What Historic Tenors Beniamino Gigli & Lauritz Melchior Had in Common

By David Salazar

Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior was the quintessential Wagner tenor while Beniamino Gigli was one of the most beloved Italian tenors that history has ever seen. Both were born on the same day – March 20, 1890.

While they both made their professional debuts one year apart, the Dane’s came in 1913 while the Italian’s a year late in 1914, they took decidedly different career paths.

Melchoir started his life as a baritone before eventually switching over to a heldentenor and dominating the Wagnerian repertoire. Gigli’s voice type was never in doubt and he made waves in the dramatic Italian repertoire.

Given this trajectory, one would not be remiss to assume that they had little in common throughout their careers. And you would be right, to a certain extent.

Gigli never sang any German repertoire, though Melchior did take some forays into a few Verdi operas as a tenor. He was a famed “Otello” interpreter in his time, a role that Gigli never actually performed completely onstage.

But Verdi’s “Aida” was a different manner, both men getting their feet wet, to varying degrees, as Radamès. A few recordings exist for the Italian tenor, including a live performance from Munich in 1937. That performance was conducted by Victor de Sabata and starred Gina Cigna, Tancredi Pasero, and Ebe Stignani.  Excerpts from a performance in Vienna in the same year have also been salvaged for posterity.

Meanwhile, Melchior appeared as the Egyptian hero during his time at the Hamburg State Opera.

But what really brings them together is their status as movie stars. Both opera stars made their way to the silver screen throughout their careers. Gigli’s screen credits numbered 23 starting with “Non ti scordar di me” in 1935 and ending with “Puccini” in 1953. Other popular films include “Ave Maria,” “The Life of Giuseppe Verdi” and “Night Taxi.”

Melchior arrived in cinemas in 1945 and only appeared in five films and two TV series. His notable appearances on screen include “Luxury Liner” and “This Time for Keeps.”


On This DaySpecial Features