Panerai studied singing at the Florence Conservatory with Raoul Frazzi and then in Milan with Armani and Giulia Tess. After winning first prize in the Adriano Belli Singing Competition at Spoleto, he made his operatic stage debut in 1946 as Enrico / Lucia di Lammermoor at the Teatro Dante in Campi Bisenzio, followed the next year by the role of Faraone (Pharaoh) in Rossini’s Mosè at the San Carlo, Naples. During 1951 he undertook a number of leading baritone roles, notably those in Aroldo, Giovanna d’Arco, and La battaglia di Legnano, in Italian radio broadcasts marking the fiftieth anniversary of Verdi’s death; sang in several of the major Italian opera houses; and made his debut at La Scala, Milan as the High Priest / Samson et Dalila.
During the following quarter century Panerai sang frequently at La Scala, both in the main house and in the Piccola Scala. Roles included Enrico, Sharpless / Madama Butterfly and Apollo / Alceste; and in contemporary opera, the Husband in Menotti’s Amelia al ballo (1954). Panerai took part in the premieres of Pizzetti’s Il calzare d’argento (1961), Turchi’s Il buon soldato Svejk (1962), and Rossellini’s Il linguaggio dei fiori (1963, Piccola Scala), as well as in the first Italian performance of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler (1958). He sang Figaro / Il barbiere di Siviglia in the first opera broadcast to be made by Italian Television, in 1954; and the following year Ruprecht, in the Italian premiere of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, given in Venice.
At the Salzburg Festival Panerai first appeared in 1957 as Ford / Falstaff. He returned often: as Guglielmo / Così fan tutte (1958–1959), Masetto / Don Giovanni (1960–1961, 1968–1970), Paolo / Simon Boccanegra (1961), Malatesta / Don Pasquale (1971–1972), Don Alfonso / Così fan tutte (1972, 1974–1977) and Ford once again (1981–1982). He also appeared at many other European festivals, including Aix-en-Provence, the Caracalla Baths in Rome, Glyndebourne, the Florence Maggio Musicale and Verona.
In 1958 Panerai made the first of many appearances at the Vienna State Opera and in the same year made his American debut with the San Francisco Opera, singing Marcello / La Bohème and the Figaros of both Mozart and Rossini. He first sang at the Royal Opera House, London in 1960, as Rossini’s Figaro with Giulini conducting, returning there to sing Don Alfonso and the title roles in Falstaff and Don Pasquale in 1984 and Dr Dulcamara / L’elisir d’amore in 1985 and 1990.
Panerai’s career was very long-lasting and took him to many international opera houses, including those of Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Lisbon, Monte Carlo, Munich, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Stuttgart and Zürich, as well as all the principal Italian houses. His repertoire featured most of the great Verdi baritone roles, including the title part in Rigoletto, di Luna / Il trovatore, Posa / Don Carlo, Amonasro / Aida and Germont père / La traviata. He sang the title role in Gianni Schicchi at the Florence Maggio Musicale in 1988, in Chicago in 1996, and again in Florence in 2006; Count Douglas in Mascagni’s rarely-heard Guglielmo Ratcliff at Catania in 1990; Dulcamara in Barcelona in 1998; and Germont père for Italian television in 2000, with Zubin Mehta conducting.
A most engaging and versatile stage presence enhanced Panerai’s voice, a relatively light high baritone. He recorded extensively, and can be heard on several major recordings featuring Maria Callas.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).