Bass hocked shirt off his back to become headliner

GIORGIO TOZZI SINGER 8-1-1923 - 30-5-2011



8-1-1923 - 30-5-2011

THE American operatic bass, Giorgio Tozzi, who once pawned his clothes to pay for singing lessons, died of a heart attack in Bloomington, Indiana, aged 88.

Tozzi appeared for 21 seasons at New York's Metropolitan Opera House while also making a career in musicals such as Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific his dubbed singing can be heard in the popular 1958 movie.

Tozzi transcended the bass's typically anonymous, supportive roles to become an opera headliner in his own right. He made his professional debut on Broadway in 1948 in the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, in which he played Tarquinius to Kitty Carlisle's Lucretia.

A tall, imposing singer, Tozzi mastered more than 60 roles during his career and was best known for portraying the title characters in Mozart's Don Giovanni and Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, as well as Hans Sachs in Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger, Figaro in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, and Philip II in Verdi's Don Carlo.

Born George John Tozzi in Chicago, he took singing lessons in his teens and entered DePaul University intending to become a biologist, but switched to music.

After serving with the US Army in World War II and making his Broadway debut, Tozzi made a brief appearance in July 1949 at the Adelphi Theatre, London, in the musical Tough at the Top.

He then studied with Giulio Lorandi in Milan where, in the style of La Boheme, he fell heavily into debt. After pawning two cameras and other belongings, he resorted to pledging his clothes what little money he had covered his lessons. "I paid this religiously, whether I ate or not," he said.

By 1953 he had recovered his shirt and was being heard at La Scala, Milan. Returning to the United States two years later (by now known as Giorgio, thanks to the marketing department of RCA Records), he went straight to the Met, making his debut in Ponchielli's La Gioconda.

In 1965, he declined a part in the Met's Antony and Cleopatra, which would have ended the careers of many singers, but the Met's general manager, Rudolf Bing, instead granted Tozzi, who had previously sung Pogner in Die Meistersinger, the even more demanding part of Hans Sachs. His final appearance was in 1975 in La Boheme, alongside the young Jose Carreras.

He returned to Broadway in 1979 to star in Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella, for which he was nominated for a Tony award. He also received three Grammys, one of which was for his role in Georg Solti's 1963 Aida recording. While at the Met he taught at the Juilliard School, and in retirement he was a professor at Indiana University. He also published a novel, The Golem of the Golden West (1997).

Catherine Dieringer, whom he married in 1954, predeceased him he married secondly, in 1967, the soprano Monte Amundsen, who survives him with a son and a daughter.

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