The cause was a heart attack, said his manager, Katherine Olsen.
Mr. Giordani had loved the opera since his youth, when he recalled weeping in the back rows of a modest local theater as the music washed over him, but he attended no conservatory and did not study music seriously until after he had begun a safe, dependable career at a bank.
Fueled by what he described as his sense of “rebellion and ambition,” he quit his job at 19 and set out for Milan to train as an opera singer. He credited his success in part to his father, a former prison guard who also loved the opera and provided financial and moral support.
“It was a scandal,” he told the Washington Times years later. “There was fear from everybody; they were against it, leaving a secure job with a good salary, pension, health insurance, to do this. They thought it was madness.”
After rising through European and American opera houses, Mr. Giordani became a mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He debuted with the company in 1993 as the besotted bumpkin Nemorino in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” in a concert staging of the opera in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and made his last performance at the Met in 2016 as the troubadour Manrico in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.”
The 240 performances in between — as well as his appearances opposite sopranos including Kiri Te Kanawa and Renée Fleming and in houses including Milan’s La Scala, the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires — established him as a premier tenor of his generation.
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Mr. Giordani lacked the popular name recognition of the Three Tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Jose Carreras — and his closer contemporaries Roberto Alagna and Rolando Villazón. But in an art form in which passions run as high in the audience as they do onstage, he thrilled operagoers with his high notes and ardent acting.
“Marcello Giordani sang like a god,” classical music critic Anne Midgette wrote in a New York Times review of his performance with the Opera Orchestra of New York in a concert staging of Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” at Carnegie Hall in 2002.
Mr. Giordani was best known for his command of bel canto operas, the later works of the Italian composers Verdi and Puccini, and French operas including Massenet’s “Manon” and Bizet’s “Carmen.” (He ventured into the Russian repertoire as Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” a role he performed at the Met in 2001 and 2002.)
The Met twice gave Mr. Giordani the honor of opening a new season at the house — first in 2006, when he sang the part of Pinkerton opposite Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” and again the next year when he was Edgardo to Natalie Dessay’s Lucia in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
In the former, wrote New York Times opera critic Anthony Tommasini, Mr. Giordani “looked a little beefy to play the dashing American Naval officer” but “sang with full-bodied Italianate passion; warm, rich tone; and clarion top notes”; in the latter, Tommasini observed, Mr. Giordani displayed “genuine Italianate style and an exciting, robust voice.”
Mr. Giordani was also known for his stamina. When other top tenors canceled performances, whether for ill health, personal conflict or in a temperamental outburst, opera companies called on Mr. Giordani to step in — ensuring not only that the show would go on, but that it would feature a star.
The Times reported that he once agreed to appear at the Met in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” with eight hours’ notice. In 2008, he appeared in a regularly scheduled matinee performance of Berlioz’s “La Damnation de Faust,” then returned that evening to fill in for a sick tenor in “Madama Butterfly.”
“Marcello Giordani is a wonderful artist,” Met General Manager Peter Gelb told the Times after those events, “but also the iron man of tenors.”
Mr. Giordani was born Marcello Guagliardo on Jan. 25, 1963, in Augusta, in eastern Sicily. He later took the stage name Giordani because Guagliardo proved difficult for non-Italian speakers to pronounce, his manager said.
Mr. Giordani scored his first musical coup in 1986, when he appeared at the Spoleto festival in Italy as the Duke in “Rigoletto.” He later sang at La Scala and then at regional opera houses across the United States, where he said he received an education in the dramatic elements of opera.
“I was lucky to start in this country,” he told the Times. “Theatrically I am self-taught. The Italians are not indulgent, as Americans are. They don’t have the patience to teach young singers how to move. They think you should learn in school.”
In the early 1990s, he suffered a vocal crisis that he attributed to his spotty early musical training. He entrusted himself to the vocal teacher Bill Schuman in New York, whom he credited with honing and ultimately preserving his voice for an extended career.
“I don’t feel embarrassed to talk about my vocal crisis,” Mr. Giordani once told the Newhouse News Service. “I think it’s important that young singers understand we are human beings, we can have our problems.”
Survivors include his Swiss-born wife, Wilma Ahrens, whom he married in 1990; two sons, Michele Guagliardo and Gerard Andre Guagliardo; and three brothers. His family resided in Augusta, where Mr. Giordani had a home, in addition to an apartment he kept in New York City.
“Sicily is a blessed land,” he remarked to the Times, commenting, perhaps obliquely, on the forces that led him to the opera. “First, because of its geographic position in the Mediterranean. Second, for its history and all the different peoples who have settled there: Arabs, Greeks, Normans, the Swedes. That has made us different from others. We exaggerate, we overdo. We love Greek tragedy. We cry, we fight, sometimes for nothing. We don’t have the middle of the line. We’re on the edge.”