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Nicolai Ghiaurov, 74; In 50-Year Career, Bulgarian Bass Performed at World's Greatest Opera Houses

June 03, 2004|From Associated Press

Bulgarian-born opera singer Nicolai Ghiaurov, one of the great basses of the post-World War II era who specialized in late 19th century works and did wonders with Russian roles, died Wednesday in central Italy. He was 74.

Ghiaurov suffered a fatal heart attack at a private clinic near his home in the town of Modena, said Dr. Pasquale Maglieri of the Hesperia Hospital clinic. The singer had been in the facility almost three weeks.

"With the passing of Nicolai Ghiaurov, the world of music has lost a giant," Placido Domingo, general director of Los Angeles Opera, said in a statement.

"He is a star that will shine forever," said Bulgarian opera diva Gena Dimitrova.

Born Sept. 13, 1929, in the small, mountainous town of Velingrad in southern Bulgaria, Ghiaurov studied singing at the Sofia Musical Academy and continued his studies in Moscow.

His career got off to an auspicious start when he won top prizes at festivals in Warsaw and Paris.

He returned to Bulgaria, where he made his debut at the Sofia National Opera as Don Basilio in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" in 1955. The same year, he was appointed a soloist at the Sofia Opera, but his sparkling international career was to take him farther afield.

He performed at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, the Vienna Staatsoper, the Paris Opera, Milan's La Scala, London's Covent Garden and New York's Metropolitan Opera, among others.

His finest roles included Mephistopheles in Gounod's "Faust"; Philip II in Verdi's "Don Carlos"; Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera of that name; and the title role in "Boris Godunov" by Mussorgsky.

Ghiaurov made his debut at the Met on Nov. 8, 1965, as Mephistopheles. He sang a total of 81 performances there in 10 roles, last appearing Oct. 26, 1996, as Sparafucile in Verdi's "Rigoletto." In March 1991, Ghiaurov and his wife, Italian soprano Mirella Freni, were given a gala performance along with Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus to honor their 25th anniversaries with the company.

In January, Ghiaurov was still singing, portraying Don Basilio at the Malibran theater in Venice -- the same role in which he had made his debut almost 50 years earlier in Sofia.

Ghiaurov is survived by his wife.

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