Rolando Panerai, Renowned Baritone and Callas Collaborator, Dies at 95

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Callas sounds frantic and dazed by her brother’s bullying. Yet below the surface bluster of Mr. Panerai’s Enrico, you hear the panic of a prideful young man who needs his fragile sister to rescue him.

Mr. Panerai sang often with Callas during the 1950s, the most important decade of her career, and made several treasured opera recordings with her, including versions of Bellini’s “I Puritani,” Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and Puccini’s “La Bohème.” He called Callas “the greatest singer I ever listened to or worked with” in the 1996 interview.

In 1972, 16 years after the “Bohème” with Callas, Mr. Panerai recorded the role of Marcello, this time with Mirella Freni as Mimì, Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It is the “Bohème” of choice for many Puccini-lovers.

He sang one of his signature roles, Ford in “Falstaff,” on three acclaimed recordings: with Karajan conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London in 1956; with Leonard Bernstein leading the Vienna Philharmonic in 1966; and again with Karajan, in 1980, also leading the Vienna Philharmonic.

The critic Peter G. Davis, reviewing the last version for The New York Times, wrote that Mr. Panerai’s “dark, vibrant, firm, slightly dry tone has changed remarkably little with age, nor has his characteristic nobility of expression, incisive diction and elegant feeling for Verdian phrases deserted him.”

Rolando Panerai was born the youngest of three brothers on Oct. 17, 1924, in Campi Bisenzio, near Florence. His father, Oreste, ran a shoe factory. His mother was Ada (Paoli) Panerai. Rolando was drawn to music early. He studied at the academy in Florence, continued his training in Milan and made his stage debut in 1946 as Enrico in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the theater in his hometown.


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