Obituary: Lorenzo Malfatti / Gifted baritone was former Chatham professor

Sept. 11, 1923 -- Nov. 23, 2007

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Opera singer and teacher Lorenzo Malfatti was a nationally renowned expert in Italian diction, but he could talk for days in English if the subject was opera or his students.

"We would go out to eat, and if he got started, he would talk and talk about how he had found a new talent," said Donald Corfield, who sang with Mr. Malfatti at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.

"He has been a wonderful counsel and a talent scout for young singers," said Jonathan Eaton, the artistic director of Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, of which Mr. Malfatti was a founding board member.

Among Mr. Malfatti's many students who later found success are composers Stephen Flaherty and Steven Mercurio and singers David Malis, Franc D'Ambrosio, Marie McLaughlin, David Daniels and Michael Maniaci.

Mr. Malfatti, of Dormont, died Friday at UPMC Presbyterian of cancer of the pancreas and liver. He was 84.

Mr. Malfatti was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Soho. His parents were immigrants from Lucca, Italy, and he remained connected to that city for the rest of his life. Gifted with a beautiful baritone voice, he sang in the Shadyside Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, although he remained a Catholic.

While serving in World War II as a 19-year-old in India and Burma, he often was called on to sing to the troops. One of these performances caught the ears of the famed soprano Lily Pons, who invited him to tour Asia with her and her husband, conductor Andre Kostelanetz.

The conductor then subsidized Mr. Mafatti's enrollment at the Juilliard School, at which he studied with baritones Mack Harrell and Giuseppe de Luca, among others. He made his professional debut in the United States at Tanglewood singing in "The Tender Land" by Aaron Copland, who he had met in Rome on a Fulbright Program scholarship.

Mr. Malfatti returned to Pittsburgh in 1956 as a faculty member of Chatham College, where he taught voice, diction and opera and conducted the Chatham College Choir. When he took the choir on tour in 1972, it was no accident that the tour began in Lucca.

He soon began spending summers there to teach American singers, and in the late 1960s he helped stage director Italo Tajo establish the Opera Barga Festival near Lucca. Mr. Malfatti also prepared leading singers for their debut performances at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and Covent Garden through the Accademia Vocale in Lucca.

In Pittsburgh, Mr. Malfatti soloed several times with the Pittsburgh Symphony under music director William Steinberg.

In 1975, he joined the Lyric Opera of Chicago as principal vocal coach for its apprentice program and in 1978 he joined the faculty of the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. He also judged many Met auditions throughout the country.

Mr. Malfatti served on the first board of Mildred Miller Posvar's Opera Theater in 1978.

"First time I ran into him, he was singing at a funeral," she said. "I heard this beautiful baritone and I said, 'Who is that?' and it was Larry."

Mr. Malfatti retired in 1985, returning to Pittsburgh and continuing to sing at Shadyside Presbyterian and in the Italian folk group I Campagnoli. But retirement hardly kept him still. He taught diction at the Pittsburgh Opera Center, founded the Opera Theatre and Music Festival of Lucca and gave master classes in recitative and Italian diction around the country.

"He was always coming from another city," said Pittsburgh soprano and voice teacher Claudia Pinza. "He was well respected and always tried to help young singers."

Mr. Malfatti also gave pro-bono lessons to shepherd a young singer along.

"He had the ability to recognize talent," said Mr. Corfield. "When he thought that someone had the ability he would take them under his wing." Mr. Malfatti was serious about singing, but certainly not a somber person.

"He had a great personality," said Mr. Eaton. "You'd be somewhere and he'd suddenly get up and start singing something in Italian."

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. today at Beinhauer Mortuary, Beechview, where a service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow. A service will be held at Shadyside Presbyterian Church at a date to be determined.

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at or 412-263-1750.


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