Franco Tagliavini was born in Novellara, in the province of Reggio Emilia, on 29thOctober 1934, in a land with a tradition of good voices and musical passions.
He came from a farmers’ family and in his early teens he started to work as an apprentice in a nearby dairy, but his inborn passion for music led him to sing in the local chorus, directed by Maestro C. Confetta. In that he was encouraged by his father, a lover of romances and melodies. Maestro Confetta at once noticed the remarkable vocal qualities of his student and taught him solfa.
The times were economically hard, but his family sent him to study in Milan though with a lot of sacrifices. There he was lucky to meet the great soprano and singing Mistress Zita Fumagalli Riva. ‘Signora Rita’, as Franco lovingly called his teacher, gave him hospitality and he studied with her at Liceo Musicale “G.B.Viotti” in Vercelli. He had to interrupt his studies to do his national service, which lasted 18 months at the time, and on coming back he had to start all over again.
In 1961 he won the musical contest ASLICO, making his debut in the role of Canio in the opera “Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo, at Milan Teatro Nuovo, a role he took only that time, but it was sufficient to make his musical qualities noticed by the orchestra conductor.
In 1962-63 he sang in provincial theatres in the following operas: Nabucco, Madame Butterfly, Tosca, Boème, Cavalleria rusticana, Mefistofele.
In April 1962 very noticeable was his début in Catania in the opera Tosca with Giliola Frazzoni and Piero Cappuccilli; in November of the same year Clara Petrella chose him for the role of Cavaradossi at Teatro Puccini in Milan.
In 1964 his international career started with the début at San Francisco and Los Angeles, in the USA, and it continued in the major theatres of the world (Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Metropolitan in New York, San Carlo in Naples, Covent Garden in London, Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, Die Deutsche Oper in Berlin , the Vienna Opera , The Opera in Paris, the Bolshoi in Moscow, then Tokyo, Johannesburg, Bilbao, Budapest, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Brussels, Genève, Zurich, Edinburgh) with the most celebrated partners of his time ( Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Regine Crespin, Virginia Zeani, Antonietta Stella, Monserrat Caballé, Renata Scotto, Fiorenza Cossotto, ,Leontyne Price, Leonie Rysanek, Shirley Verrett).
We mustn’t forget that great Magda Olivero stood godmother to him in Adriana Lecouvreur in Como.
Among the male interpreters, his partners were Tito Gobbi, Nicolai Ghiaurof, Martti Talvela, José Van Dam, Renato Bruson, Piero Cappuccilli, Peter Glossop, Giuseppe Taddei, Sherrill Milnes; among the orchestra conductors it is sufficient to mention Antonino Votto, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Lorin Mazel, Claudio Abbado, Georges Prêtre, Vittorio Gui. He worked with famous directors such as Giorgio De Lullo, Pierluigi Pizzi, Franco Zeffirelli, Mauro Bolognini, Franco Enriquez, Boleslaw Barlog.
In his hometown, Reggio Emilia, at Teatro Municipale ‘R. Valli’, are recorded two memorable performances: “Adriana Lecouvrer” by Cilea in 1968 and ”Tosca” by Puccini in 1971.
After 27 years of a brilliant career, no longer bearing the stage stresses and strains, which badly affected his vocal performance, he decided to put an end to his profession and retired to private life in his native town , where he gave hospitality to his singing Mistress Zita Fumagalli.
To Franco Tagliavini is entitled the “Circolo amici della lirica”- friends of opera club – in Novellara, which has promoted in his name so many cultural and musical initiatives; on the other hand , the tenor himself took an active part in the cultural life of his town, as vice-president of “Circolo culturale Omnibus” – Omnibus Cultural Club – even though he never wished to appear.
Gentle and discreet, endowed with great human and professional qualities, he was one of the major interpreters of Italian opera in the 60-80’s, a real icon of ‘bel canto’, but he was named the antistar in an era in which appearance weighs more than being.
Franco Tagliavini died at the age of 76, in August 2010.
All photos Courtesy of Franco Tagliavini
Franco Tagliavini a New York