After serving as a cadet in the Peruvian navy, Luigi Alva studied singing with Rose Mercedes Ajarza de Morales in Lima. He made his début in a concert in Lima in 1949, and in the same year sang in Luisa Fernanda, a zarzuela by Federico Moreno Torroba. The conductor Anton Guadagno suggested the part of Beppe in Pagliacci for Alva’s operatic début, but in the event the rôle was Alfredo/La Traviata, in 1951 at the opera house in Lima. Alva then participated in a competition to select a tenor for the film The Great Caruso with Mario Lanza, the prize of which was a fellowship to study at the Academy of La Scala, Milan. Although unsuccessful, Alva decided to move to Italy in 1953, where he studied singing with Emilio Ghirardini and Ettore Campogalliani. In 1954 he sang Alfredo once again, in a production at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan. After the second performance the director of the Academy of La Scala, Giulio Confalonieri, told him that he was admitted to the academy, as he had originally desired. The following year he was invited to take part in the opening of the Piccola Scala, a new studio theatre adjacent to La Scala, as Paolino in a production of Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, in which he sang opposite Giulietta Simionato and Graziella Sciutti, and which was subsequently recorded by EMI. After the first night, Carlo Maria Giulini, then conducting at La Scala, asked him to sing Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia in the main house, with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. Alva’s international career was thus effectively launched.
Alva swiftly established himself as a pre-eminent tenore di grazia: at the Salzburg Festival he sang Fenton/Falstaff under Herbert von Karajan (1957–1958), Belmonte/Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Ferrando/Così fan tutte (1967), Almaviva (1968–1969) and Ferrando once again in 1970. He also appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in 1957, at the Holland Festival in 1959 in Haydn’s Il mondo della luna, and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in various Mozart rôles from 1960. He made his débuts at Covent Garden in 1960 as Almaviva, at the Vienna State Opera in 1961 and at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1961 as Nemorino/L’elisir d’amore, returning in 1962. By this time he was in demand throughout the world. Guest performances included appearances in Germany (West Berlin, Hamburg and Munich), Italy (Florence, Naples, Rome, Turin and Venice), Scandinavia (Copenhagen and Stockholm), Soviet Russia (Moscow) and South America (Buenos Aires and Mexico City), as well as throughout North America. He made his début at the Metropolitan in 1964 as Fenton, and sang there regularly until 1975; he enjoyed especial acclaim for his Nemorino in 1971. In addition to the staple repertoire, Alva also sang in several twentieth-century operas, notably Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen (1958), Chailly’s Una domanda di matrimonio, and Malipiero’s La donna è mobile, all at La Scala. In recent years he has devoted himself to teaching, being based once again at the Academy of La Scala.
Alva possessed one of the most expressive lyrical tenor voices of his generation. He was especially notable as an interpreter of Mozart and Rossini, and was equally successful in Donizetti’s comic operas Don Pasquale, L’elisir d’amore (Nemorino was his favorite rôle) and La fille du regiment, which he sang in both the French and Italian versions. A man of great personal charm and integrity, as well as an infectious sense of humour, he brought the same qualities to all his stage appearances. He appeared in eighteen productions directed by Franco Zeffirelli, including Falstaff at Covent Garden in 1961, which Alva has recalled as ‘very beautiful’ (interview with Silvia Luraghi, 2001). His discography is extensive. It includes benchmark performances, such as Ferrando with Karl Böhm, Fenton with Herbert von Karajan, Don Ottavio with Giulini, Almaviva with Abbado, Galliera and Gui, Don Ramiro/La Cenerentola with Abbado, Lindoro/L’Italiana in Algeri with Varviso, and numerous Haydn operas with Antal Dorati. These partnerships with outstanding conductors reflect the esteem in which Alva was held for both his beautiful voice and his outstanding musicianship.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).