Do you want to know the greatest Italian tenors of all time?
From the Gregorian chant to composers like Antonio Vivaldi, Donizetti, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini, Italian music has been one of Europe’s greatest representations of that art.
Even if less illustrious than in the past, music is nonetheless vital in Italy today.
Throughout the year, Italy stages classical, jazz, and pop music events. All of these are part of Italy’s proud musical tradition, and it’s no surprise that it has produced some of the greatest tenors ever.
A tenor is a lyric vocalist with one of the highest male vocal ranges. His natural voice is an octave higher than baritone and lower than counter-tenor.
Tenors have the sweetest operatic tones and the most identifiable classical pop sounds.
10 Greatest Italian Tenors of All Time
Italy takes pride in being home to some of the best who can sing beautifully in this range. From traditional opera to its modern pop fusion, here’s our list of the greatest Italian tenors of all time.
1. Enrico Caruso
Born: Naples, Italy (1873)
Died: Naples, Italy (1921)
One of the most famous Italian tenors ever, Enrico Caruso is said to be one of the rarest of all things: a great artist with a huge fanbase.
He was a world-famous singer with a voice that was made to enchant a devoted audience.
In addition to opera, he recorded more than 250 78s for the Victor Talking Machine Co., ranging from Verdi, Bizet, and Puccini (his contemporary) to Neapolitan ballads and pop music.
One of his most popular songs was “Over There,” a lighthearted ditty written for the American military during World War I.
Even now, the legacy of Caruso continues. As one of the first truly great singers, his recordings have preserved the sound of his voice for future generations to enjoy.
2. Tito Schipa
Born: Lecce, Italy (1888)
Died: New York, USA (1965)
Schipa was hailed as a true “tenore di grazia” for his vocal clarity, artistic sensitivity, and interpretative beauty more than his technical prowess.
Tito Schipa is one of the few tenors who has achieved so much with so little. His range and dynamic breadth were limited, but he could sing one line and project it to the entire auditorium. When it came to the bel canto repertoire, his diction was awe-inspiring.
He rose to the status of a matinee idol in the United States after becoming a global superstar.
Schipa’s masterful diminuendo towards the end of Donizetti’s “Una furtiva lagrima” is a crowning achievement that still serves as an inspiration to many singers.
3. Beniamino Gigli
Born: Recanati, Italy (1890)
Died: Rome, Italy (1957)
In the interwar years, Gigli was the most popular Italian tenor, thanks to his honeyed voice and easy-going demeanor that made him “the people’s singer.”
Gigli began his singing career as part of hometown’s choir in the central Italian region of Marche. He made his operatic debut in La Gioconda in 1914 and quickly rose to fame throughout Italy.
By 1920, he had made his way to the Met, where he succeeded Caruso in many roles after the latter’s untimely death the following year. He remained in New York until 1932 when he returned to Italy.
With a lyric tenor voice of exquisite quality and a lovely, imaginative delivery, he appeared in 20 films and recorded for more than 900 albums.
His performances continued until just before he died in 1957.
4. Giacomo Lauri-Volpi
Born: Lanuvio, Italy (1892)
Died: Valencia, Spain (1979)
As a pre- and middle Romantic tenor, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi is an extraordinary performer. He is best known as the Italian tenor with an extraordinary range and technical ability, with a 40-year career spanning Europe and the Americas.
Lauri-Volpi was greatly lauded in his performances at La Scala, Milan’s most famous opera venue, becoming one of the most popular Italian tenors to have performed there. He is best remembered for his performance of Arnoldo in a staging of Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell, which marked La Scala’s 100th anniversary.
From 1923 through 1933, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi was also a principal tenor at the New York Metropolitan Opera, where he appeared in 307 performances.
5. Mario del Mónaco
Born: Florence, Italy (1915)
Died: Mestre, Italy (1982)
Mario del Mónaco was a self-taught vocalist with a powerful tenor voice. His ability to command attention with his voice has helped him gain much praise and recognition around the world. His interpretations developed over time, and he was given praise for his superb legato.
His rendition of Turiddu in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, was what jump-started his career. He performed it on numerous occasions and earned him widespread acclaim.
However, for many opera fans, he’ll always be remembered as the man who gave the world an unforgettable performance of Verdi’s Otello.
Del Mónaco retired from singing at the age of 60, dying of nephritis six years later. Today he remains one of the most beloved Italian tenors ever.
