Alfredo Silipigni (April 9, 1931-March 25, 2006) was a conductor and specialist in lesser-known Italian operas who founded the New Jersey State Opera and ran it for four decades.
Alfredo Silipigni was born in Atlantic City on April 9, 1931, a son of Italian immigrants. He attended the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey and the Juilliard School. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at 25 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and went on to conduct at the Vienna State Opera and the English National Opera.
He was principal conductor and artistic director of the NJSOpera since its founding 39 years ago, guiding the company from an amateur venture to a respected professional company. Silipigni was known for his talent conducting verismo opera.
New Jersey State Opera conductor Alfredo Silipigni died on March 25 at the age of 74 in Livingston, New Jersey. His death was caused by complications of pneumonia. Silipigni is survived by his wife of 45 years, Gloria; daughters Marisa and Elizabeth Silipigni; son Alfred Silipigni; and two grandchildren.
Silipigni was born in Atlantic City and educated at the Juilliard School and Westminster Choir College of Rider University. He made his Carnegie Hall debut with the NBC Symphony Orchestra at 25; his international career included appearances with the Vienna State Opera, English National Opera, Teatrale L'Opera de Montreal, and Opera de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
Silipigni conducted Puccini’s Turandot for the NJSOpera's house debut at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Newark) in February and March 1998.
Plácido Domingo often requested Silipigni when singing verismo; one such occasion was the 1999 production of Giordano's Fedora in Mexico City, with Domingo as Ipanov. Other stars were also Silipigni fans, including Metropolitan Opera singers Licia Albanese and Jerome Hines, who often sang in his productions. Silipigni also worked with Birgit Nilsson (singing her last American Turandot), Franco Corelli, Carlo Bergonzi, Roberta Peters, Beverly Sills, Richard Tucker, and the verismo specialists Giuseppe Taddei and Magda Olivero. In October 2002, Silipigni conducted two performances of Verdi’s Aida in Shanghai with a cast of 1,500 and audiences of more than 50,000, according to the NJSOpera web site.
According to the Star Ledger, Silipigni's greatest legacy was convincing funders that New Jersey deserved an opera company of its own.
Mr. Silipigni, a dapper figure of old-world elegance with a pencil-thin mustache, manicured nails and ascot, was as meticulous with his productions as he was with his own appearance. Before conducting works like Leoncavallo's Zaza, Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and Verdi's Attila, he did painstaking research. For a production of Tosca six years ago, he matched the color of choir robes used in Rome in 1800.
Often, the works had not been heard in the United States for decades before Mr. Silipigni presented them, turning Newark, NJ where the company was based, into a destination for lovers of verismo and operatic obscurities.
In 1973 he took the New Jersey State Opera to New York's Carnegie Hall where he conducted the United State's premiere of a long forgotten Donizetti opera, Catarina Cornaro.
He also did things on a grand scale. In 2000, he conducted two performances of Aida before tens of thousands of people at a stadium in Shanghai, with a cast put at 3,000. among others.
In 1965, an amateur troupe, the Opera Theater of Westfield, NJ, asked him to take charge, and he set about turning it into a professional operation. Many singers with big reputations chose to sing with Mr. Silipigni and his modest company. Beverly Sills, Birgit Nilsson, Anna Moffo and Plácido Domingo were a few.
He also brought in exciting singers based in other parts of the world for rare American appearances, Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, the renowned verismo specilalist Magda Olivero, and dramatic tenor Nicola Martinucci among others.
Alfredo Silipigni died on March 3, 2006 in Livingston, N.J. He was 74 and lived in West Orange, N.J. The cause of death was complications of pneumonia, said Astera Argyris, a spokeswoman for the opera company. Mr. Silipigni is survived by his wife, Gloria; three children, Marisa, Elisabetta and Alfred; a brother, Richard; and two grandchildren.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2000, Mr. Silipigni said his goal at the start of his career was to make great music. Now, that just seems grand and pompous, he said. I conduct for myself. If it is not what consumes me, then it doesn't work for me.
- Wakin, Daniel J. "Alfredo Silipigni, 74, Who Founded an Opera Company, Dies", The New York Times, March 29, 2006. Accessed June 2, 2008. "Alfredo Silipigni, a conductor and specialist in lesser-known Italian operas who founded the New Jersey State Opera and ran it for four decades, died on Saturday in Livingston, N.J. He was 74 and lived in West Orange, N.J."