Italian opera singer Carlo Bergonzi, considered a leading performer of Verdi’s work, has died aged 90.

During a career spanning 40 years, Bergonzi performed a string of stage roles, making his debut as a tenor at Milan’s La Scala in 1953. His voice was captured on numerous recordings, including one of every major Verdi operatic aria, which was made in 1976.

After his retirement, he continued to work as a teacher.

He also ran a Verdi singing competition and managed a hotel. He was regularly performing well into his 60s, and at the age of 75 undertook the demanding title role in Verdi’s Othello at New York’s Carnegie Hall, amongst a roster of stars including Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

But the role was too challenging and Bergonzi withdrew part way into the performance and was replaced by his understudy. Gramophone magazine praised the performer’s ‘power and longevity’ but added it was ‘never at the expense of a sweet legato line, near-perfect diction and beauty of sound’. His vocal prowess extended across a whole range of recorded operatic material, including La Boheme, Madame Butterfly and Lucia di Lammermoor.

However, he made his debut in 1948 as a baritone but soon came to realise that he was more suited to tenor roles. No recordings of his brief spell in that range exist. He was careful not to push his voice beyond its natural confines, which extended his performing career.

Bergonzi was the first to admit that his physique and stage presence were less than ideal for the operatic stage, telling the New York Times in 1981: ‘I know I don’t look like Rudolph Valentino.’ He added: ‘I know what a proper physique should be for the parts I sing, but I have tried to learn to act through the voice. The proper, pure expression of the line is the most important thing.’ During World War Two, Bergonzi was held in a Nazi prisoner of war camp for three years, and returned to resume his singing career which had begun as a youth in the church choir.