Ezio Pinza (1892 – 1957) was nervous about convincing conductor Bruno Walter that he was the right choice to portray Don Giovanni in Walter’s upcoming production of Mozart’s opera at the Salzburg Festival in Vienna. Pinza was a basso after all, and Don Giovanni is a baritone. Walter had his doubts, also. When Pinza approached Walter’s home and rang the doorbell for his interview, the maid opened the door, then scurried back to tell Walter’s wife, “Ma’am, there’s such a beautiful man outside.” Walter knew he had his Don Ghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh1DOMePRWgiovanni.
Pinza was beautiful. Six foot one, broad chested and handsome, with a slim athletic figure and muscular legs, he was a dashing matinee idol on stage and a notorious womanizer in the dressing room. Those legs that looked so good on stage in tights were the legacy of a youth spent competing as a professional bicycle racer. He didn’t win much, but his lungs and legs certainly benefited from the exercise.
Born in Ravenna, Italy, his father was a superstitious man who, still undecided on a name for his new son, met a friend whose brother was a successful opera singer. “Call the boy Ezio (his brother’s name)”, the friend said, “And he’ll be a singer.” Ceasare Pinza recognized the hand of fate and named his son Ezio.
His father refused to allow 18 year old Ezio to sign a contract to race for a bicycle manufacturer and instead took him to Bologna to audition for a teacher. Musically uneducated (he never learned to sight- read music) Pinza was rejected initially, but was finally accepted and his teacher soon arranged for sponsors to pay his tuition, room, and board at the local music conservatory. But World War I had started and soon after Pinza made his operatic debut he was drafted into the Italian army. Emerging as a captain, he was married the day after his discharge and began his singing career.
Pinza sang in every major opera house around the world and starred for 22 seasons at the Metropolitan opera. He had a deep, resonant, bass voice but unlike many bassos, his voice was flexible and smooth and he had a commanding stage presence.
He referred to himself as a basso cantata, a “singing bass.” He could be thunderous and frightening or sing with the softest and most romantic of pianissimos. He was probably the only bass whose voice was deserving of comparison to Feodor Chaliapin.
And when it was all over and he had retired from opera, he emerged as a sex symbol Broadway star, playing the lead role of Emile in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific opposite Mary Martin. Pinza soon appeared in another Broadway hit, Fanny, several movies, sang on radio and TV and even had his own television show for two seasons.
Ezio Pinza died in his sleep at the age of 65.