: Борис Христов) (May 18
– June 28
) was a Bulgarian opera
singer, one of the greatest basses
of the 20th century.
Christoff demonstrated early his singing talent and sang as a boy at the choir of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia
. In the late 1930s he graduated in law and started on a career as a magistrate. He, however, continued singing in his spare time in the Gusla Chorus in Sofia, achieving an enormous success as the chorus soloist in 1940. Thanks to a government grant, Christoff left in May 1942 for Italy
where he was tutored for two years in the core Italian bass repertoire by the great baritone of an earlier generation, Riccardo Stracciari
After several guest appearances and recitals in Austria
in 1944 and 1945, Christoff returned to Italy in December 1945. He made his operatic debut as Colline in La bohème
at Reggio Calabria
on March 12
. The following years Christoff appeared in a number of roles at Milan
's La Scala
's La Fenice
, the Rome Opera, Covent Garden
, the opera theatres in Naples
, Rio de Janeiro
In 1950 he was invited to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York but was refused entry into the USA as a result of the McCarran Immigration Act, which banned citizens of the Soviet bloc countries from entering the country. The role was instead filled by the young Italian basso, Cesare Siepi. After the restrictions were loosened, Christoff made an operatic debut in the United States in 1956 at the San Francisco Opera. He refused any further invitations to the Metropolitan and never appeared there. After a brief absence from the scene due to brain tumour surgery in 1964, Christoff resumed his career in 1965, though at a much slower pace. In 1967 he was allowed to return to Bulgaria for the first time since 1945, for the funeral of his mother.
In the 1970s Christoff on-stage performances were all but frequent. He brought his career to an end with a final concert at the Accademia di Bulgaria in Rome on June 22, 1986. He died in Rome in 1993 but his body was returned to Sofia's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, where he was given a state funeral.
Voice, repertoire, character
Christoff's vocal instrument was of excellent quality with a memorably distinctive tone. While not of huge proportions, his voice had no trouble making an impact in big auditoria such as that of the Met. Owing to his matchless stage presence and strong dramatic temperament, he emerged as a worthy heir to the grand tradition of Slavonic basses as exemplified by Fyodor Stravinsky
, Lev Sibiriakov
, Vladimir Kastorsky
, Feodor Chaliapin
, Alexander Kipnis
and Mark Reizen
, among others. He sang mostly in Verdi
and the Russian repertoire, although he also proved to be a refined performer of vocal chamber music. Among his most famous roles were those of Tsar Boris (Mussorgsky
- Boris Godunov
), Philip II
(Verdi - Don Carlo
), Ivan Susanin (Glinka
- A Life for the Tsar
), Zaccaria (Verdi - Nabucco
), Tsar Ivan (Rimsky-Korsakov
- Ivan the Terrible
), Dosifei (Mussorgsky - Khovanshchina
), Gomez da Silva (Verdi - Ernani
), Fiesco (Verdi - Simon Boccanegra
(Verdi - Attila
), Padre Guardiano (Verdi - La forza del destino
), Galitzky and Kontchak (Borodin
- Prince Igor
) and others.
Boris Christoff set modern-day standards in most roles that he sang in the opera house. He also had an enormous discography - studio recordings of eight operas (Don Carlo and Boris Godunov twice each) and numerous live recordings (radio or stage performances). He was much admired as song singer and he recorded more than 200 Russian songs by Mussorgsky (he was the first to record all his 63 songs), Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, Borodin, Cui, Balakirev as well as traditional songs. Most of these songs are with piano accompaniment and are among the best of all his recordings.
While he was a grand performer on stage, Christoff had difficult off-stage relations with fellow singers and producers, which sometimes grew into public scandals. In 1955 he fell out with Maria Callas during the performances of Medea at the Rome Opera and in 1961 his contract with La Scala was terminated after an open conflict with fellow Bulgarian Nicolai Ghiaurov whom Christoff blamed for collaborating with the Bulgarian communist regime.
He was the brother-in-law of the Italian baritone Tito Gobbi.