THE ITALIAN bass Italo Tajo, like many of his contemporaries, was unable to enjoy an international career until after the Second World War, when he was already in his thirties, but he rapidly made up for lost time, appearing in Chicago, San Francisco, Edinburgh, London and New York before the end of the 1940s, while continuing to sing in the principal Italian theatres.
He is remembered best as a buffo, as for instance Dr Dulcamara in L'Elisir d'Amore or Don Basilio in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and indeed he was magnificent in comic parts, but his repertory of over 80 roles contained many serious characters such as Alvise in La Gioconda or Banquo in Macbeth, which he interpreted with equal success. His large voice, secure technique, and strong dramatic sense were also put to good use in modern works: he sang the Doctor in the Italian premiere of Wozzeck at Rome in 1942, and created roles in new operas by Gian Francesco Malipiero, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Vieri Tosatti and Luigi Nono.
Tajo was born in Pinerolo, Piedmont, in 1915, and studied at the Turin Conservatory. He made his debut in 1935 at the Teatro Reggio in Turin as Fafner in Das Rheingold, but was then called up for military service. In 1939 he returned to the opera stage, appearing in Rome and at La Scala, where in 1942 he sang Don Basilio. Returning to La Scala after the war, he sang Don Magnifico in Cenerentola, Baron Ochs (in Italian), Pistol in Falstaff, Colline, Alvise and Dulcamara, which he also sang at Covent Garden in 1950, when the Scala company appeared there. Tajo had made his British debut in 1947, singing Mozart's Figaro and Banquo with the Glyndebourne company at the Edinburgh Festival. During the 1947-48 season he appeared at the Cambridge Theatre, in London, as Don Basilio, Leporello and Don Pasquale, one of his finest comic roles.
By this time Tajo had also sung in the US, making his debut in 1946 at Chicago as Ramfis in Aida. Two years later he appeared in San Francisco, and at the Metropolitan, New York, where during two seasons he was heard as Don Basilio, Figaro, Gianni Schicchi and Mephistopheles in Faust.
In 1951 Tajo sang Talbot in Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco at the San Carlo, Naples, where he also sang Ferrando in Il Trovatore, with Maria Callas as Leonora; during the summer of 1952 he appeared at the Verona Arena in La Gioconda, again with Callas. He sang Calkas the High Priest in the Italian premiere of Walton's Troilus and Cressida at La Scala in 1956, and then returned to New York and appeared on Broadway, taking over the role of Emile de Becque in South Pacific from Ezio Pinza. He also sang in Kiss Me Kate and made several films.
Tajo took part in the notoriously rowdy premiere of Nono's Intoleranza 1960 at La Fenice, Venice, in 1961, when he was described as being 'in great form as a Tortured Man'. In 1966 he became Director of the Cincinnati Conservatory, but continued to sing, notably at the Metropolitan, where in 1976 he appeared as Alcindoro and Benoit in La Boheme, Don Pasquale, and the Sacristan in Tosca; this last cameo role he sang until the mid-1980s. He can be heard on several recordings, including a live recording of Macbeth at La Scala with Callas, conducted by Victor de Sabata, from 1952, and the Metropolitan Faust, but although these discs give a good idea of the size and timbre of his voice, they cannot convey the ebullience of his personality, which could hold an audience spellbound equally in Mozart and Verdi, Rossini or Richard Rodgers.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content