ricci's La serva e l'ussero was followed in 1979 by Crispino e la comare by the Ricci brothers, and in 1981 by Verdi's Un giorno di regno, in which Bruscantini sang Baron Kelbar, exactly 30 years after singing the role for Radio Italiana. In 1980 the 60-year-old Bruscantini made his début at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Taddeo in L'italiana, followed by Dr Dulcamara in L'elisir d'amore.

He continued to sing throughout the 1980s, appearing at Salzburg three years running as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. At Houston he took on Dr Bartolo in Il barbiere. He returned to Glyndebourne in 1985 as Don Magnifico. In 1986 he sang Iago (never one of his best roles) at Dallas in an emergency and obtained a new Rossini role at Bordeaux, Asdrubale in La pietra del paragone. In 1988 he sang Don Alfonso in Los Angeles, the four villains in Madrid. In 1989 he sang Michonnet in Rome. In 1990, also in Rome, he sang a new role, the Magistrate in Werther, and sang a final Don Alfonso in Macerata. He was 70.

After retiring from the opera stage, he started a school of singing in Civitanova.

Sesto Bruscantini, opera singer, director and teacher: born Civitanova Marche, Italy 10 December 1919; married first 1953 Sena Jurinac (marriage dissolved), second Angela Pallota; died Civitanova Marche 4 May 2003.


© 1981 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded at his apartment in Chicago on December 9, 1981.  The translation was provided by Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB in 1989, 1994, and 1999. The transcription was made and published in Opera Scene in December, 1982.  It was re-editied, photos, bios and links were added, and it was posted on this website in 2013.

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.