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Boris Christoff’s Biography
Since childhood he showed his talent in the choir of Sofia Cathedral, studied law and graduated continuing his love for singing in choirs. Singing in the Gusla Chorus de Sofia, he achieved great success as a soloist.
His voice, particularly broad and melodious, earned him such admiration that, in 1942, the Bulgarian State offered him a scholarship to study singing and perfecting his art in Italy, with the legendary baritone Riccardo Stracciari. King Boris III of Bulgaria, impressed by his voice, advised him with a certain humor: “We have too many jurists in this country, but not enough singers!”
After acting in various recitals in Austria, in 1944 he was forced by the Nazis to enlist in their ranks; but, as Christoff refused, he was interned in a concentration camp. Arrival liberation and the end of the war, in 1945, made his debut at the Academy of St. Cecilia Roman in recital and in Reggio Calabria as Colline in La Bohème in 1946. It was conducted in 1949 at the Salzburg Festival by Herbert von Karajan , Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer.
Debts followed in La Scala (there singing in 1947 the Pimen de Borís Godunov), La Fenice (in Tristán and Isolda with Maria Callas directed by Tullio Serafin), Rome, in Florence (invespri siciliani with Maria Callas directed by Erich Kleiber), Covent Garden, Liceo de Barcelona (Boris Godunov, 1952), Naples (as Oroveso with Maria Caniglia), Verona (Lohengrin with Renata Tebaldi), Trieste, Massimo Theater in Palermo, Cagliari, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro ( Norma with Maria Callas, 1952), Bologna, Bern, Vicenza, Modena, Paris, Nice and the Colon Theater of Buenos Aires in 1956 as Boris Godunov and Mephistopheles.
In La Scala he sang, among others, a German Requiem (Brahms) with Victoria de los Ángeles, Faust with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Missa Solemnis, Bach’s C minor Mass, Verdi’s Requiem, Moisés de Rossini and all his gallery of great characters.
In 1956 he finally made his American debut at the San Francisco Opera after he was denied a visa in 1950 because he belonged to a country that belonged to the then Soviet bloc, ending his planned debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York ( he was replaced by the young Italian bass Cesare Siepi). He performed at the Lyric Opera in Chicago but never sang at the great New York theater where Rudolf Bing had wanted to inaugurate his managing director with Don Carlo with Christoff as Felipe II. He sang at Carnegie Hall and returned to Chicago in 1963 and Boston in 1966.
In 1958 he participated in the historical production of Don Carlo in London directed by Luchino Visconti with Gré Brouwenstijn, Fedora Barbieri, Jon Vickers and Tito Gobbi who was also his brother-in-law and with whom he had serious altercations. In 1962, he accompanied Sena Jurinac, Giulietta Simionato, Flaviano Labo, Eberhard Wächter and Hans Hotter as Filippo II in the Wiener Staatsoper.
In 1964 he underwent surgery for a brain tumor, resuming his career a year later. In 1967 he was allowed to enter Bulgaria for his mother’s funeral.
During the decade of the seventies, very diminished in capacity, he continued acting as Attila and Boris and in 1977 in Rome as Henry VIII in Anna Bolena de Donizetti with Leyla Gencer.
His performances were increasingly sporadic and his last appearance was at the Accademia di Bulgaria in Rome in 1986.
He died in Rome in 1993 and his body was veiled in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of Sofia receiving a funeral with state honors. He had not returned to sing in his country, the last performance had been in 1945.
More Facts about Boris Christoff
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