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Julián Gayarre was a world-famous lyric tenor considered one of the best tenors ever in opera. After triumphing in the major theatres throughout the world, he died in 1890 at the top of his career which caused great sorrow among opera enthusiasts.

Julián Gayarre was born in Roncal (Navarre) in 1844 to a humble shepherd family. After being a shepherd, shopkeeper and blacksmith, he was introduced to the world of music through the Pamplona Choir. He studied song in Madrid and Milan where he began a brilliant career culminating on 2 January 1876, when he interpreted his predilect opera, La Favorite, at the La Scala opera house in Milan, considered the most prestigious stage for song. The Roncal-born star saw great success before the most demanding audience that had ever listened to him. From that time on, his fame would only increase and was even considered the best tenor in the world during his time. He sang at the best theatres in Europe and America: Moscow, Vienna, Milan, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, Rome, Monte Carlo, Lisbon... triumphing in each city. He was the first to perform several operas by the periods best composers like Wagner and Donizetti. European royalty bowed down to his voice as he earned some of the most prestigious medals and awards. Those who habitually spent time with him, always highlighted his deep love for his birth village because Gayarre made it clear that he believed it was the most prestigious title he had. He died in Madrid on 2 January 1890. His body was transferred amongst popular fervour to the cemetery in the village of Roncal where it rests under an artistic mausoleum, the work of sculptor Mariano Benlliure.



A brief year-to-year biography of the life of Julián Gayarre is presented here from his birth to his death, reflecting his travels, performances, family events, etc.

  • 1844 (9 January)

    He was born in Roncal. The son of Mariano Gayarre Mainz and María Ramona Garjón Jandua. Paternal grandparents: Pedro Manuel Gayarre (from Garde) and María Fermina Mainz (from Roncal). Maternal grandparents: Antonio Garjón (from Roncal) and María Ramona Jandua (from Roncal).

  • 1857

    Finished his studies at the Roncal school and began working as a shepherd.

  • 1859

    Worked as a haberdashery clerk. Heard music for the first time ever in the capital of Navarre.

  • 1860

    Found work as a blacksmith in Lumbier.

  • 1862

    Moved to Pamplona.

  • 1863

    Found work in the Pinaki smithy.

  • 1865

    Joined the Pamplona Choir where he heard Kapellmeister Miguel Hilarión Eslava. That same year, he travelled to Madrid and earned a grant for the Conservatory.

  • 1866

    Studied in Madrid with Lázaro Maria Puig.

  • 1867

    Performed for the first time in public in Tudela.

  • 1868 (July)

    Received a singing award from the Conservatory of Madrid.

  • 1868 (September)

    The revolution began in Spain. Gayarre initially supported it; he was a liberal, and said to have been a member of the Republic Party. But, the truth is that one of the first reforms applied by the new revolutionary Government led to the deletion of pensioner spots at the Conservatory.

  • 1868 (November)

    His brother Ramón was married.

  • 1869 (February)

    Gayarre lost his study grant. Performed as a choir singer. Rejected by master composer Joaquín Gaztambide.

  • 1869 (March)

    Returned to Pamplona.

  • 1869 (April)

    A charity performance to pay for the costs of his trip to Italy to continue his music studies. The Foral Government of Navarre awarded him with a 6,000 Spanish reales grant.

  • 1869 (25 May)

    Arrived in Milan. Studied with master composer Gerli. Stopped using his first name (Sebastián) and was now only known as Julián.

  • 1869 (October)

    Signed a contract with the Varese Theatre as the lead tenor for the opera The Elixir of Love. He performed it for the first time on 5 October, the day of his mothers death. Just before entering the stage on the 21st to sing the romanza A Furtive Tear, he received a telegram with the news that his mother had died. It made him sing with deep emotion which helped him triumph. That was his first major success. That same year, he visited the Santa Maria la Nova church in Naples where another international Roncal native had been laid to rest, Pedro Navarro.

  • 1870 (January)

    Sang in Como and Pisa.

  • 1870 (September)

    He was introduced at the Teatro Carcano in Milan.

  • 1870 (November)

    Premiered Montis Graziella.

  • 1871 (April)

    Triumphed in Cremona with Victor Hugos Ruy Blas.

  • 1871 (August)

    His brother Ramón died at the age of 32 (the father of Fermina and Valentín).

  • 1871 (November)

    Premiered composer Antônio Carlos Gomess The Guarany in Rome. This opera was later removed from his repertoire due to a big argument Gayarre had with the writer.

  • 1872 (February)

    Sang Lucrezia Borgia for the first time.

  • 1872 (March)

    Performed in Seville.

  • 1872 (September)

    Made Tannhäuser succeed in Bologna.

  • 1872 (October)

    Sang The African Woman for the first time.

  • 1873 (April)

    Performed in Malaga.

  • 1873 (June)

    Sang La Favorite for the first time.

  • 1873 (October)

    Began his great season in Saint Petersburg.

  • 1873 (December)

    Sang in Moscow.

  • 1874 (April)

    Sang with Adelina Patti in Vienna.

  • 1874 (October)

    Inaugurated his second season in Russia.

  • 1875 (April)

    Performed for the second time in Vienna.

