In June 1937, Tito Gobi made contact with an opera stage for the first time in his life. He was offered the role of Papa Germont in La Traviata (Verdi) at the Teatro Adriano, then the second opera house in Rome.
As was the case several times during his career, Gobi faced a great challenge: he was plagued by a cold and he was not very familiar with the role. Nevertheless, Gobbi took on the part. His teacher was Giulio Crimi, one of the most influential Italian tenors of the early 20th century.
For the first time Tito Gobbi performed with a full orchestra, a well-known conductor and on a larger stage. On that June evening in 1937, a special guest was present: Maestro Tullio Serafin. Serafin was one of the most famous Italian conductors of the 20th century, working with opera greats such as Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, among others.
Serafin visited Gobbi after his performance and was impressed by his voice: The young baritone Gobbi seized the opportunity and asked for an audition with Serafin.
And so it happened that Tito Gobbi learned the art of opera singing from Tullio Serafin from then on.
Posa (Don Carlos)
After four years of training with Tullio Serafin, he was given the role of Posa in Don Carlos (Verdi) for the first time. A discussion flared up between Gobbi and Serafin about Posa’s last scene: Verdi’s version of the opera states that Posa should sing his last scene con voce sofferente (with a suffering voice). Serafin instructed Gobbi to sing the last words in a normal voice.
Gobbi was not satisfied with this: he agreed with Serafin to sing the scene normally one evening and to play Posa’s death realistically the next evening.
When Tito Gobbi portrayed the death of Posa with a tortured and increasingly weakening voice, he received a standing ovation.
Tullio Serafin had not expected this: After the performance, Serafin, the mayor of Rome, and the opera’s general manager gathered in Gobbi’s dressing room to congratulate him.
Gobbi dared to add realism to the previous interpretation of Posa’s aria – as Verdi had intended. This positive experience encouraged Gobbi to bring more realism to various roles throughout his career – often going against convention, but always receiving support from his maestro, Tullio Serafin. At the time, it was unusual for a young, relatively little-known baritone to develop new approaches to interpreting roles.
In 1941 Tito Gobbi sang his later signature role for the first time, Scarpia in Tosca (Puccini): From the beginning, Gobbi was enthralled by the complexity and drama of the role.
Gobbi sang the role of Scarpia alongside Maria Callas, among others: when Maria Callas played the role of Tosca for the last time on July 5, 1965, Tito Gobbi sang alongside her.
After the Second World War, Tito Gobbi’s career took off: Through his engagements at opera houses all over the world – including San Francisco, London and New York – Tito Gobbi became world-famous.
During World War II, Tito Gobbi was unable to leave his native Italy: his only trip during that time was to Berlin. Later, Gobbi said he was glad to have stayed in Italy during that time: Through engagements at La Scala and other Italian opera houses, he learned countless operatic roles that he would never have learned in this form outside of Italy. Despite the privations brought about by the Second World War, Gobbi learned a great deal during this time: thanks to his solid training in a wide variety of roles in Italian opera, he advanced to become an internationally sought-after opera baritone in the decades that followed.
In the early 1950s, Tito Gobi embarked on a South American tour: he performed in Rio de Janeiro and Sāo Paulo. There he sang for the first time together with Maria Callas in La Traviata (Verdi). Many years later, Gobbi described this event as a highlight of his career: In his memoirs, Tito Gobbi dedicates an entire section to Maria Callas. Using Callas as an example, Tito Gobbi explains that opera is about more than just singing and acting: singing and acting must merge. Despite the acting aspect, the performance must remain in the musical form as intended by the composer of the opera.
The opera recordings made together by Callas and Gobbi now enjoy legendary status and are still waiting to be surpassed in their drama and acting.
TIto Gobbi was not only seen on the opera stage during his career: Between 1937 and 1955, Gobbi appeared in over twenty films. In his first film, I Condottieri (1937), Gobbi acted under the direction of Luis Trenker. Numerous opera films followed, with Gobbi acting alongside opera stars such as Mario del Monaco. For the film Cavalleria Rusticana (1953), Tito Gobbi lent his singing voice to Anthony Quinn.
During his later career – from the late 1960s onwards – Tito Gobbi focused mainly on directing operas and teaching opera students.
During his career, Tito Gobbi learned 98 different operas, all of which he mastered in his sleep.
Between 1968 and 1982 Tito Gobbi directed many of these operas: his years of experience as an operatic baritone predestined him to direct mainly Verdi and Puccini operas. Twice he directed Don Giovanni (Mozart).
More than any other baritone of the 20th century, Gobbi changed the way numerous Italian opera roles were interpreted. He always concentrated on Italian operas: although he also sang operas in other languages, he always emphasized his good fortune to have learned opera roles in his mother tongue at a young age.
Main source: Tito Gobbi’s memoir titled “My Life,” published in 1979 by Macdonald & Jane’s