Acclaimed bass Giorgio Tozzi, who served on the Juilliard faculty from 1971 to 1974, died on May 30 in Bloomington, Ind. He was 88.
George John Tozzi was born on January 8, 1923, in Chicago. “I began studying voice at 13,” he wrote in press materials prepared by Columbia Artists Management in 1971. “I came from a family that had the proverbial Italian love of music and my parents encouraged me to sing as a child. But I never imagined I would make singing a career. I had planned to become a biologist.” Though he studied biology at DePaul University, he wrote, “I have always felt that I made a major contribution to science by discontinuing my studies.”
After serving in the Army in World War II, Tozzi returned to Chicago, and, in a bleak job market, began singing on the radio and in local opera companies as a baritone. He soon made his mark and moved to New York and then London. He then studied in Milan and became a bass (and started using the name Giorgio), embarking on an international career. One notable performance was at the Royal Opera in Cairo on the July night in 1952 when the Egyptian revolution broke out.
Tozzi made his La Scala debut in December 1953 in Catalani’s La Wally with Renata Tebaldi in the title role, and a little more than a year later, in March 1955, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Alvise in Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Tozzi would go on to sing at the Met 528 times, winding up as Colline in Puccini’s La Bohème in 1975.
“A magnificent actor, a commanding presence on stage, a superb vocalist,” Harold C. Schonberg wrote of Tozzi in The New York Times in 1961. Schonberg was reviewing the Met’s English-language revival of Flotow’s Martha, in which Tozzi sang the role of Plunkett. Tozzi, who was known for doing his own makeup, later said his favorite operatic roles were Hans Sachs (in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), King Philip (in Verdi’s Don Carlo), and the title role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.
Tozzi received three Grammys, for Figaro (1959, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf), Turandot (1960, also conducted by Leinsdorf), and Aïda (1962, conducted by George Solti). He also had an active theater career, including a West Coast revival of South Pacific in which he played Emile de Beque opposite Mary Martin (he reprised the role in the 1958 film). Tozzi was nominated for a Tony in 1980 for his portrayal of Tony Esposito in the revival of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella. In addition to appearing in several televised operas, he was a guest star on the TV shows The Odd Couple, Baretta, Kojak, and Knight Rider.
At the time of his death, Tozzi was a distinguished professor emeritus at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he had taught since 1991. His first wife, the singer Catherine Dieringer, died in 1963. He is survived by his second wife, singer Monte Amundsen, whom he married in 1967; their children, Eric Tozzi and Jennifer Tozzi Hauser; and three grandchildren.