  • 1875 (18 October)

    His brother Victoriano, an Infantry lieutenant, died at the age of 34.

  • 1876 (January)

    Consecrated as the best tenor in the world after interpreting the opera La Favorite at La Scala in Milan.

  • 1876 (March)

    Premiered La Gioconda at La Scala.

  • 1876 (May)

    Debuted at the Colón Theatre in Buenos Aires.

  • 1876 (November)

    Another performance at La Scala in Milan.

  • 1877 (March)

    Performed the spring season at Londons Covent Garden.

  • 1877 (4 October)

    A sensational presentation in Madrids Royal Theatre with La Favorite.

  • 1877 (December)

    Mr Mariano Gayarre attended one of his sons many successes that Christmas in the Royal Theatre.

  • 1878 (April)

    Second season at Londons Covent Garden.

  • 1878 (October)

    Inaugurated the season at Madrids Royal Theatre with Rigoletto.

  • 1879 (April)

    Performed a third season at Londons Covent Garden.

  • 1879 (July)

    Built his new house in Roncal.

  • 1880 (May)

    Wagner congratulated him after hearing him interpret his opera Lohengrin.

  • 1880 (17 August)

    A musical performance in San Sebastian in the company of Pablo Sarasate and Juan Maria Guelbenzu to benefit the village of Jaurrieta which had been destroyed by fire a few weeks before.

  • 1880 (December)

    Sang Lucia di Lammermoor in Madrid with Adelina Patti.

  • 1881 (March)

    Premiered Lohengrin in Madrid. This performance was unique in that Gayarre was the first artist to perform in the Royal Theatre with electrical lighting.

  • 1881 (April)

    Sang Miguel Hilarión Eslavas El Miserere at the Cathedral of Seville.

  • 1881 (May)

    Again at Covent Garden.

  • 1881 (October)

    Introduced himself in Barcelona with La Favorite.

  • 1882 (January)

    Performances in Majorca and Valencia.

  • 1882 (February)

    Performed in Monte Carlo.

  • 1882 (March)

    Premiered The Duke of Alba in Rome.

  • 1882 (May)

    Performed in Valladolid.

  • 1882 (July)

    Attended the San Fermin festivals in Pamplona with Pablo Sarasate, among other music celebrities of the time.

  • 1882 (August)

    His father died.

  • 1882 (November)

    Introduced at Lisbons Sao Carlos National Theatre performing La Favorite.

  • 1883 (February)

    Fell deeply ill in Naples.

  • 1883 (October)

    Sang at the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza.

  • 1883 (November)

    Performed in Malaga.

  • 1883 (December)

    King Luis I of Portugal awarded him the Order of Saint James of the Sword.

  • 1884 (February)

    Introduced at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris performing Lucrezia Borgia. The newspaper Le Figaro held a party in his honour.

  • 1884 (May)

    Performed in Turin for the Italian General Expo.

  • 1884 (November)

    Began the season at the Liceo in Barcelona.

  • 1885 (March)

    Performed in Valencia.

  • 1885 (May)

    Performances in Seville and Cadiz.

  • 1885 (November)

    Again at Madrids Royal Theatre. The Government awarded him the Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic

  • 1886 (April)

    He was introduced at the Grand Opera of Paris performing the The African Woman in French.

  • 1886 (June)

    Performed at Londons Covent Garden.

  • 1886 (December)

    Queen Maria Cristina awarded him the Cross of the Spanish Order of Charles III.

  • 1887 (January)

    Premiered Goldmarks The Queen of Saba at Madrids Royal Theatre.

  • 1887 (May)

    Performances in Alicante and Barcelona.

  • 1887 (June)

    Sang in London for Queen Victorias Jubilee.

  • 1887 (July)

    Inaugurated the Basque pelota court he gave his birth village, Roncal. Began building schools in the same village.

  • 1887 (October)

    Re-appeared at Madrids Royal Theatre.

  • 1888 (January)

    Performances in Milan and Rome. The Italian Government named him a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy.

  • 1888 (June)

    Performed at regal functions at the Barcelona World Expo.

  • 1888 (October)

    Inaugurated the season at the Liceo in Barcelona singing The African Woman. During this season, he also interpreted Lucrezia, Lohengrin and Les Huguenots in the Catalan capital.

  • 1888 (December)

    Performed for the last time in Naples, at the San Carlo opera house, where he interpreted The African Woman, La Favorite and Lucrezia Borgia. Closed the season at Madrids Royal Theatre sharing stage with star Medea Borrelli.

  • 1889 (March)

    Again at Madrids Royal Theatre with The African Woman.

  • 1889 (April)

    Premiered Georges Bizets The Pearl Fishers at Madrids Royal Theatre.

  • 1889 (8 December)

    His final night with this opera. His voice broke right in the middle of the performance.

  • 1889 (23 December)

    Fell ill with bronchial pneumonia.

  • 1889 (26 December)

    The illness worsened.

  • 1890 (1 January)

    Received last rites.

  • 1890 (2 January)

    Took last breath at 4:25 a.m. His larynx was extracted.

  • 1890 (3 January)

    Incredible sorrow in the streets of Madrid.

  • 1890 (5 January)

    His body was laid to rest in the cemetery in Roncal.