O Isis und Osiris

Arie des Sarastro mit Chor (Nr. 10),
Anrufung der Götter und Fürbitte für Tamino und Papageno vor dem Beginn ihres Prüfungsweges,
im zweiten Akt von Mozarts Die Zauberflöte.

Ezio Pinza


The Italian bass Ezio Pinza (18 May 1892 - 9 May 1957) was one of the outstanding opera singers of the first half of the 20th century. He spent 22 seasons at New York's Metropolitan Opera, appearing in more than 750 performances of 50 operas. He also sang to great acclaim at La Scala, Milan, and at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.

Pinza was born in modest circumstances in Rome and grew up in Ravenna. He studied at Bologna's Conservatorio Martini. His operatic debut came in 1914 as Oroveso in Norma in Cremona.

After enduring four years of military service during World War I, Pinza appeared at Rome in 1919. He then sang at Italy's foremost opera house, La Scala, Milan, in February, 1922. At La Scala, under the direction of the brilliant and exacting conductor Arturo Toscanini, Pinza's career blossomed during the next few seasons. Pinza's Met debut occurred in November 1926 in Spontini's La Vestale, with the famed American soprano Rosa Ponselle in the title role. In 1929, he sang Don Giovanni, a role with which he was subsequently to become closely identified. He subsequently added the Mozart roles Figaro (in 1940) and Sarastro (in 1942) to his repertoire, as well as a vast number of Italian operatic roles of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Giuseppe Verdi, as well as Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (sung in Italian). Apart from the Met, Pinza appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1930-1939 and was invited to sing at the Salzburg Festival in 1934-1937 by the celebrated German conductor Bruno Walter.

Pinza sang again under the baton of Toscanini, this time with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, as the bass soloist in 1935 performances of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. One of these performances was broadcast and preserved on transcription discs; this recording has been issued on LPs and CDs.

Pinza's repertoire consisted of some 95 roles. He retired from the Met in 1948 and embarked on a second career in theatre. In April 1949, he appeared in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific and his operatic, expressive performance of "Some Enchanted Evening" made him a matinee idol and a national celebrity. He also appeared in the Broadway production of Fanny in 1954, opposite Florence Henderson.

Shortly before his death, Pinza completed his memoirs, which were published in 1958 by Rinehart & Co., Inc. Photos of his career, as well as his family, were included in the book.

Pinza died at age 64 in Stamford, Connecticut. His funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He is interred at Putnam Cemetery, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Being devoid of academic training, Pinza had been unable to sight-read a musical score. He would listen, however, to his part being played on the piano, and having heard it, he could sing it, such was the precision of his ear.

With regard to the lineage of great Italian basses, Pinza followed Francesco Navarini and Vitorrio Arimondi, both of whom had international careers and were at their peak prior to World War One. He also suceeded Spanish-born Jose Mardones, who appeared in the Italian operatic repertory with the Boston and New York Met companies between 1909 and 1926.

During the 1920s and '30s, Pinza was confronted with an additional challenge to his crown as the supreme Italian bass of the inter-war period from the likes of Fernando Autori, Nazzareno de Angelis, and Tancredi Pasero. What set Pinza apart from these three outstanding rivals, however, was the magnetism of his theatrical performances coupled with the sheer beauty of his voice.

Most music critics would agree that no subsequent Italian bass has been as impressive as Pinza, either as a vocalist or a performer. He cut a dashing figure on and off the stage and was particularly popular with female audiences. He appeared in several films, beginning with 1947's Carnegie Hall. This film featured a number of famous classical singers, musicians, conductors, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He also can be seen in a few MGM movies (in Technicolor), including Mr. Imperium with Lana Turner and Strictly Dishonorable, both released in 1951. His final film appearance was as the famous Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin in the Technicolor film biography of impressario Sol Hurok, which was entiled Tonight We Sing (1953). During the course of this film, Pinza sang a portion of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov in the original Russian.

Pinza hosted his own television program during 1951. In 1953, he appeared as the lead character Babbo Bonino, a retired opera singer, on the short-lived NBC series Bonino. He also made several live television appearances between 1951 and 1955.

Pinza sang opposite many magnificent singers at the Met during his heyday. They included, among others, such international stars as Rosa Ponselle, Elisabeth Rethberg, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Lawrence Tibbett and Giuseppe De Luca.

As an interesting bit of trivia, though far from a fitting memorial, all of the water fountains serving the audience at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center are dedicated to Ezio Pinza.

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