Giulio Neri was born in Torrita di Siena on May 21, 1909. Since a very young age he performed during the ceremonies that were celebrated in his native small town; one day, during a marriage feast, he grabbed the attention of a local nobleman, Count Enrico Galeotti Ottieri della Ciaia who, amazed by that talent, decided to support his singing studies.
Thus begins the period of formation, during which Neri soon got to know him. In 1933 he won the competition of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and then continued his studies at the school of the Teatro Reale dell’Opera in Rome. He made his debut in 1935 as Baldassarre in Gaetano Donizetti’s La Favorita at the Politeama Giacomo Puccini in Castelfiorentino.
Three years later, in Rome, by playing the role of Fafner in Rheingold by Richard Wagner, he became first bass at Teatro dell’Opera.
In 1942 he debuted at La Scala in Milano, as Pistola, in Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi. After that his career progressed in the major italian and european theaters, from San Carlo in Napoli to Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, from Covent Garden in London to Liceu in Barcelona, from Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden to the Munich Opera House.
In 1945 was directed by Tullio Serafin in an epochal performance of Verdi’s Requiem Mass in the Cortile del Belvedere in Vatican City.
His fame reaches the international level with the participation in productions staged at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, in Rio de Janeiro, where he performs together with Beniamino Gigli, and at the Metropolitan of New York. Over the years he collaborated with important conductors, including Vittorio Gui, Sir John Barbirolli, Fernando Previtali, Carlo Maria Giulini, as well as with the most famous singers of his time.
He joined Maria Callas in 1952 in La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, in 1953 in Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, in January 1958 at the Opera di Roma in the performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma.
In La bohème, staged on 23 February 1958 at the Opera di Roma, alongside Giuseppe Di Stefano and Rosanna Carteri, Neri performed for the last time. He died on 21 April of the that year of the consequences of a heart disease, shortly after being called by Herbert von Karajan at the Salzburg Festival and having made arrangements for a record of Mosè in Egitto by Gioachino Rossini.
Roles played by Giulio Neri
Grazie alla sua voce, che per colore ed estensione si classifica come quella dell’ottavista o “basso profondo russo”, un registro che oltrepassa il Do1, Giulio
Thanks to his voice, which by color and extension ranks as that of the oktavist, a record that goes beyond the Do1, Giulio Neri was able to distinguish himself in the roles of serious and dramatic bass. However, throughout his career he played also some “basso buffo”parts.
In a repertoire of 65 operas, Neri has more frequently played Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito, as protagonist, La Favorita by Gaetano Donizetti in the role of Baldassarre and Don Sebastiano, again by Donizetti, in the role of Don Giovanni Da Silva.
The interpretation of some Verdi parts such as the Grande Inquisitore in Don Carlo; Sparafucile in Rigoletto; the mighty Ramfis in Aida is not to be forgotten. Furthermore, Neri played Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Iero in L’assedio di Corinto, Walter Fürst in Guglielmo Tell and Mosè in the homonymous opera.
In Wagner’s operas he was Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Fafner in Das Rheingold, Hunding, in repertory since 1938, and Wotan, entrusted to him in 1945 in Die Walküre, Hagen in Götterdämmerung, Re Enrico in Lohengrin, Re Marke in Tristan and Isolde.
He played Caronte in Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo; Gran Sacerdote in Gaspare Spontini’s La Vestale; Brander in Hector Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust; Mefistofele in Charles Gounod’s Faust; Končak in Aleksandr Borodin’s Prince Igor; Alvise in La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli; Dositeo in Chovanščina by Modest Musorgskij; Le Comte des Grieux in Manon by Jules Massenet; Il Cieco in Iris, by Pietro Mascagni; The Emperor in Igor’ Stravinsky’s Le rossignol; Kanva in Sakùntala by Franco Alfano; Caliban in La Tempesta by Felice Lattuada, Marco Valerio and Marco Orazio in Gli Orazi by Ennio Porrino; Il vescovo Urbano in Cecilia and Margherita’s father in Margherita da Cortona, by Licinio Refice; Nissen in Il Dibuk by Lodovico Rocca.
Since 1951 to 1956 he recorded versions of works by Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner, Boito, Ponchielli, Puccini and Mascagni.
During his career he appeared in several opera films: Sparafucile in Rigoletto (1946), directed by Carmine Gallone and conducted by Tullio Serafin; in 1953 he gave the voice to Antonio Cassinelli for the role of Ramfis, in the film transposition of Aida, played by Sophia Loren, voiced by Renata Tebaldi.
In 1955 he played Don Basilio in Figaro, barbiere di Siviglia, directed by Camillo Mastrocinque and conducted by Franco Ferrara and Jacques Rackmilovich.
In 1956 Neri played the part of himself in a scene from Mario Bonnard’s film Mi permette, Babbo! of which Alberto Sordi and Aldo Fabrizi are protagonists.
Internationally, there has always been a unanimous appreciation for the powerful voice of Giulio Neri, supported on the stage by an important presence.
Among the music critics, Rodolfo Celletti, commenting on a recording of La Favorita, praised Neri’s “the deep and marble voice” emphasizing the particular “effects” that could get; Giorgio Gualerzi defined it “a concentrate of bass” but also a voice “privileged for the width of the full and vigorous timbre, the suggestion of the dark and intense color, the homogeneity of the entire range”.
Still today we can remember the nickname “Bronzone” that Giulio Neri received from his friends for his tone, dark and vigorous since the young age, and the comment of a spectator among the audience of the Arena di Verona who, while Neri was singing in the Aida, exclaimed “Neri, the Arena is too small for you!”