Giuseppe Borgatti (1871-1950) was Italy’s first heldentenor. He was born and raised in rural northern Italy. Apparently he grew up illiterate. His voice was discovered during his compulsory military service. A wealthy patron sponsored both his musical and reading lessons. He made his operatic debut at age 21 as Gounod’s Faust.

He became famous when he appeared in the title role of Giordano’s Andrea Chenier at its 1896 world premiere at La Scala. He got the role, around the time of his 25th birthday as a late substitute for Alfonso Garulli who subsequently faded from view.

Though Borgatti sang most of the standard Italian tenor roles, he began to focus on Wagner’s tenor roles. He studied these parts under Toscanini’s direction during the late 1890s and the first few years of the 20th century. Eventually all of the big Wagner roles from Tannhäuser to Parsifal were added to his repertoire. In 1904 he was the first Italian tenor to sing at the Bayreuth Festival.

In 1907 he began to lose his eyesight from glaucoma. Eventually he lost sight in both eyes. The disease ended in operatic career in 1914 when he was at the peak of vocal prowess. He continued to give recitals until 1928. The remainder of his life, spent in Milan, was devoted to teaching.

Though a mainstay at La Scala and other prominent houses in Europe and South America, Borgatti never sang in either London or New York. He also made very few recordings, about 20 at three sessions in 1905, 1919,and 1928.

A very handsome man, he had an equally handsome spinto voice. All his recordings are in Italian though he must have sung in German during his Bayreuth appearances.

E lucevan le stelle was recorded just a few years after the opera was first performed. Borgatti sings it the way it was written without the amendments that frequent repetitions that have been added over the past 120 years. There a little too much vibrato for my taste.

Otello’s death scene was recorded in 1928 long after the tenor had left the stage. His voice is in excellent shape at age 57. I don’t believe Otello was in Borgatti’s repertoire. He likely would have gotten to it had illness not ended his opera career. Niun mi tema

Next three selections from Lohengrin. As mentioned above, Borgatti devoted most of his activity to Wagnerian roles from the late 90s on. Atmest du nicht, Mein lieber Schwan, and In fernem Land are all from Act 3.

Imbrust im Herzen – The Rome narrative is from scene 3 Act 3 of Tannhäuser. Though abbreviated, its sung with force and expression. I would put in the same class as Max Lorenz’s performance of the declamatory aria.

Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond is part of a long exchange between Siegmund and Sieglinde that end the first act of Die Walküre. Apart from the Italian translation, Borgatti has the Wagner style down pat.

Borgatti also sang lieder. Die Lotusblume (The Lotus Flower) is a poem by Heinrich Heine set to music by Robert Schumann in 1840. It is idiomatically sung, though it’s jarring to hear it in Italian.

Where to place Borgatti in the pantheon of tenors during the age of Caruso. The Neapolitan singer was just two years Borgatti’s junior. His eye disease obviously limited his career. All who heard him thought his talent to be of the first rank. On the basis of the very few recordings he made, I think that he made the right choice to concentrate on Wagner’s tenor parts. He along with Toscanini were key players in introducing Wagner’s works into Italy at a time when its countrymen were unfamiliar with the German’s music. Were he active today and his sight unimpaired, I think he would be a major player on the operatic scene.