Artist Profile: Rolando Panerai

The baritone Rolando Panerai was one of the greatest Italian singers during the golden age of opera. He had a versatile voice and was adept at creating different types of character, as evidenced by his extensive repertoire of comic and tragic roles. His rich, dark and voluminous baritone had an assured high register and lacked nothing in technical skill or beauty of tone.

Panerai was born in Campi Bisenzio, near Florence, on 17 October 1924 and began later his vocal studies at the Florence Conservatory before moving to Milan. Panerai made his debut at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples in 1947 as the Pharaoh in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto. In 1951 he sang the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in Bergamo, and the following year he made his Teatro alla Scala debut as the High Priest in Samson et Delilah. He remained at La Scala for 26 years, most notably as Enrico in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Apollo in Gluck’s Alceste.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Verdi’s death in 1951, he took part in several radio broadcasts of lesser-known Verdi operas such as Giovanna d’Arco, La battaglia di Legnano and Aroldo. With roles such as the title role in Rigoletto, Count Luna in Il trovatore, Germont in La traviata, Amonasro in Aida and Ford and the title Role in Falstaff, he became one of the finest Verdi interpreters of his generation. In 1954 he sang Figaro in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia in the first opera broadcast on Italian television. Panerai’s discography is extensive and includes many fine recordings.

Panerai sang with many of the great singers and conductors of the 20th century. He appeared at Covent Garden, Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco and many other opera houses around the world. From 1957 he also appeared with great success at the Salzburger Festspiele, particularly in Mozart’s operas. In 1955 he sang in the (staged) world premiere of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel in Venice. He also sang several other modern operas, including the premiere of Menotti’s Amelia al ballo in 1954 and the title role in Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler at the 1958 La Scala premiere. Among the more than 150 opera roles he sang were Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro, Leporello in Don Giovanni, Guglielmo/Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Belcore/Dulcamara in L’elisir d’amore and the title role in Don Pasquale. He sang the title role in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi for many years, the last performance in Geneva in 2011 at the age of 87 (!). Panerai died on 22 October 2019 at the age of 95.

Notable Recordings


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