VZ: I had my début in L’Elisir d’Amore with Gigli in 1950, in Cairo. I was 24, and he was 64 or something like that.
LC: He was 60.
VZ: Yes. And he had a very big belly, and at the end of the opera he had to embrace me, no? Because in L’Elisir d’Amore Nemorino embraces Adina. And Gigli said to me, “Cara mia, sai che cosa ci divide? Quaranta chili e quarant’anni! Senza quelli, ti potrei abbracciare molto piú facilmente!” [“My dear, do you know what separates us? Forty kilos and forty years! Without them, I could embrace you much more easily!”]
LC: Didn’t you also sing with Gino Bechi in Cairo? Was that at the same performance?
VZ: No. With Gigli I sang L’Elisir d’Amore, and with Gino Bechi that same year I sang Rigoletto and Traviata.
LC: I read that Bastianini – back when he was still a basso – sang Dr. Grenvil in a Traviata with you in Egypt. Was that, by any chance, the same Traviata performance?
VZ: Yes, that was in Cairo in 1950.
LC: Incredible! Gino Bechi and Ettore Bastianini on the same stage!
VZ: And the tenor was Annaloro.
VZ: Annaloro, Antonio Annaloro. A very great voice. But his career didn’t last. He was too débauché.
LC: Ah. So he was distracted.
VZ: But he was a very nice person.
LC: I read that you met King Farouk when you were in Cairo.
VZ: King Farouk came to see Traviata and also L’Elisir d’Amore. Then he sent gold medals to me, to Gigli, and to Bechi. -- I sang in Cairo two years, in ’50 and in ’51. Then in ’52 there was the revolution, and Farouk left.
LC: Isn’t there a story about a huge banquet that he threw? When was that?
VZ: In ’51 I sang for Farouk and his fiancée, Nariman Sadek. It was the most incredible meal that I ever saw in my life! And I couldn’t eat it because I had to sing.
VZ: It pains me even today to think about it!