Renato Bruson was born into a family of agrarian workers who, unable to help him financially with singing lessons, nonetheless encouraged his membership of the local parish choir. After completing his formal schooling he applied to enter the Padua Conservatory where he was offered a five-year scholarship but received little further support from his family. As he later recalled: ‘They thought that I only wanted to study music because I had no desire to work. At that time, the general feeling where I lived was that if someone worked, they had a future, whereas those who studied, especially if they studied music, were considered failures who would never find their path in life.’ Bruson was however strongly supported at the Conservatory, where he studied with Elena Fava Cerati, who trained him thoroughly in bel canto style and technique. He made his operatic stage début in 1961 at Spoleto as di Luna/Il trovatore, and sang Riccardo/I puritani at Rome during the following year.
Initially Bruson’s career developed slowly. At an audition at La Scala, Milan in 1963, one of the assessors said: ‘Bruson, you sing very well but you have no personality!’ He repeated di Luna in Holland during 1964, and then enjoyed great success partnering the tenor Franco Corelli at Parma in 1967. Bruson appeared at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time in 1969 as Enrico/Lucia di Lammermoor and as di Luna, but was not to return until twelve years later.
In 1970 Bruson worked with the conductor Riccardo Muti for the first time, singing Renato/Un ballo in maschera in Florence. By now he was establishing himself internationally: during 1972 he made his début at La Scala as Antonio/Linda di Chamounix and appeared at the Edinburgh Festival as Ezio/Attila with the company of the Teatro Massimo, Palermo. Throughout the 1970s he consolidated his position as one of the finest Verdi baritones of his generation, appearing at opera houses throughout Italy as well as at the festivals of Verona and the Caracalla Baths, Rome. Bruson also took the opportunity to appear in rarely performed operas, such as Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro (Naples, 1972) and Il duca d’Alba (Florence, 1982); indeed he sang in no fewer than seventeen Donizetti operas during the 1970s and 1980s. He substituted with great success for Piero Cappuccilli as Renato at Covent Garden in 1975, with Claudio Abbado conducting; made his début at the Vienna State Opera in 1978 in the title rôle of Verdi’s Macbeth; and returned to the Metropolitan Opera in 1981 as di Luna and subsequently as Don Carlo/La forza del destino (1983) and Rodrigo/Don Carlo (1984).
During the 1980s Bruson was extremely busy internationally, appearing as far afield as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bucharest, Budapest, Brussels and Copenhagen; in Germany at Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich; in America at Chicago and San Francisco; and at the festivals of Bregenz, Edinburgh and Orange, singing the major baritone parts. He continued to expand his repertoire during the 1990s, with rôles such as Montfort/I vespri siciliani (New York, 1990), Don Carlo/Ernani (Parma) and the title rôles in Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo (Frankfurt, 1991) and Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell (La Scala, Milan and Verona, 1992). By 1996 Bruson had made more than 150 appearances in Vienna and was honoured with the title of Kammersänger.
Bruson continued to remain active throughout the latter part of his career, both on the concert platform and the operatic stage, for instance singing the title part in Falstaff as late as 2010 in Rome. An adherent to the philosophy of Muti, that music should be performed come scritto without singer-interpolated high notes, Bruson feels that this focuses the attention on the music and drama rather than the singer. He himself has said: ‘I am self-critical enough to understand what I can achieve. Since I knew I did not have a thundering voice to make coarse effects, I sought interpretation, since I think it is more important that the public go home with something in their hearts than sounds in their ears.’ Possessed of a naturally velvety voice and the ability to articulate long, lyrical lines, he gave performances that were notable for expressive phrasing, musical intelligence and great dramatic conviction. The great Italian musician Carlo Maria Giulini, who conducted Bruson’s Falstaff on record, commented: ‘I believe Renato Bruson now is the Falstaff. He has the wit, the intelligence, the dignity and, of course, the voice. Basta.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).