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For many years, Leo Rizzetto worked as a court reporter by day. But by night, he transformed into Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,” or Joe in “Showboat,” or occasionally even Elvis Presley.

Rizzetto, a resident of Summit at Uptown, always enjoyed acting and singing, and he discovered a love of opera as a high school student.

He had a part-time job at Polk Brothers, the appliance store, which gave him a chance to listen to opera recordings while he worked.

“I heard it, and then I got really interested in it because I thought it was such great music,” he said. 

Rizzetto’s passion for music led him to a long association with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he performed many of his favorite roles, including “The Barber of Seville.”

A tenor, he also played piano and sang in the church choir at St. Paul of the Cross for three decades. 

The son of Italian immigrants, Rizzetto is fluent in Italian, which came in handy in the 1950s, when he helped as an interpreter for Italian singers who came to town to perform at the Chicago Opera.

He met such luminaries as Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, and acted as interpreter between the singers and their American hosts.

His all-time favorite role was the lead in “The Barber of Seville,” a part that came to him unexpectedly.

“I knew many of the roles, and they had something happen at the opera where the person [who] was supposed to sing one of the roles – it was a shorter role – did not show up. He was ill or whatever, and I substituted for it,” he recalled.

While music and theater have always been his passions, Rizzetto’s also a history buff who worked with the Park Ridge Historical Society for many years. In 1981, he was named chairman emeritus.

Rizzetto, whose wife, Lillian Mary, died in 2009, is 89 now. He moved to the Summit of Uptown four years ago after falling off a ladder and suffering a head injury.

“I thought that I would not survive this long, but I’m still alive,” he said.


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Donna Isbell Walker

About the Author: Donna Isbell Walker

Donna is a former newspaper feature writer and editor whose passion is writing about WWII and Korean War veterans.

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