Bruno Bartoletti Dies, Lyric Opera Director Established ‘La Scala West’ In Chicago

Bruno Bartoletti has died one day short of his 87th birthday. Italian music company Maggio Musicale Fiorentino informed the Associated Press that he died in a Florence, Italy hospital on Sunday after a long illness.

A wake and a funeral are already planned for Monday in the Florence suburb where the longtime musical director for Chicago’s Lyric Opera was born.

The beloved orchestra conductor spent more than half a century with the Lyric Opera, taking a fledgling organization and building it into one of the premiere opera houses of the world. He was well-known for championing modern as well as classic works.

Bruno Bartoletti was 30 when he started as a replacement conductor at the two-year-old Lyric. In the course of his career, he conducted over 600 performances of 55 operas. He also served as the artistic director from 1975 until 1999.

In addition to earning the nickname of “La Scala West” for the Chicago opera company, he conducted 13 productions at the original La Scala in Milan, Italy. He was also a repeated guest conductor at the famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Although he worked into his eighties and succeeded beyond his wildest dreams with his career in Chicago, he returned to Florence in 2007 to be near his remaining family. At that time he explained that he would no longer perform outside Italy.

Looking back over his career in that 2007 interview, he made a point to single out his support of modern pieces. “One of the things I am proudest of is the premiere in this city [Chicago] of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, which I think is the great masterpiece of the 20th century,” he said then.

His last performance is probably “Manon Lescaut,” which he conducted at a Florence theater in February 2011 at the age of 85.

Opera fans and colleagues will remember the impressive musical legacy of Bruno Bartoletti.

[Chicago Lyric Opera photo by Tony the Tiger via Wikimedia Commons]