6. Franco Corelli
Born: Ancona, Italy (1921)
Died: Milan, Italy (1976)
Franco Corelli is often recognized as the best Italian tenor of the 1950s and 1960s, carrying on the legacy of Caruso and Gigli.
In opera, being a tall, dark, and gorgeous tenor who also happens to be gifted with a beautiful voice is considered rare, yet Corelli had it all. He was born Dario Franco Corelli to non-musical parents. His paternal grandfather, however, was a successful operatic tenor. With his movie-star good looks, he quickly established a large fan base from early on his career.
Franco Corelli’s voice, with its fast tremolo and a tendency to exaggerate, may sound dated and a throwback to a bygone era to modern ears.
In recordings as well as contemporary accounts, however, his singing qualities come through: a dark, glossy voice with a rich palette of densely distributed colors.
Corelli remains to be one of the most famous Italian tenors to have ever graced the opera.
7. Carlo Bergonzi
Born: Polesine Parmense, Italy (1925)
Died: Milan, Italy (2014)
In the mid-20th century, many believed Bergonzi to be the finest Verdi tenor of all time.
His worldwide tenor career took off in the 1950s when he began long-term relationships with the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and Covent Garden after starting as a baritone.
His 1976 Philips three-disc survey of Verdi’s tenor roles, which included Radames, Alfredo, and the Duke of Mantua, was a landmark recording.
Following his retirement, Bergonzi is recognized with mentoring tenors such as Aronica, Ciannella, La Scola, Caragiulo, Clinker, del Valle, and Licitra. Individual arias and entire operas, including Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo, were also recorded by Bergonzi.
However, few recordings of his early baritone roles are still available. Still, he remains one of the best Italian tenors of all time.
8. Luciano Pavarotti
Born: Modena, Italy (1935)
Died: Modena, Italy (2007)
Anyone who has heard this tenor’s voice will never forget the sheer majesty and splendor of it. Anyone can easily identify him by the sound of just one note because of his unusual timbre.
It was Luciano Pavarotti’s voice that best embodies his artistry, with a beautiful, delicate tone that suited both the bel canto repertoire and Verdi’s works.
Pavarotti made his stage debut at Teatro Reggio Emilia in 1961 after winning a singing competition. In 1963, when he was called in to fill in for Giuseppe Di Stefano in London’s Covent Garden, his career took off.
He also collaborated with Placido Domingo and José Carreras through the “Three Tenors” performance series, which made opera and classical music more accessible to a wider audience around the world.
Pavarotti died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 71 in 2007. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest Italian tenors who have ever lived.
9. Andrea Bocelli
Born: Lajatico, Italy (1958)
Regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful voices, Andrea Bocelli is a well-known singer with a global following.
Born in 1958 in Italy, Bocelli lost his sight at the age of 12 due to congenital glaucoma caused by a football accident. Fortunately, this did not prevent him from pursuing his dreams.
At 14, he won his first singing contest with “O sole mio.” But 1992 marked a turning point in his career. An Italian pop artist, Zucchero Fornaciari, asked him to record “Miserere” for tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The two famous tenors became friends after Luciano Pavarotti was blown away by Bocelli’s voice.
After signing a recording contract, Bocelli’s debut album “Il mare calmo della sera” made him famous across Europe.
Despite the terrible early years, Andrea Bocceli was not discouraged. He kept on singing and his voice continues to travel the world. He is one of the best Italian tenors we will ever hear.
10. Vittorio Grigolo
Born: Arezzo, Italy (1977)
Vittorio Grigolo grew up in Arezzo before moving to Rome.
When he was nine, he accompanied his mother for an eye exam. A voice from another room inspired him to sing “Ave Maria” in his style. Both the singer and the optician’s father persuaded Vittorio to join the Sistine Chapel Choir. He was chosen not just for the Sistine Chapel Choir, but also as a soloist.
One of Grigolo’s most remarkable performances came at the age of 13 at the Opera House in Rome, with the renowned Luciano Pavarotti.
He debuted as a tenor at the age of 17 and began building a reputation overseas at 18. In 2000, he was the youngest tenor (23 years old) in Milan’s La Scala.
With prominent conductors, Vittorio Grigolo has performed in the world’s most prestigious opera theatres and made major recordings such as “West Side Story.”