Franco Bonisolli (1938-2003)was an Italian tenor who had a voice of exceptional beauty. He also also exhibited very eccentric behavior, especially during the later part of his career. His erratic conduct resulted in the unfortunate sobriquet of Il pazzo (the madman). In addition to difficulty getting along with conductors, he inserted high notes into much of the music he sang and held them for a long time. This behavior is not noteworthy for many Italian tenors. Predictably, audiences tended to loved him.

He started as a lyric tenor and became a solid lirico-spinto as his career progressed. Nevertheless, he added many heavy roles to his list such as Manrico, Calaf, and even Otello. This weighty load did not impair his voice. Eccentricities aside, he was capable of nuanced and emotionally apposite singing. His Met debut was as Almaviva in The Barber – a very light role. Between 1971 to 1990 Bonisolli gave only 25 performances with the company.

The tenor was born in the northern Italian town of Rovereto. After winning a vocal competition, he made his debut in Spoleto as Ruggero in Puccini’s La Rondine. At first he sang only lyric roles. His international career developed in the 70s when he appeared at most of the world’s leading houses. His biggest success was at Vienna’s Staatsoper.

He died suddenly in Vienna. He was said to have suffered from a brain tumor. I don’t have any definitive medical information about the state of his health. If he had a brain tumor it is at least possible that it might have influenced his behavior. Forget about his personality; his voice was a very fine one.

Comé gentil from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale receives a virtually perfect reading which realizes the gentleness and sensitivity of the aria. The intrinsic beauty of Bonisolli’s tenor is evident in every note. The young Bonisolli’s rendition of the first act aria from La Bohème is similarly on the mark – Bonisolli Che gelida manina. O soave fanciulla which ends the act is sung with soprano Maria Chiara. Of course Bonisolli can’t resist taking the high C at the duet’s conclusion rather than the middle C Puccini wrote – fortunately, it’s a good one.

There’s not an operatic tenor of no matter what magnitude that hasn’t sung Una furtiva lagrima. Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was a mainstay of Bonisolli’s early repertoire. He sings the famous tune with elegance. Passion is required for Federico’s lament from Cilea’s L’arlesiana. Bonisolli nails it.

As his career progressed Bonisolli focused more on the big Verdi parts. This clip includes the aria Quando le sere al placido from Luisa Miller along with its cabaletta. The interpolated high note at the aria’s conclusion is a bit jarring, though everything up to then is very fine. Di quella pira from Trovatore brings out the animal in exuberant tenors, this release of high spirits was no more pronounced than in Bonisolli. When he missed a high during a performance of the cabaletta he stopped, apologized to the audience, and then let out a rousing acapella high C. He didn’t miss his high notes very often. Notice apart from the fireworks that his diction is perfect and every note is delivered as marked, aside from the interpolated high notes.

Bonisolli was also adept at French opera. Je crois entendre encore from The Pearl Fishers is sung as well as an Italian tenor can do it. The fully supported pianissimi are brilliantly executed. Porquoi me reveiller from Werther is as close to an Italian tenor aria as ever written by a French composer. There was far more good taste than excess in Bonisolli’s singing.

Finally, Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from Lehar’s The Land of Smiles. Bonisolli gives the familiar air a very intelligent reading in idiomatic German and then ends the song with a high Z sharp. Why? Because he could. This last sentence could be the summary of his whole career – a beautiful voice used with skill and finesse punctuated by moments of abandon. Regardless of his idiosyncrasies, he was one of the last century’s great tenors. A true original.