Inspired by the recent “Forgotten Italian Sopranos” installment, Chris’s Cache offers a portrait of a tenor whose early ventures may have been forgotten: Franco Bonisolli from age 28 to 33 in complete operas by Mozart, Cimarosa, Donizetti and Massenet.

I fell for the warm Bonisolli sound when I heard it on one of the first pirate reel-to-reel tapes I bought: the marvelous RAI performance of Rossini’s La Donna del Lago which co-starred Montserrat Caballé, Julia Hamari and Pietro Bottazzo, another tenor who also became a favorite.

After his 1970 debut as Almaviva (!), a brief Bonisolli Met career followed with the Duke, Alfredo, Faust and just one Nemorino which you can hear today.

Around this same time, the photogenic tenor starred as Alfredo in a (poorly lip-synced) film version of La Traviata opposite Anna Moffo.

He’d return to the Met years later for roles in his now-signature repertoire: Manrico, Cavaradossi and Calaf. During the second half of his career Bonisolli had become notorious for his vulgar macho tenor behavior, like brazenly holding onto (admittedly thrilling) high notes to garner more applause.

These four early performances will perhaps reveal a different artist.

Massenet: Manon

Manon: Victoria de los Ángeles
Pousette: Armelle Rioual
Javotte: Jacqueline Eobert
Rosette: Collette Gerard
Des Grieux: Franco Bonisolli
Lescaut: Jean-Pierre Laffage
Comte des Grieux: Pierre Savignol
Guillot: Diego Monjó
De Brétigny: Guy Godin

Gran Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona
Conductor: Jésus Etcheverry

14 January 1967

Cimarosa: Chi dell’Altrui si veste presto si spoglia

Ninetta: Maddalena Bonifacio
Stellidaura: Valeria Mariconda
Mirandolina: Elena Zilio
Putifarre: Franco Bonisolli
Martuffo: Sesto Bruscantini
Gianfabrizio: Paolo Montarsolo
Gabbamondo: Giovanni Gusmeroli

Orchestra e Coro “A Scarlatti” di Napoli della RAI
Conductor: Riccardo Muti

RAI of Naples
19 August 1968

Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito

Vitellia: Janet Coster
Sesto: Beverly Wolff
Annio: Maria Casula
Servilia: Mietta Sighele
Tito: Franco Bonisolli
Publio: Luigi Roni

Conductor: Istvan Kertesz

RAI of Rome
19 NOvember 1970

Donizetti: L’Elisir d’Amore

Adina: Reri Grist
Giannetta: Carol Wilcox
Nemorino: Franco Bonisolli
Belcore: Mario Sereni
Dr. Dulcamara: Fernando Corena

Conductor: Carlo Franci

Metropolitan Opera
6 October 1971
In-house recording

Bonisolli can also be heard on an old Trove Thursday chapter in one of his notable hits: as Arnoldo in Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell opposite Teresa Zylis-Gara and Giuseppe Taddei.

Franco-philes can download each opera by clicking on the icon of a cloud with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.