Before Juan Diego Flórez stormed on the scene, Peru’s most famous tenor was none other than Luigi Alva.
The lyric tenor actually sang a number of the same roles that his compatriot would take on decades later, but his legacy is ultimately far different. Alva, born in Paita on April 10, 1927, served in the Peruvian Navy for some time before turning to his singing. His operatic debut came in Lima in Torroba’s “Luisa Fernanda” in 1949. He studied in Milan for some time and would make his debut at La Scala in 1956 before becoming an international phenomenon. His Met debut came in 1964 and in total he performed at the famed opera house 101 times over the ensuing decade.
He didn’t have an expansive repertoire, mainly in part to his slender sound. But his elegance of phrasing made him quite a prominent in the few roles he did conquer. Here are a few of the can’t miss roles from the Peruvian tenor.
Count Almaviva – Il Barbiere di Siviglia
He made his La Scala debut singing this very opera and made no less than four iconic recordings of the opera. The most famous features Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, while the second most popular showcases him with Herman Prey and Teresa Berganza (there is also a DVD version of that trio). Finally he recorded a set with Fiorenza Cossoto and another with Victoria de Los Angeles. More than any other singer in Rossini repertoire, Alva’s voice is slender and nimble, the coloratura runs effortless than in his voice. He never had the stratospheric high notes often associated with the bel canto repertoire, but you never miss them. It was undeniably his most popular role and the one for which he is most remembered. Of his 101 appearances at the Met, he sang the role 21 times.
Fenton – Falstaff
Few major singers take on the supporting tenor role in Verdi’s masterwork once they reach the apex of their career. But Alva sang this Verdi role throughout his career. It was the opera he most performed at the Metropolitan Opera (33 times) and he is featured in one of the most famous recordings ever made of the masterpiece – Herbert Von Karajan’s version with Gobbi and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. His gentle voice is perfect for the innocent Fenton; after hearing him and Anna Moffo together, you might find most other tenors too heavy for this most delicate of roles.
Ernesto – Don Pasquale
Alva’s forays into Donizetti were quite limited. So limited in fact that his two major warhorses were “Don Pasquale” and “L’Elisir d’Amore.” He owned the role of Ernesto in his time, taking it on 13 times at the Met and making a rare recording with Renata Scotto. He also made a well-known recording of “L’Elisir” with Tullio Serafin but “Don Pasquale” doesn’t always get the same dedication from the opera stars.
Don Ottavio – Don Giovanni
Alva’s Mozart interpretations were quite beloved in his time. And while his work in “Così fan tutte” and “Die Zauberflöte” is quite excellent, his Don Ottavio is probably his finest. His timbre and the polish of his voice is perfect for Mozart. My personal favorite moment? His single breath on the longest coloratura passage of “Il Mio Tesoro.” Most other tenors opt for a breath in the middle, but Alva is undaunted and sings it straight through and looks like he could continue going on that same breath. It’s quite a fascinating moment.