Bruno Bartoletti 1927-2013

Mon Jun 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Bruno Bartoletti. Photo: Victor Skrebneski, 1994

Bruno Bartoletti, the conductor who oversaw the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s ascent to one of the world’s leading houses died Sunday age 86, one day before what would have been his 87th birthday, after a brief undisclosed illness.

“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,” said Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, in a statement released by the company. “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 maestro Bartoletti in 1956 when Mason sang 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.”

The conductor made his American debut at Lyric Opera in 1956, conducting Verdi’s Il trovatore. Celebrated Italian baritone Tito Gobbi told Lyric’s founding general manager Carol Fox that she should hire the young conductor.

Bartoletti served as Lyric’s co-artistic director with Pino Donati from 1964 to 1974, serving as artistic director from 1975-1999. He 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.

The nearly quarter-century in which he served as artistic director at Lyric, was a remarkable historical period for singers, and Bartoletti worked with nearly every great artist of the time at Lyric Opera. An incomplete list includes sopranos Montserrat Caballé, Régine Crespin, Eileen Farrell, Mirella Freni, Anna Moffo, Margaret Price, Eleanor Steber, and Renata Tebaldi; mezzos 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, and Samuel Ramey.

While the conductor was acclaimed and most authoritative in the core Italian repertory of Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, which formed Lyric Opera’s foundation in its early decades, he also excelled in Slavic works such as Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Boris Godunov, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Bartoletti was also a committed advocate for offbeat and contemporary works. He led the world premiere of Penderecki’s Paradise Lost in 1978, as well as the Lyric Opera 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.

His wife Rosanna died in 2011. Bartoletti is survived by daughters Chiara and Maria, and by five grandchildren: Livia, Filippo,  Arianna, Margherita,  and Nicolò.

Posted in News

Leave a Comment