5 August 2008

Nicola Rescigno, 92, Conductor and Co-Founder of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Dallas Opera, has Died

RESCIGNO
Nicola Rescigno
© Erika Davidson
NICOLA RESCIGNO
May 28, 1916, New York City - August 4, 2008, Viterbo, Italy

Italian-American conductor Nicola Rescigno, 92, who, in the 1950s, co-founded both Lyric Opera of Chicago and Dallas Opera, and conducted the American debuts of singers that included Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Teresa Berganza and Jon Vickers, has died.

Rescigno died in Viterbo, Italy, of heart failure while awaiting surgery for a broken leg suffered during a fall.

Born in New York City, Rescigno was privy to something of a musically charmed upbringing - his father was a trumpeter for the Metropolitan Opera orchestra for three decades - though it initially seemed he might venture a career in law. He was educated at an Italian boarding school, and went on to earn a law degree from Sapienza University in Rome. Upon his return to New York and his entrance into the Juilliard School, Rescigno studied with composers Ildebrando Pizzetti and Vittorio Giannini and conductor Giorgio Polacco. A inborn specialist in Italian repertoire, Rescigno made his conducting debut in 1943 with Alfredo Salmaggi's opera company, leading performances of La Traviata at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Following stints with the touring San Carlo Opera and other presenters in New York City and the Northeast, Rescigno made his San Francisco Opera debut during the 1950 season conducting Lily Pons in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Dorothy Kirsten in Madama Butterfly.

In 1954, Rescigno, Carol Fox and Lawrence V. Kelly founded The Lyric Theatre of Chicago, which would later become Lyric Opera of Chicago. Rescigno, appointed the opera company's inaugural artistic director and principal conductor, led the Lyric Theatre's "calling card" performances of Don Giovanni and went on to conduct twelve performances of seven operas during its first season, including the opening-night Norma that marked the American debut of Maria Callas.

Following a falling-out with Fox and the Lyric Theatre's board of directors, Rescigno and Kelly left the Chicago company and, in 1957, founded Dallas Opera. The new company's first season opened with a gala concert performance by Callas and was followed the next night by a performance of L'Italiana in Algeri, starring Giulietta Simionato, which also marked the United States stage debut of director Franco Zeffirelli. Serving as the company's artistic director and principal conductor, Rescigno remained with Dallas Opera for more than three decades. Following the 1974 death of Kelly, Rescigno operated for three years as Dallas Opera's general director, relinquishing the title - though remaining its artistic director - upon the appointment of Plato Karayanis.

In 1978, Rescigno made his Metropolitan Opera debut conducting John Dexter's new production of Don Pasquale, which starred the Norina of Beverly Sills and Nicolai Gedda's Ernesto. He would return to the company to lead more than sixty performances of Pasquale; L'Elisir d'Amore, including a telecast with Luciano Pavarotti; L'Italiana in Algeri; and La Traviata over a span of four seasons.

During his time at the helm of Dallas Opera, Rescigno conducted the American premieres of Handel's Alcina (starring Joan Sutherland) and Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso, which featured Marilyn Horne in what was the first staged performance of a Vivaldi opera in the United States. Rescigno also led the 1988 world premiere of Dominick Argento's The Aspern Papers, featuring Frederica von Stade and Elisabeth Söderström.

Rescigno returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1974 to conduct six performances of La Favorita, and again in 1976 to lead eight performances of La Cenerentola. In 1984, he returned to San Francisco Opera to conduct Frederica von Stade in performances of La Sonnambula; in 1986 he also led a concert by the company featuring Montserrat Caballé and Marilyn Horne.

Rescigno maintained a busy international conducting schedule, pacing performances at many of Italy's most important opera houses, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, the Glyndebourne Festival, Zürich Opernhaus and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

One of Callas's favorite collaborators, Rescigno recorded several albums of arias with the soprano for EMI during the '50s and '60s. He also conducted an album of Verdi arias with baritone Robert Weede; an album of excerpts from Francesca da Rimini, which featured Magda Olivero and Mario Del Monaco; a complete recording of Tosca with Mirella Freni; Lucia di Lammermoor with Edita Gruberova and Alfredo Kraus; and recital discs with sopranos June Anderson and Ruth Ann Swenson.

Rescigno is survived by his companion of four decades, Aldo Marcoaldi; his two sisters, Rita Pignatelli and Dolly Di Napoli; and ten nieces and nephews, including conductor Joseph Rescigno, artistic advisor and principal conductor of Milwaukee's Florentine Opera.

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