Obituary: Gino Bechi

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Gino Bechi, opera singer, born Florence 16 October 1913, died 2 February 1993.

GINO BECHI, like many singers of his generation, was denied a full international career because of the Second World war.

The Italian baritone, whose voice was at its splendid best during the 1940s, was not heard in London until September 1950, when he sang in Otello and Falstaff at Covent Garden during a visit - the first since the war - of La Scala from Milan. Although then only 37 years old, Bechi was accused by the critics of having little voice left. The audience, however, starved of the authentic sound of Italian voices in Italian opera, was less dismissive and greatly enjoyed the baritone's Iago and Falstaff; Bechi was never a subtle artist, but there was a generosity in his singing that captivated the listener. Born and educated in Florence, Gino Bechi made his stage debut in 1936 at Empoli as Germont pere in La Traviata. The following year he was engaged at the Rome Opera, where in 1939 he sang Vladimir in the premiere of Monte Ivnor by Lodovico Rocca. He first sang at La Scala in January 1940, as Don Carlo in La Forza Del Destino, and appeared there throughout the war years. His repertory included Verdi roles such as Renato (Un Ballo in Maschera), Don Carlo (Ernani)and Rigoletto, but also Rossini's Figaro, Severo in Poliuto, Sir Richard in I Puritani di Scozia and Jokanaan in Salome (in Italian). He sang in Florence, notably in the premiere of Alfano's Don Juan de Manara in the Maggio musicale of 1941.

When La Scala reopened in 1946, Bechi sang the title-role of Nabucco, one of his finest roles, which he repeated at the San Carlo, Naples in 1949, with Maria Callas as Abigaille. After the visit to Covent Garden by La Scala, Bechi continued to sing with the company until 1953; his last appearance was as Alfonso in La Favorita.

He sang in San Francisco, Chicago, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Cairo (as, appropriately, Amonasro in Aida). In 1958, he returned to London to sing the title-role of William Tell at Drury Lane. By this time his voice really was in decline and the performance was a travesty, with a voiceless soprano who omitted her aria and a tenor who bellowed his high Cs at the full power of his lungs.

On his retirement from the stage in the early 1960s, Bechi taught in Florence. He made many recordings and can he heard at the peak of his career, when his voice was in full bloom, as Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana, conducted by Mascagni; he also recorded Figaro, Renato and Gerard (Andrea Chenier), while the Naples Nabucco with Callas was captured 'live' on disc.