Obituary: Bruno Bartoletti, Italian conductor and Lyric Opera Chicago music director

James Jolly13th Jun 2013

The Florentine conductor Bruno Bartoletti, for many years the artistic  director of the Lyric Opera in Chicago, has died a day short of his 87th birthday. He rarely strayed from the opera-house, conducting virtually no symphonic concerts.

Bartoletti's clarinet-playing blacksmith father inspired a love of music in his son and he attended the Conservatory in Florence where he studied flute and piano – the latter leading to his role as a rehearsal pianist for the opera students. He then assisted a number of major conductors, including Mitropoulos, Gui and Serafin, before making his conducting debut in 1953 (Rigoletto at the Teatro Comunale in Florence). Three years later when Tullio Serafin had to cancel an engagement at Chicago's Lyric Opera, Bartoletti stepped in to conduct Il trovatore – the suggestion came from Tito Gobbi.

Bartoletti was named Lyric co-artistic director (with Pino Donati) in 1964 and took on the role of sole artistic director in 1975, staying at the opera house until 1995. During his time there he conducted nearly 600 performances, including much that fell outside the traditional Italian repertoire – music by Mussorgsky, Smetana, Prokofiev, Britten, Bartók, Berg and Janáček, and the work of American composers including William Bolcom who wrote three operas for the Lyric (McTeague, A View from the Bridge and A Wedding). He also conducted the world premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki's Paradise Lost in 1978. As the current music director of the Lyric, Sir Andrew Davis said in a statement, 'Not only did he establish and maintain the great Italian opera tradition which earned the company the nickname "La Scala West", but also he oversaw the broadening of the repertoire.'

Bartoletti also encouraged younger conductors, bringing Daniele Gatti and Riccardo Chailly to Chicago for their company debuts. and securing engagements for Leonard Slatkin, Dennis Russell Davies and George Manahan.

On record, he conducted a notable Decca set of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera with Tebaldi and Pavarotti, Manon Lescaut, with Caballé and Dimongo for EMI, and many DVDs including Macbeth (Parma), Giovanna d'Arco (Parma), Death in Venice (La Fenice), Tosca (a filmed version for DG with the music recorded with the New Philharmonia). 

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