The Italian tenor Gianni Raimondi had a prestigious career lasting three decades. From 1956 to 1976 he sang frequently at La Scala, where his partner a number of times during the early years was Maria Callas. His voice, smooth and warm in tone with a good coloratura facility and very strong top notes, was ideal for 19th-century Italian opera from Rossini and Donizetti to Verdi and Puccini and he rarely sang anything outside that repertory, apart from a few French roles and a couple of modern operas.
Nor did he often sing anything outside his vocal capabilities: the only exception was Arnold in Rossini's Guillaume Tell, a very heavy as well as a very high role, that has ruined many tenors. Raimondi avoided that fate by quickly returning to more congenial parts, in particular to Puccini's Rodolfo in La Bohème, Cavaradossi in Tosca and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, all of which suited him vocally like a second skin.
Raimondi was born in 1923 in Bologna, where he studied with the tenor Antonio Melandri; he also studied with Ettore Campogalliani in Mantua, making his début in 1947 as the Duke in Rigoletto at Budrio, a small town near Bologna. The following year he sang Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Teatro Communale in Bologna and his career was under way.
He appeared at the 1952 Maggio Musicale in Florence, taking one of the six tenor roles in Rossini's Armida. Armida herself was sung by Maria Callas, and this was the first time Raimondi sang with the famous soprano. In June 1953 he made his début in both London and Paris: on 5 June he sang Rodolfo with an Italian company at the Stoll Theatre in Kingsway and on 19 June he sang the Duke in Rigoletto at the Paris Opéra.
Raimondi also sang the Duke at the Stoll, but unfortunately these were the only performances he ever gave in London. In 1954 he returned to Florence for the premiere of Valentino Bucchi's Il contrabasso and sang Edgardo to the Lucia di Lammermoor of Callas at the San Carlo, Naples. The following year he took part in another premiere, Guido Pannain's Madame Bovary, in Naples.
Then in 1956 came his début at La Scala, Milan, as Alfredo in Luchino Visconti's production of La traviata, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, with Callas as Violetta. In 1957 he sang with Callas again, in Donizetti's Anna Bolena, as Riccardo (Lord Richard Percy). Both these performances engendered enormous enthusiasm, and the tenor received his fair share of the applause.
Later that year Raimondi made his US début in San Francisco, singing Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, as well as Alfredo and Pinkerton, and returning in 1958 for Rodolfo. Back at La Scala he scored a great success as Amenofi in Rossini' s Mosè in Egitto and also sang Wilhelm Meister in Ambroise Thomas' Mignon, Sobinin in Glinka's A Life for the Tsar (in Italian) and his Puccini roles, of which Cavaradossi in Tosca (1960) was particularly well received.
In 1961 he sang Edgardo to the Lucia of Joan Sutherland, followed in 1962 by Fernando in Donizetti's La Favorite and the title role of Gounod's Faust. He appeared with Sutherland again in Rossini's Semiramide, singing Idreno, while she sang Semiramide and mezzo Giulietta Simionato took the role of Arsace. With such a cast the opera was naturally a resounding success.
Raimondi made his Metropolitan Opera début in 1965 as Rodolfo, and during two seasons also sang Cavaradossi and Faust. In 1966 at Turin, he attempted Arnold in Guillaume Tell for the first time, but by the final act was almost voiceless. He sang the role again in Buenos Aires later the same year, and this time managed a great deal better, but the whole episode was a mistake and it took time for his voice to recover.
In 1967 he went with the Scala company to Montreal to perform La Bohème. In 1969 he acquired a new role at Rio de Janeiro, Enzo in Ponchielli's La Gioconda, which he later sang at the Rome Opera. He also acquired two new Verdi roles at La Scala, Arrigo in I vespri siciliani (1970) and Gabriele Adorno in Simon Boccanegra (1971).
Raimondi sang two more Verdi roles, Macduff in Macbeth at the Verona Arena in 1971 and Carlo in I masnadieri ("The Robbers") at Rome in 1972, before returning to Arrigo in 1973 in a special new production of I vespri siciliani in Turin for the reopening of the Teatro Regio some 37 years after it had been destroyed in the Second World War. The opera was directed by Maria Callas, assisted by the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano.
In Turin Raimondi also sang Riccardo in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, which was very well received and Pollione in Bellini's Norma in 1974. Though it was really too heavy for his voice he repeated Pollione at La Scala in 1976. On the other hand, Cavaradossi with La Scala at the Bolshoi in Moscow (1974) and Rodolfo at Zurich (1976) were as well sung, as perfectly phrased, as enjoyable as ever.
Gianni Raimondi, opera singer: born Bologna, Italy 13 April 1923; married Gianna dal Sommo; died Pianoro, Italy 19 October 2008.