Obituary: Matteo Manuguerra

Elizabeth Forbes
Tuesday 04 August 1998 23:02

ALTHOUGH HE made his operatic debut in France, and later became a French citizen, the baritone Matteo Manuguerra was best known for his performances of 19th-century Italian opera, especially of Verdi.

During a career that lasted, despite a late start, for over 30 years, he sang, either on stage or disc, in 17 different Verdi operas. He appeared all over Europe, including London, and in North and South America. His voice may have lacked the volume and the cutting edge of some Verdi baritones, but, as a French critic wrote of his performance of Giorgio Germont in La traviata at Marseilles, "his phrasing is impeccable, his timbre warm, his tone even and expressive".

His repertory also contained roles such as Barnaba in La Gioconda, Gerard in Andrea Chenier, Tonio in Pagliacci, and Scarpia in Tosca, but it was Verdi to whom he returned again and again.

Born in Tunis of Sicilian parents in 1924, Matteo Manuguerra moved with his family to Argentina in his youth, and it was only at the age of 35 that he began to study singing at the Buenos Aires Conservatory. Having made his concert debut as a tenor in the Mozart Requiem, he then became a high baritone.

In 1962 he came to Europe to take up a three-year contract at Lyon, making his first appearance as Valentin in Faust. In 1968 he moved to the Paris Opera, where he sang roles such as Escamillo in Carmen, Henry Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor as well as Giorgio Germont and Rigoletto.

He made his US debut in 1968 at Seattle, singing Gerard (with Franco Corelli as Chenier); he returned in 1971 as Renato in Un ballo in maschera, and the same year made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Henry Ashton.

Manuguerra sang frequently at the Met throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s. His roles there included Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana, Barnaba in La Gioconda, Scarpia, Amonasro in Aida, Don Carlo in La forza del destino, and Rigoletto. Meanwhile he also began to sing widely in Europe and America.

For the New York Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, he sang Nelusko in Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, and the title role of Donizetti's Il duca d'Alba. At the Vienna State Opera he sang Scarpia and also Henry Ashton. The latter character, a brother who forces his sister to marry a man she does not love for purely financial reasons, was the kind of part he did particularly well: his villains were never entirely black, but various shades of grey.

All the while his tally of Verdi roles lengthened: Count di Luna in Il trovatore and Posa in Don Carlos in Buenos Aires; Don Carlo in Ernani al Geneva; Monforte in I vespri Siciliani, Miller in Luisa Miller, Macbeth and Nabucco in Bilbao; Francesco in I masnadieri at La Scala; Simon Boccanegra in Turin; Ezio in Attila in Rome; and, in countless opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic, Rigoletto.

Manuguerra sang Rigoletto at Covent Garden in October 1991. He was then 67 years old, but his voice was virtually intact, while the top notes rang out loud and clear. He had become a much better stage actor than earlier in his career, but his emotions, of love and hate, were still conveyed through the voice. He had sung Anckerstroem (as Renato becomes in the version of Ballo set in Sweden) at Covent Garden 10 years previously. This was another of his best roles, with the character's warring emotions of loyalty to his king and love for his wife plain to hear in the voice.

Manuguerra made a great many recordings and they are both dramatic and lifelike. His records of Scarpia, Nabucco, Rolando in Verdi's La battaglia di Legnano and Francesco in I masnadieri are all good, but the two best, I think, are his Gianciotto in Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, a creature twisted both in body and soul; and Giorgio Germont (with Joan Sutherland as Violetta) in La traviata, where, in the words of one critic, "his phrasing is impeccable, his timbre warm . . ."

Elizabeth Forbes

Matteo Manuguerra, opera singer, born Tunis 5 October 1924; died Montpelier, France 30 July 1998.

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