Franco Bonisolli(1937-2003)
Tenor of Verona and the Vienna State Opera

The controversial Italian tenor Franco Bonisolli who died in Monte Carlo of brain cancer at the age of 65 was born in Roveretto. He studied with Alfredo Lattro. His career took him to major and minor theaters all over the world namely Bordeaux, Lyons, Toulouse, Nice, Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona, Madrid, Capetown, San Francisco, San Antonio, Dallas, Philadelphia, Glasgow, Munich, Bamberg, Hamburg, Berlin, Wiesbaden, Vienna, Verona, Milan , Taormina, New York, London, Rome, Florence, Turin, Fermo, Sassari, Palermo and Florence to name a few.

It’s sad that many people still judge Franco Bonisolli by his odd behaviour which once resulted in throwing Manrico’s sword towards Karajan’s head. Yet these antics manifested themselves only towards the end of his career and one too easily forgets that by that time he had already twenty years of successful singing behind him. Let’s have a look at a review which in my opinion tells the story how it really was.

Alan Blyth once wrote about his Vasco da Gama “most of his movement was taken from stock, but one soon forgave him for that obvious musicality of his actual singing. ‘O Paradis’ had an agreeable sense of line and, in the cadenza, a touch of steel. Even that hardly prepared the house for the Vezzani-like high C sharp he produced at the end of ‘Conduisez moi’, which rightly electrified the audience. His fall to his knees, thus stepping out of character, to greet the audience applause may have been a provincial touch in today’s terms; I’m sure that de Reszke, Franz and the rest were not above doing the same in the ‘great days’.“

Negative reviews started to appear in the eighties only and even then many positive things were said about his voice and singing capacities. Bonisolli had a huge following at the Vienna State Opera where he was immensely popular. He appeared there for several seasons in a great variety of roles including amongst others Pinkerton, Sandor Barinkay, Faust, Alvaro, Manrico, Chenier, Radames, Dick Johnson and Otello which he sang in 1976. For a couple of years he was a star at the Verona Arena.

His commercial recordings have many things to offer us as well. Elizabeth Forbes in ‘Opera’ judged his Turiddu under Gardelli “passionate, totally involved and exciting” . Rodney Milnes in the same magazine called his Marcello in Leoncavallo’s La boheme “ The best performance he ever heard from him on record, singing with warmth, elegance and wit-the perfect romantic hero” . And the late Harold Rosenthal editor of the magazine called his Carlo in Verdi’s Masnadieri “exciting” . In “The Metropolitan Guide to Opera” London Green has this to say about his Duke in Verdi’s Rigoletto : “Bonisolli in rich voice is tenderer and more tasteful than one might imagine. Despite a few muscular moments , his vocalism is remarkably easy and accurate, and he presents a vibrant character with a sense of humor"

Career highlights

1961 winner of the Spoleto voice competition
1962 Spoleto: debut as Ruggero in La Rondine
1963 Spoleto: Amour des trois oranges (role of the prince)
Brussels debut as Alfredo in Traviata opposite Friedl Teller 
German debut in Berlin with Monnaie company in Traviata
Swiss debut in Lausanne in Traviata opposite Pilou
1965 Amsterdam debut in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut
San Diego: American debut as Alfredo opposite Caballe
1968 Naples: world premiere ‘Lampada di Aladin’ (by Nino Rota)
1969 La Scala debut: as Cleomene in the Siege of Corinth with Sills-Horn
British debut: Scottish Opera as Alfredo
Palermo : World premier ‘Luisella’ (by Mannino) 
San Francisco debut as Alfredo in Traviata 
Career highlights( continued)
1971 Metropolitan debut as Almaviva 
1972 Vienna State opera debut in Rigoletto 
1974 debut Op?ra in Paris as Arrigo in I Vespri Sicilaini
1976 Guillaume Tell, Maggio Musicale 
1977 Monte Carlo debut as Hoffman
1979 Verona, debut as Calaf 
1980 Madrid opera festival: Calaf opposite Caball?’s Turandot 
1981 Nice : Guillaume Tell opposite Zylis-Gara 
Covent Garden: L’Africaine opposite Bumbry 
1982 Berlin Deutschen Opernhaus debut as Dick Johnson in Fanciulla 
1983 San Francisco: Enzo in La Gioconda opposite Caball? 
1984 South African debut in Capetown as Radames 
1985 Hamburg: debut as Fernando in La Favorite (Nucci-Nafé)
1986 returns to the Met as Cavaradossi 
1999 March 10th, come back concert Vienna Konzerthaus 
2000 Vienna: last appearance, as Manrico 
2001 concert Bamberg (Domfestspiele)


by Andreas Baum  

I was very nervous: For the first time I was in Rome and the taxi should drive me to HIM. Two days together with Franco Bonisolli at his home. It was still unbelievable for me.
Pictures of the past returned to my mind: I was seventeen when I was lying on my bed, full of heartaches, listening to his “Che gelida manina”. It touched me. My father was very satisfied that I listened more and more to arias and so he said: “Son, it is time that you come with me to the opera, Franco is performing in AIDA”. Opera, so many old people and I had to wear a large jacket from my father…In fact, I did not like that performance much, it was boring to me. The thrilling moments came after the show when we went for autographs. There he came: Wow, so large, so dark hair and I could stand beside him, watching every action he made. He whistled all the time, was very friendly and signed everything. My first experience with the opera. In the following years, I was as often in the opera as I could, -when he sang.



The taxi-driver couldn’t find the right way to his house, he had to phone him for six times, what a shame. When we arrived at the hill, we asked some girls after a tenor and that was it. His house was at the top of the hill, very beautiful and there he came: “Hello, I am Franco, come in.” We walked through his house and he showed me all rooms. “This is your room”. I thought that I had to sleep in a hotel and I was very surprised about his kindness.
Two days with Franco Bonisolli. We cooked together, drank beer and wine and worked! In his living-room, he sang together with Franz Volker “In fernem Land”. What a voice. I thought that every neighbor must have heard it. I am German, so it was my job to teach him the pronunciation of the words. Two years later, he sang it very fine and successfully in Germany. He was lonesome in this big house. He missed his wife Sally who died years before. But he also wondered whether he will fall in love again. He was unsatisfied.

Yes, he saw the three tenors in the TV, he noticed that the world was buying CDs of Bocelli and it was unbelievable for him that the world demanded that stuff. Late, very late, he understood the “rules of the market”. “A machine needs oil, money is the oil of the opera-world, you can make money but you also have to pay money. I never did it.” We spoke about my idea of releasing a CD, titled ‘MY WAY’, and he liked it. I made many photos and some of them are to be seen in the inlay of ‘MY WAY’.

Yes, I visited my idol and won a friend. Just a half year later, he met Agnieszka during a New Year’s Eve concert. A young mezzo-soprano from Poland and only six months later they married. “She is very good for me, I love her”. He was happy although his career didn’t develop in the right direction. We had some fights, he was very difficult and no one could have known that time is running so fast. He and Agnieszka had only two years together. I lost a friend who was a part of my life for many years. What did the opera loose? Time will tell. For me and many others, he was the King without the crown.(I wish that many more would feel the same way)

Editor's note

The author has produced three Bonisolli CD sets under the label AndyClassics