“…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.”
—Sir Andrew Davis
Bruno Bartoletti, longtime conductor and artistic director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, died Sunday in Florence, Italy, just one day before his 87th birthday.
Bartoletti first conducted at Lyric in 1956 at the age of 30; it was a fledgling company of two years when founder Carol Fox required a replacement conductor for Il Trovatore. Tito Gobbi suggested the little-known Italian conductor Bruno Bartoletti. Bartoletti’s stock rose quickly in Chicago; he became co-artistic director with Pino Donati in 1964, and went on to serve as the company’s first artistic director from 1975 to 1999.
“By the time he retired as artistic director in 1999, Lyric was recognized around the world as one of the great opera companies.”
—Anthony Freud, General Director of Lyric Opera of Chicago
From Bartoletti’s first Il Trovatore in 1956 to his farewell in 2007 (La Traviata), he conducted 55 operas—nearly 600 performances—at Lyric. Upon retiring in 1999, Bartoletti was named artistic director emeritus, and continued to serve the company in an advisory capacity.
“Bruno was a mentor, colleague, and friend for more than 50 years…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.”
—William Mason, Lyric’s general director emeritus, who first became acquainted with Bartoletti in 1956 while singing the role of the Shepherd Boy in Puccini’s Tosca
Bartoletti was a champion of modern music, bringing to Lyric the Chicago premieres of many of the most important operas of the past century including Berg’s Wozzeck, Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Falla’s El amor brujo and Shostakovich’s scandalized Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk District. At the same time, he remained an advocate for the operas of his native Italy where he continued to teach and mentor young musicians throughout his career.
“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.”
—Charlene Zimmerman, principal clarinet, Lyric Opera Orchestra
Bartoletti is survived by daughters Chiara and Maria, and by five grandchildren: Livia, Filippo, Arianna, Margherita, and Nicolò. His wife Rosanna died in 2011.