Sinopoli was born in Venice, Italy, and later studied at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory in Venice under Ernesto Rubin de Cervin and at Darmstadt, including being mentored in composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen. He also obtained a degree in medicine from the University of Padua, and completed a dissertation on criminal anthropology.
Sinopoli began to make a name for himself as a composer of serial works, becoming professor of contemporary and electronic music at the Venice Conservatoire Benedetto Marcello in 1972, and a major proponent of the new movement in Venice for contemporary music. He studied conducting at the Vienna Academy of Music under Hans Swarowsky; and in Venice, founded the Bruno Maderna Ensemble in the 1970s. His single most famous composition is perhaps his opera Lou Salomé, which received its first production in Munich in 1981, with Karan Armstrong in the title role.
Sinopoli was appointed principal conductor of the Philharmonia in 1984, and served in this position until 1994, making a number of recordings with them, including music of Elgar and the complete symphonies of Mahler. He became principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden in 1992. He also joined the Bayreuth Festival's roster of conductors. He is best known for his intense and sometimes controversial interpretations of opera, especially works by Italian composers and Richard Strauss. Sinopoli specialized in late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century music, from Wagner and Verdi to Strauss, Mahler and the Second Viennese School. His conducting was the object of much controversy, especially in the symphonic genre, with some berating the "eccentricity" of his interpretations and even doubting his conducting abilities (in Norman Lebrecht's book The Maestro Myth Lebrecht interviewed many players who had performed under Sinopoli who insisted that as a conductor he was actually incompetent) while others praised the insightfulness of his often intellectual approach to works.
On 20 April 2001, Sinopoli died of a heart attack while conducting Giuseppe Verdi's Aida at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The performance was dedicated to the memory of the company's late chief director, Goetz Friedrich. Two nights later, Marcello Viotti stepped in to direct Aida, and dedicated his performance to Sinopoli's memory. The funeral in Rome on 23 April was attended by the Italian President and Prime Minister, as well as a large contingent from La Scala. He was survived by his wife Silvia and two sons.
His books include Masterpieces of Greek Ceramics from the Sinopoli Collection. He died two days before receiving his Laurea in Archeology at Università La Sapienza in Rome.
Giuseppe Sinopoli Festival 
Every October since 2005, Taormina Arte has dedicated a festival to Giuseppe Sinopoli, the artistic director of the Music section of the Taormina Festival from 1989 to 1997. The Giuseppe Sinopoli Festival celebrates the man not only as a musician and as a conductor but also as a composer, a doctor, an archaeologist and intellectual, with a variety of events from music and literature, theatre and art to conferences, exhibitions, publications and concerts. Every year the Festival welcomes important orchestras to Italy.
On the occasion of the first edition of the Giuseppe Sinopoli Festival the Sinopoli Chamber Orchestra was formed, in collaboration with the Conservatorio “Arcangelo Corelli” of Messina. The Orchestra, made up of young talented musicians, both pupils and teachers of the Conservatorio, mostly performs works by Giuseppe Sinopoli.
- David Nice (23 April 2001). "Obituary: Giuseppe Sinopoli". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- "Stick to your guns". The Guardian. 24 August 2001. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- Andrew Clements (21 December 2001). "Handle with care". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- Tim Ashley (30 November 2001). "Radical visions". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- Giuseppe Sinopoli interview by Bruce Duffie