Jun 02 2011

Singer Spotlight - Giorgio Tozzi

I am beginning a new feature on my blog. I’m calling it “Singer Spotlight”. In it I will feature a singer that either is well-known or I feel should be known. I will include YouTube videos to hear examples and I will contribute my observations.

As I always say, my comments are just my observations. They are not meant to dictate to others whether a singer is good or not. But the main purpose is to give readers the opportunity to read the things I notice when listening to a singer. I will include both classical and non-classical artists of all voice-types.


To begin with we will look at the American Bass Giorgio Tozzi. Unfortunately he died a couple days ago. He had a long career as a performer and also as a teacher. He taught at Julliard, Brigham Young University and Indiana University. His bio from Wikipedia:

Giorgio Tozzi (January 8, 1923 – May 30, 2011) was for many years a leading bass with the Metropolitan Opera, as well as playing lead roles in nearly every major opera house worldwide.


Tozzi was born in Chicago, Illinois. He studied at DePaul University with Rosa Raisa, Giacomo Rimini and John Daggett Howell, making his professional debut in the Broadway production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia in 1948 as Tarquinius. His signature roles included Figaro in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Phillip II in Verdi’s Don Carlo, Hans Sachs in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust.

In 1957 he portrayed the title role in a nationally broadcast performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov with the NBC Opera Theatre. In 1958 he created the role of The Doctor in Barber’s Vanessa.

Tozzi was the recipient of three Grammy Awards: in 1960 the Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance, Operatic or Choral for The Marriage of Figaro with Erich Leinsdorf; in 1961 the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for Puccini’s Turandot, with Erich Leinsdorf; and in 1963 the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for Georg Solti’s recording of Verdi’s Aida (with Leontyne Price and Jon Vickers). Tozzi also sang the bass part in the recording of Sir Thomas Beecham’s version of Handel’s Messiah for RCA in 1959.

After dubbing the singing parts for the character of Emile de Becque (acted by Rossano Brazzi) in the 1958 film version of South Pacific, Tozzi spent many years playing the role of de Becque himself in various revivals and road tours of the show, including one at Lincoln Center in the late 1960s. In 1980, Tozzi earned a Tony award nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his work as Tony in The Most Happy Fella.

He was a professor at Juilliard, Brigham Young University, and Indiana University. In 2006 he retired as Distinguished Professor of Voice at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

Tozzi published a novel in 1997, The Golem of the Golden West.


Tozzi died on May 30, 2011, in Bloomington, Indiana, aged 88. According to his son, the cause was a heart attack.


Giorgio Tozzi was highly regarded during his career. He started as a Baritone and transitioned to Bass following his training in Italy. I would consider him more accurately as a Bass-Baritone. Below we can hear him as Colline from La boheme,

But what I think is so great about Tozzi is his natural pronunciation and how much color he is able to have while still pronouncing clearly. To illustrate this we should watch this duet with Nicolai Gedda from The Bartered Bride by Smetena. (Warning – the audio is high on this clip)

And perhaps he was best known by the general public as the voice of Emile de Becque in the movie of South Pacific in 1958.

One more, this an example of an early recording when he thought he was a Baritone. “Prologue” from Pagliacci and “Eri tu” from Un Ballo in Maschera.

Not bad at all. Better than most Baritones these days.

As always comments are welcome.

  1. What I find interesting is that he seems a great example of a natural deep voice just let to naturally respond how it wants with each letter and intention. Unaltered. His voice stays what it is even when he’s going trough piano phrasings and doesn’t loose it’s consistency. It thins out and swells naturally from the easy head voice, always staying there, without using the overly popular stage whisper technique to simulate a fake piano and pianissimo out of a pushed and darkened chest production. Or the yawned legato, especially in ascending, which never sounds convincing. Both especially popular among many basses and baritones today. It sounds free. And the clear pronounciation just prooves a bass actually can sing and be understood in each tone in each dynamic level, without sounding like he has mouth full of water.

    I still unfortunatelly never had a chance to hear a bass sing like Tozzi in live, or at least something in this direction, and it’s a shame, beacuse I think you can’t experience the true glory of a low male voice until it’s not used at least in the direction of this.

    Yes, the rule might apply for each vocal category, but I find low male voices somehow end up suffering the most in this neglected head voice schools, because many of the delicate phrasings and dynamic changes when the singer just lets the tone freely swell out on some words and then hold it for a while longer gently vibrating without loosing substance simply can’t be faked convincingly in this range…what in some other higher voices might pass as not neccessarily good, but accepetable on an interpretative level.

    Thanks for introducing this singer Michael, I never heard of him before.

  2. Olga Silva

    Wow. Thank you for introducing this singer. That’s one of the best Colline I’ve ever heard. He sings with such ease and freedom. He makes it sound so simple! If only that were true…

  3. You’re welcome Olga and Dinko. The points you both make are why I thought he was worth knowing. Dinko, what you are saying is exactly my point about using the voice naturally. It just doesn’t happen very often, and even less today.

  4. I love to see a singer who is not ashamed to sing in the vocal category he was born with.

  5. Oh, Michael, what a wonderful feature to add. This singer was such a joy to watch. He illustrates a point I have mentioned in passing that may seem strange. Back in the day, basses sounded like BASSES. Their voices were very dark, rich, ringing, full. In person, they were so moving. Now days, most basses are hardly what I would call basses. They are fake basses lacking the richness, darkness, and fullness that was once common. The sound is quite under developed. Contraltos were the same way. I remember singing with a great contralto who blow me away with the richness of her sound. It was both deep and ringing, bright and soring. Like Tozzi, I had goose bumps listening to her. Even dramatic and Spinto sopranos had much more depth and darkness than today. But it was a REAL DEPTH, not some fake manufactured sound. When I started singing most basses sounded like BASSES, bartiones almost as dark, but definitely baritone. And the diction would make you melt. Each word was so clear, so moving, so real. Even most sopranos had such clear diction (excepting coloraturas above the staff, they seem to not be able to say many things up there). These voices were definitely opera singers, and sounded like opera singers, but they also sounded NATURAL. And to me, that is why their diction was so clear, they were using the voice naturally. There were not silly attempts at making it be anything other than what it was. Singers respected what they were good at, and seldom sang things too far off what was right. Not all singers tried to sing everything. But now days everyone is striving to be what they are not. That is why we often are so disappointed in what we hear, or we are not really moved by what we hear.

    Now I am not trying to sound like some old foggy who can’t do anything but think of the past. But vocal teaching was more sound that it is now. I believe it can happen again easily, especially as more and more singing students come to hear what a real authentic voice sounds like. They will find themselves so moved by it, and in a way they have never been before.

    Oh, Michael, I do hope you keep this feature going. I think good examples are one of the best way to help students come to understand what it is they are not hearing in singing today, and what can so easily be learned.

  6. Yes, Colin. Very true. Although I forgot to include in the post that he started as a Baritone and sounded pretty good too. I’ve added the video for example.

    Thanks, Bea. I do plan on making this an ongoing feature. I certainly am not “old’ but I agree completely with your comments. It is an interesting dichotomy that singers now are trying so hard to sound like the singers of the past. But the result is they just sound muddy and fake. Because they are imitating the sound rather than maximizing the natural vocal behavior that really causes that result. At least the readers here are starting to notice the difference.

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