Artist Profile: Francesco Tamagno, Verdi’s First ‘Otello’

By David Salazar

Francesco Tamagno was born on Dec. 28, 1850, and would go on to become the first singer to perform the title role in Verdi’s “Otello.”

He began taking vocal lessons in his youth and was a chorister. In 1873, he began training vocally in earnest and started performing small roles in the local Teatro Regio di Torino. But on Jan. 20, 1874, he made headlines with a performance of Riccardo in “Un Ballo in Maschera” at the Teatro Bellini in Palermo. From there he started performing around Italy until he made a fateful debut at Teatro Alla Scala in 1877.

He became a fixture with the company and performed there throughout the ensuing years. He was able to work with Verdi during that time and in 1887 he world premiered “Otello” for the composer.

He would travel extensively, performing in Argentina, England, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Russia, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States; he sang in the U.S. for the first time in 1890. He would wind up singing in 26 countries throughout his lifetime.

He left a number of recordings, a rare feat for tenors of the 19th century. He died on August 31, 1905.

Signature Roles

Tamagno was the heroic tenor of his time and while he performed a wide range of operas, he is forever known for being the first man to ever sing Verdi’s “Otello.” It is the opera that is linked to his legacy, even if he did perform a plethora of other Verdi operas such as “Simon Boccanegra (he was the first Adorno of the second version of the opera),” “La Forza del Destino,” “and “Il Trovatore,” among others.

Read More on Tamagno

An Analysis of His Verdi Recordings

Watch and Listen

Here is a recording of “Niun mi tema” from “Otello.”

Here’s “Esultate” from “Otello.”

Here’s “Di quella pira” from “Il Trovatore.”


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