Rhinegold Marcello Giordani (1963-2019)

Benjamin Ivry

Marcello Giordani – In Memoriam

10:22, 30th October 2019

Marcello Giordani, the Sicilian tenor, died prematurely on 5 October at the age of 56. At different times in his career, his repertory ranged from the major tenor roles of Bellini and Donizetti to Verdi and Puccini, with additional well-received performances in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini and La damnation de Faust, Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. In roles requiring heroic stature, he had a strapping presence, somewhat reminiscent of the American film actor Paul Sorvino, along with a warmly engaging personality that won audience affection.

Giordani’s voice early on, and in his prime, sailed out with admirable resonance, as an ultimate Italian statement. Yet he was also able to negotiate French language scores with fastidious care. He boldly embraced such challenges as Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, despite weathering vocal crises. Giordani learned by doing, rather than by attending conservatory.

When he faced major vocal issues in 1995, he continued to sing onstage, fulfilling his professional obligations while reconstructing his technique. Shortly before, in 1994, two nights before incarnating the Duke in Rigoletto at La Scala, Giordani was dismissed by the conductor Riccardo Muti, who deemed him unready to face the fearsome Milanese public in the role. His Scala debut had been six years earlier with La bohème, which also served as his Metropolitan Opera House first performance in 1995.

Usually a bundle of nerves about his profession, Giordani resolved to study with Bill Schuman, a New York coach who would acquire fame by counselling opera stars (including such  Aprile Millo and Jerry Hadley) in vocal emergencies.

Giordani emerged with a more solid technique, and the improvement was evident to Georg Solti, who hired him for a production of La Traviata at Covent Garden in 1995 and again for a 1997 Simon Boccanegra at the same house. Eventually Giordani became a mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where in November 2008, following an afternoon performance of Damnation de Faust, he replaced an ailing colleague that same evening in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. In media reports, the Met’s general manager called him the ‘iron man of tenors’.

In New York Magazine in April 2004, the critic Peter G Davis wrote of a concert performance of La Gioconda in Carnegie Hall: ‘The most authentic ingredient… was the gloriously sung Enzo of Marcello Giordani, an Italian tenor who truly conjures up the past with his liquid tone, shapely phrasing, easy control of dynamics, and gleaming top notes – I didn’t miss Franco Corelli, Carlo Bergonzi, or Giuseppe Di Stefano, even for a second.’

Giordani was inspired by a comparable strong association with tradition and continuity, establishing a Foundation in 2010 to assist young singers while also honouring valiant predecessors such as the Romanian-born soprano Virginia Zeani. Posted online at the Giordani Foundation’s You Tube channel is a zesty conversation from 2010 between Giordani and the centenarian soprano Magda Olivero.

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