Skip to main content

 Obituary, Rolando Panerai (1924-2019)

Rolando Panerai The Italian baritone Rolando Panerai, who sang on some of the greatest opera recordings of the twentieth century and excelled in Verdi and comic Italian roles, has died aged 95.

Born in Campi Bisenzio on 17th October 1924, Panerai trained in Florence and Milan and made his professional operatic debut at the Teatro San Carlo in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto whilst still in his early twenties; before he was thirty he was already achieving success in ‘elder statesman’ roles such as Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly (with which he made the first of many appearances at Teatro alla Scala), though he would also prove a wonderfully adept comedian and later excelled as Rossini’s and Mozart’s Figaros, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Donizetti’s Dulcamara and Belcore. Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff proved an ideal vehicle for his unique combination of vocal gravitas and astute comic timing, and he went on to record the role several times for Herbert von Karajan and for Leonard Bernstein (opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Falstaff) in 1966. (He also sang the ‘Fat Knight’ himself on Sir Colin Davis’s 1991 studio recording of the opera, when he was well into his sixties).

In 1951, Panerai was heavily involved in Radiotelevisione italiana’s commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of Verdi’s death, recording several of the composer’s early works for broadcast, which brought him into the orbit of singers including Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano; the three recorded regularly together throughout the mid-50s, with highlights including a 1956 Il Trovatore, a 1955 Lucia di Lammermoor (both under Karajan), and I Puritani and I Pagliacci with Tullio Serafin. Slightly more left-field but well worth hearing is an Italian-language Parsifal with Panerai as Amfortas and Callas as Kundry, recorded for Italian radio in 1950 – Panerai never sang the role in German, and indeed rarely sang non-Italian repertoire in general, but the recording features some of his most eloquent and moving singing on disc.

In addition to his many roles in core repertoire, Panerai performed in the Italian premieres of works by Hindemith and Prokofiev and also created roles in several new operas during the 1960s, including Ildebrando Pizzetti’s Il calzare d’argento, Renzo Rossellini’s Il linguaggio dei fiori, and Guido Turchi’s Il buon soldato Svejk. A fine, nuanced actor, his film and TV credits include an early Barbiere di Siviglia for Italian television and Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, filmed on location in Paris in 2000 and conducted by Zubin Mehta. In his later years he also taught regular masterclasses and made numerous successful forays into directing.

Panerai continued singing professionally until his late 80s, appearing in the title-role of his own staging of Gianni Schicchi in Genoa just eight years ago; he directed a revival of the same production at the theatre earlier this year. He died on 23rd October, less than a week after his 95th birthday.

You can view Rolando Panerai’s complete available discography here.

Rolando Panerai - Ten Great Recordings

Tito Gobbi (Falstaff), Rolando Panerai (Ford), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Alice), Fedora Barbieri (Mrs Quickly), Anna Moffo (Nannetta), Nan Merriman (Meg Page), Luigi Alva (Fenton), Nicola Zaccaria (Pistola), Renato Ercolani (Bardolfo), Tomaso Spataro (Dr. Cajus)

Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Herbert von Karajan

Available Format: 2 CDs

Mirella Freni (Mimì), Luciano Pavarotti (Rodolfo), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Colline), Elizabeth Harwood (Musetta), Rolando Panerai (Marcello), Gianni Maffeo (Schaunard), Michel Sénéchal (Alcindoro/Benoit), Gernot Pietsch (Parpignol)

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Fiordiligi), Nan Merriman (Dorabella), Lisa Otto (Despina), Rolando Panerai (Guglielmo), Leopold Simoneau (Ferrando), Sesto Bruscantini (Don Alfonso)

Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Herbert von Karajan

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Rolando Panerai (Gianni Schicchi), Helen Donath (Lauretta), Vera Baniewicz (Zita), Peter Seiffert (Rinuccio), Tullio Panè (Gherardo), Valerie Errante (Nella)

Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Giuseppe Patanè

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Maria Callas (Leonora), Giuseppe di Stefano (Manrico), Fedora Barbieri (Azucena), Rolando Panerai (Il Conte di Luna), Nicola Zaccaria (Ferrando), Luisa Villa (Ines)

Teatro alla Scala, Herbert von Karajan

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Maria Callas (Lucia), Giuseppe Di Stefano (Edgardo), Rolando Panerai (Enrico), Nicola Zaccaria (Raimondo)

Teatro alla Scala, Herbert von Karajan

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Rolando Panerai (Figaro), Teresa Berganza (Rosina), Luigi Alva (Count Almaviva), Fernando Corena (Dr Bartolo), Ivo Vinco (Don Basilio), Ronald Lewis (Fiorello), Josephine Veasey (Berta) & Robert Bowman (Un Ufficiale)

Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Carlo Maria Giulini

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Renata Scotto (Cio Cio San), Carlo Bergonzi (Pinkerton), Anna di Stasio (Suzuki), Rolando Panerai (Sharpless) & Silvana Padoan (Kate Pinkerton), Piero De Palma (Goro)

Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, John Barbirolli

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Rolando Panerai (Amfortas), Africo Baldelli (Parsifal), Maria Callas (Kundry), Boris Christoff (Gurnemanz), Giuseppe Modesti (Klingsor), Dmitri Lopatto (Titurel)

RAI Roma, Vittorio Gui

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Includes arias from Così fan tutte, Rigoletto, I Puritani, La traviata, Otello, Andrea Chénier and Menotti's Amelia al ballo.

Available Format: CD