Renato Cioni, the great Tuscan tenor, died today in his home town of Portoferraio, on the island of Elba, where he was born almost 85 years ago.
His career took off in the mid 1950s when he sang in a television production of Madama Butterfly with Anna Moffo, and Pinkerton was the role with which he made his début at La Scala in 1961 under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. During a production of Lucia di Lammermoor by Zeffirelli in Venice, Cioni met Joan Sutherland, and went on to record Lucia and Rigoletto with her in 1961.
In 1964 he took part in two legendary productions: he was invited by Franco Zeffirelli to share the stage with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi in his Tosca at Covent Garden, and he sang in La Traviata at La Scala with Mirella Freni and Anna Moffo, with Herbert von Karajan in the pit.
His Met début came relatively late in 1970 when he was Pollione in Norma, with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne.
A favourite story is that when singing with Sutherland in Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda in Naples, her petticoat slowly slipped down until it was around her ankles. Cioni took it in his hands and waved it in the air like a trophy, and the Neapolitan audience went wild.
His funeral will be held tomorrow at 10am in the Duomo of Portoferraio.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.