Alessandro Ziliani (1906-1977) was born in Busseto and exhibited a fine voice and musical aptitude at an early age. He studied in Milan with tenor Alfredo Cecchi and made his first stage appearances in his hometown theater in the now forgotten operetta Addio Giovinezza. In the fall of 1929, Ziliani made his official operatic debut at Milan’s Teatro Re as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, making a tremendous impression on critics and public alike. His reputation growing, he was soon engaged in an opera tour that included appearances in Malta and the Netherlands. Upon his return to Italy, Ziliani was heard by impresario Angelo Ferrari, who insisted that the young tenor be granted an audition at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera. Famed conductor Gino Marinuzzi was present at the audition and was impressed enough to offer the tenor a contract. Ziliani remained with the company for 13 seasons. Marinuzzi invited the tenor to join him at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1933. While in South America, Ziliani also made important debuts in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.
Although he never became a superstar, Ziliani was a popular tenor who frequently appeared at the major theaters of France, England, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, South Africa and the U.S. In fact, following a successful season in San Francisco, Ziliani was scheduled to make his Metropolitan debut. Sadly, as he was about to leave Milan for New York, war broke out in Europe and travel was forbidden. His Met contract was cancelled and this golden opportunity was lost forever. Ziliani spent the war years in Europe, with appearances in Germany, Portugal and Spain. Ziliani also made good use of his cinema idol good looks and ventured into the film industry. His two pictures, the German UFA production “Canto per te” (a.k.a. “Canzone dell’ amore” and “Liebeslied”, 1936) and the Italian production “Diario di una Stella” (1939), were pleasant diversions, but did little to propel his career. In addition to the cinema, Ziliani also took advantage of the popular radio medium while maintaining his appearances in opera.
After the war, the tenor (now married to soprano Mafalda Favero) resumed his international career with performances in Chile, Argentina and the U. S., as well as much heralded appearances at La Scala, the San Carlo in Naples, the Arena di Verona, the Teatro Verdi in Trieste and the Teatro dell’ Opera in Rome. In all, Ziliani amassed an impressive repertoire of 70 roles including Alfredo in La Traviata, Loris in Fedora, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Calaf in Turandot, Dick Johnson in La Fanciulla del West, des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, Luigi in Il Tabarro, Enzo in La Gioconda, Julien in Louise, Georges in La Dame Blanche and the title role in Lohengrin. Ziliani also sang in the world premiere of two works, Wolf-Ferrari’s La Vedova Scaltra (Rome, 1931) and Mascagni’s La Pinotta (Rome, 1932), and sang Calaf in the Italian premiere of Busoni’s Turandot in 1940. (After he passed the age of 50, the tenor began to curtail his singing activities and retired from the stage in 1958. Although he continued to lend his voice to charity concerts, Ziliani mainly busied himself with his second career as a theatrical agent. His agency, ALZI, became highly regarded throughout Europe for its roster of world class talent, including a young Luciano Pavarotti. The ex-tenor also founded the Concorso Internazionale di Voci Verdiane, one of Italy’s most renowned singing competitions. Ziliani passed away in Milan on February 18, 1977 at the age of 70.
Alessandro Ziliani made a large number of recordings during the 1930s and ‘40s for such labels as Columbia, HMV, Electrola and Telefunken.