Lyric Opera of Chicago

Bruno Bartoletti, June 10, 1926–June 9, 2013


For Immediate Release:
June 9, 2013


Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Artistic Director Emeritus
June 10, 1926 – June 9, 2013


Bruno Bartoletti, the beloved Italian conductor who served as Lyric Opera of Chicago’s artistic director from 1975 to 1999, died in Florence, Italy, at 6:00 a.m. this morning, a day before what would have been his 87th birthday. He had been hospitalized for the past few weeks.

Bartoletti made his American debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1956 (two years after the company was founded), conducting Verdi’s Il trovatore. It was the renowned Italian baritone Tito Gobbi who told Lyric’s founding general manager Carol Fox that she should hire the young conductor.

Prior to being named artistic director, Bartoletti served as Lyric’s co-artistic director with Pino Donati from 1964 to 1974. Bartoletti conducted nearly 600 performances of 55 operas at Lyric between 1956 and 2007. Since 1999 he served the company in an advisory capacity as artistic director emeritus.

Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, said, “Bruno Bartoletti was a giant in Lyric's history, nurturing and developing the fledgling company when he first joined Lyric in 1956, and overseeing its artistic and musical growth. By the time he retired as artistic director in 1999, Lyric was recognized around the world as one of the great opera companies. He continued to actively enjoy the fruits of his achievements until 2007, when he conducted the company for the last time. Bruno’s contribution to Lyric was unique in its importance and longevity, and his death truly marks the end of an era.”

William Mason, Lyric’s general director emeritus, met Mo. Bartoletti in 1956 when Mason sang the solo role of the Shepherd Boy in Puccini’s Tosca. “Bruno was a mentor, colleague, and friend for more than 50 years,” said Mason. “He was passionate about opera and singing. Italian opera was in his blood – there was no better interpreter of Puccini. Yet he had a unique affinity for contemporary operas as well. He was a wonderful musician and human being, and he made a remarkable contribution to the musical life of Chicago.”

Said Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director, “I was saddened to hear today of the death of Bruno Bartoletti. When I took over the musical reins of Lyric Opera of Chicago from him in 2000 I was acutely aware of the extraordinary legacy which he had left; not only did he establish and maintain the great Italian opera tradition which earned the company the nickname of ‘La Scala West,’ but also he oversaw the broadening of the repertoire, carefully choosing the most appropriate maestri to balance his own work, which included a remarkable range of 20th-century operas and some exciting premieres. His impact on the musical life of Chicago and the American operatic scene was profound. He was also a most generous colleague to me and for that I will always remember him with the utmost gratitude and affection.”

Charlene Zimmerman, principal clarinetist of the Lyric Opera Orchestra since 1990, stated, “Maestro Bartoletti had a special reverence for music. He really taught that to the orchestra through any score he conducted, especially in the Italian repertoire. I can’t tell you in how many of those pieces I refer back to everything he taught us about the sound, the pacing, everything in the music. I remember that so strongly about him on the podium. Maestro Bartoletti hired a great many people in the orchestra. I feel his hires are the legacy of the Lyric orchestra.”

At Lyric Opera, in addition to his immensely authoritative interpretations of the Italian repertoire (including Verdi, Puccini, also the bel canto and verismo composers), Bartoletti conducted memorable performances of Slavic works such as Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Boris Godunov, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. He was instrumental in bringing many 20th-century works to the company, making an extraordinary impact leading the Lyric premieres of Berg’s Wozzeck, Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and The Gambler, Falla’s El Amor Brujo, Britten’s Billy Budd, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Janáček’s Katya Kabanova and The Makropulos Case, and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. He led the world premiere of Penderecki’s Paradise Lost in 1978.

Bartoletti collaborated at Lyric Opera with many of the greatest artists of our time, among them sopranos Martina Arroyo, Montserrat Caballé, Ileana Cotrubas, Régine Crespin, Eileen Farrell, Mirella Freni, Catherine Malfitano, Anna Moffo, Margaret Price, Eleanor Steber, Renata Tebaldi, and Anna Tomowa-Sintow; mezzo-sopranos Grace Bumbry, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Marilyn Horne; tenors Carlo Bergonzi, Jussi Björling, Mario Del Monaco, Giuseppe di Stefano, Plácido Domingo, Alfredo Kraus, Luciano Pavarotti, Léopold Simoneau, Richard Tucker, and Jon Vickers; baritones Ettore Bastianini, Renato Bruson, Piero Cappuccilli, Tito Gobbi, and Sherrill Milnes; and basses Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Jerome Hines, and Samuel Ramey.

Bartoletti’s huge repertoire includes world premieres by Berio, Dallapiccola, Dessau, Ginastera, Penderecki, and Pizzetti. He also revived such neglected works as Gluck’s Alceste (original Italian version, Parma); Verdi’s Alzira (Parma) and I due Foscari (Rome); Pizzetti’s Assassinio nella cattedrale (Turin); Hindemith’s Cardillac (Genoa); and Giordano’s La cena delle beffe (Bologna) and Madame Sans-Gêne (Catania, Zürich). His performance activities remained remarkably diverse even in the later years of his career, with performances of several works for Parma’s Verdi Festival; Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and War Requiem (both in Parma); Nino Rota’s Un cappello di paglia di Firenze (Genoa); Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage (Ancona); Katya Kabanova (Genoa); La bohème and Madama Butterfly (La Scala, the latter to celebrate the work’s 100th anniversary); Jenůfa (Genoa); and Dallapiccola’s Il prigioniero/Volo di notte (Florence). In 2008 he scored a triumph at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice leading Britten’s Death in Venice, a production of which Bartoletti was immensely proud.

Closely associated with Florence’s Teatro Comunale, Bartoletti also conducted at Covent Garden, Geneva’s Grand Théâtre, and Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colón. Among the conductor’s many studio recordings were La Gioconda (Caballé, Pavarotti), Manon Lescaut (Caballé, Domingo), Un ballo in maschera (Tebaldi, Pavarotti, Milnes), and Suor Angelica (Ricciarelli, Cossotto). He conducted many performances currently available on DVD, among them Death in Venice (Venice), La bohème (La Scala), Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco and Macbeth (both from Parma), Rossini’s La gazza ladra (Cologne), and television films of La sonnambula (Moffo) and Tosca (Kabaivanska, Domingo, Milnes).

Bartoletti held the rank of Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana, the highest honor the Italian government can bestow. A member of Rome’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia, he was also the recipient of the Italian music critics’ highly prestigious Abbiati Prize. He was born in Sesto Fiorentino, and was a lifelong resident of Florence.