Franco Bonisolli: "My Way"
Arias from Norma, La bohème, Manon, L’arlesiana, Les pêcheurs de perles, Luisa Miller, I pagliacci, Rigoletto, La gioconda, and Il trovatore. Plus, “O sole mio.”
Franco Bonisolli, tenor, Munich Radio Orchestra, Klauspeter Seibel, cond.
Andy Classics 160 495 F (DDD) TT: 50:35

This CD includes excerpts from a 13 March 1988 Munich concert, starring Italian tenor, Franco Bonisolli. To be sure, he is one of the more controversial figures on the modern opera scene. A contemporary of the “Three Tenors” (he was born in 1938), Bonisolli has enjoyed a highly successful international career, with performances at most of the world’s great opera houses and several recordings on major commercial labels.

Bonisolli’s career has, at times, been plagued by a reputation for erratic behavior, both onstage and off. But at his best, he brings a combination of talents that are quite rare, if not unique, among tenors on the recent opera scene. He has sung a remarkably wide variety of repertoire, including Classical-era works, bel canto, Verdi, French Romantic opera, and verismo. He’s quite capable of singing with style and refinement, as a recent Opera d’Oro issue of a 1967 Benvenuto Cellini (OPD-1373) amply demonstrates.

Conversely, the Italian tenor brings a welcome sense of bravado and abandon to his performances not usually found in the work of contemporaries. When I interviewed the great Broadway star, Alfred Drake, he made reference to Yul Brynner’s “animalistic flair” in his performances of The King and I. Alfred Drake offered these words with the highest admiration. And I think they are equally appropriate to describe the singing of Franco Bonisolli. The tenor’s dark tone, pungent attacks, and ringing high notes (frequently and happily sung, regardless of whether they appear in the score) provide the kind of electric atmosphere that evokes the spirit of such predecessors as Mario del Monaco and Franco Corelli. All of these qualities are on display in the Munich concert documented on the “My Way” CD. The first two items—Pollione’s aria from Norma, and Rodolfo’s narrative from La bohème—suffer from some imprecise intonation, as well as a moment of hoarseness in the latter excerpt. Still, the overall vigor, admirable phrasing, and powerful high notes bring much pleasure. Bonisolli improves for the next two numbers—“Ah! Fuyez, douce image,” from Manon (featuring excellent French diction) and the lovely aria from Cilea’s L’arlesiana. Then Bonisolli shifts gears and scales back his heroic voice for a masterful performance of Nadir’s Romance from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. Bonisolli sings throughout with a honeyed mezza voce, capping the aria with a ravishing high C. It’s an amazing tour-de-force, and one that earns the ecstatic approval of the Munich audience.

From here to the recital’s conclusion, Bonisolli moves from strength to strength, with vibrant renditions of music from Luisa Miller, Pagliacci and Rigoletto. Encores include “Di quella pira” and “O sole mio,” both featuring atomic high Cs that elicit cascades of roars from the audience. The sound on this disc is first-rate, equivalent to the best studio recordings. A fair amount of the audience’s reaction to each number is included, as well as the applause greeting Franco Bonisolli at the start—all adding to the sense of occasion.

My understanding is that this disc, which has been difficult to locate for some time, will soon be available through I’ve listened to “My Way” several times, and with great pleasure. While Franco Bonisolli’s singing is not to everyone’s taste, I highly recommend “My Way” to those who value the kind of bravura approach that is not easily found these days.

K.M. (September 2003)