• 1915 — 1993
Often appears with
Although his handsome bass voice lacked the weight often expected in a low-ranged singer, Italo Tajo made a successful career based on his excellent grasp of style and character. Particularly adept in Mozart, Tajo performed a wide range of bass characters and showed an affinity for comic roles. Tajo eventually took up a position on the opera faculty at Cincinnati, but in his sixties he returned to the Chicago and Metropolitan Opera stages to perform such roles as Alcindoro/Benoit (La Bohème), Don Pasquale, and the Sacristan (Tosca).
Tajo's first name derived from the fact that, of five children, he was the only one to have been born in his native Italy. He sang in a church choir in Pinerolo when a mere boy; the director's suggestion that Tajo study seriously was met with opposition from his father, who envisioned for him a career as a doctor. When Tajo's enthusiasm for music persisted, his father surrendered and gave his approval, clearing the way for Italo to study with Nilde Stinche-Bertozzi in nearby Turin. When he was 20, Tajo made his debut at the Teatro Regio in Turin singing Fafner (Das Rheingold) under the direction of Fritz Busch. Busch was sufficiently impressed to invite Tajo to the Glyndebourne Festival that same year to serve as an understudy and chorus member. When English bass Norman Allin was unavailable for the first-ever recording of Le nozze di Figaro, Tajo was called upon to sing Don Bartolo's La vendetta, an astonishing responsibility for so youthful a singer. His success led to his being engaged for the 1936 Edinburgh Festival.
During WWII, Tajo discharged his military duty as a grenadier guard in Rome, an assignment that afforded him time for the study of new roles and for performances at the Rome Opera. Among several important roles undertaken during that time was the Doctor in the first Italian performance of Wozzeck. Following the war's end, he sang at La Scala in L'amore dei Tre Re, Boris Godunov, Boito's Mefistofele, Gounod's Faust, Don Pasquale, L'Elisir d'amore, and Der Rosenkavalier. In Italy, he also appeared in several rarely performed works by Giordano, Wolf-Ferrari, and Pizzetti, as well as premiering works by Nono, Berio, and Malipiero.
Meanwhile, his American debut had taken place with the Chicago Opera when he sang Ramfis in a 1946 performance of Aida (he had also recorded the King with Serafin that same year in Rome). His Chicago Ramfis was described by the Tribune as "a high priest head and shoulders higher than his minions, with a voice rich in quality and full of operatic promise." Tajo's San Francisco debut came in 1948 when his Basilio and Leporello faced recollections of Baccaloni and still triumphed. Later that season, on December 28, Tajo made his Metropolitan Opera debut, winning strong approval for his Basilio and, a few days later, for his portrayal of Mozart's Figaro. As time passed, however, critics viewed with diminishing favor his overactive stage persona and a tendency to growl the music "from the side of his mouth" rather than focusing the voice in a conventional manner. Tajo's late performances in character roles were nonetheless ripely amusing and unfailingly memorable.