With a voice that could both thrill with its power in Verdi’s most searing and magisterial operas, and melt with its warmth and tenderness in “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific, bass-baritone Giorgio Tozzi’s enormous gifts as a singer and actor propelled him to an international career that extended beyond opera into musical theatre, film, recording, and television.
During his tenure with the Metropolitan Opera (1955-75) he performed 528 performances of 37 roles, including Boris in Boris Godunov, Ramfis in Aida, Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, Don Basilio in Barber of Seville, Philip II in Don Carlo, and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg. He performed leading roles at La Scala, Teatro Reale in Rome, Teator Colon in Buenos Aires, the National Theatre in Munich, and the San Francisco Opera. Productions of Boris Gudonov and L’Amore di Tre Re in which he had significant roles, were produced and televised by NBC. His creation of the role of Hans Sachs featured prominently in the Hamburg Opera film version of Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg. His portrayal of King Melchoir can still be seen in the NBC television version of Amahl and the Night Visitors.
Giorgio appeared in concert as soloist with the orchestras of New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Francisco, London, and numerous European ensembles, in collaboration with some of the great conductors of the 20th century including Solti, Walter, Mitropolous, Reiner, Giulini, Leinsdorff, and Ormandy. His recordings of Verdi repertoire are the gold standard for many music lovers.
In musical theatre Giorgio sang leading roles in Fiddler on the Roof, Zorba, Man of La Mancha, and The King and I, and appeared opposite Mary Martin and Florence Henderson in revivals of the South Pacific. His performance in Most Happy Fella earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. For his portrayal of Emile de Becque in South Pacific he received the San Francisco Critics Award for Best Actor, and his recordings won four Grammy Awards. Such is his appeal to the general public that he appeared as a guest on television programs hosted by Skitch Henderson, Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson, and he appeared as a guest star on seven television series including Kojak, The Odd Couple, and 3 for the Road.
His fascination with every aspect of the creative process lead him to an interest in stage direction. In recent years he produced and directed numerous operas of Puccini and Verdi in North America and Italy. In great demand as a teacher, he conducted master classes in virtually every musical capital of the world. Recruited to the faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 1991, Giorgio was named to the Henry A. Upper Chair in Music in 1998 and was made a Distinguished Professor in 2001. He retired in 2006.
His students adored him. His artistic authority combined with good humor and sincere support for their talents helped launch many IU students into successful careers.
When asked about Giorgio, soprano Carol Vaness’s first memory dates from before she had begun her career. She was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions, but didn’t win. Giorgio, one of the judges, took time to sit and talk with her. With his characteristic great good sense, he told her not to worry, that she would have a career, no matter the outcome of the competition. She treasured his support, and still talks about how much it meant to her as a young singer that an artist of his stature would encourage her personally. In a lovely symmetry, she now occupies his old studio.
Giorgio’s enormous personal warmth and perpetual engine of enthusiasm for life and music made him beloved of colleagues and students alike. In a 2005 interview on WFIU, Giorgio told a charming story about a colleague at the Met asked him why he was always smiling. Giorgio replied “It pleases my friends and annoys my enemies.” One wonders who those enemies could possibly have been.
A champion raconteur, he loved to regale everyone with stories and anecdotes from his professional life, and good jokes in general, always delivered with exquisite theatrical timing. Legendary and often quoted by his friends and students, many of these stories might best be described in these pages as piquant!
Giorgio’s deep friendships with colleagues and students were reflections of the love he had for family, in particular his adored wife Monte, which he held at the core of his life.