Nello Santi

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Nello Santi
Born(1931-09-22)22 September 1931
Adria (Veneto), Kingdom of Italy
Died6 February 2020(2020-02-06) (aged 88)
Zürich, Switzerland
EducationLiceo musicale of Padua
OccupationOpera conductor

Nello Santi (22 September 1931 – 6 February 2020) was an Italian conductor. He was associated with the Opernhaus Zürich for six decades,[1] and was a regular conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He was focused on Italian repertoire, especially operas by Verdi and Puccini, in a style following the tradition of Toscanini.[2] He made sound and video recordings of Italian operas, including in 1971 Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé and Sherrill Milnes, in 1976 Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re with Anna Moffo, Domingo and Pablo Elvira, in 2000 Verdi's I due Foscari, and in 2006 Donizetti's Don Pasquale in a Zürich production. Santi conducted from memory, and said "I love all of Verdi, but when he composed Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata he was in a profound state of grace."[3]


Interior of the Opernhaus Zürich, where Nello Santi worked for six decades

Santi was born on 22 September 1931 in Adria (Veneto), Kingdom of Italy, to Giovanni and Alfonsina (née Fonso) Santi.[2] His mother took him to an open-air performance of Verdi's Rigoletto[1] at age four, which made a lasting impression.[4] He learned to play several instruments as a child, and studied them further at the Liceo musicale of Padua.[4]

In 1951, he made his debut as a conductor at the Teatro Verdi in Padua, conducting Rigoletto. At the theatre, he also occasionally worked as a prompter, conductor of the chorus, accompanist of singers in concerts, substitute orchestra player and actor on stage.[2][4]

Santi was appointed music director of the Opernhaus Zürich in 1958, where he had first conducted Verdi's La forza del destino,[5] sung in German.[1] He married there in 1959.[2] He remained until 1969, and returned to conduct for decades, including rarities such as Verdi's Ernani, I Lombardi and I due Foscari, Rossini's Semiramide, Bellini's Il Pirata and Donizetti's Poliuto.[5]

As a guest, he conducted in 1960 at the Royal Opera House, at the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival.[5] He had a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1962 when he made his debut with Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. He conducted more than 400 performances at the house.[6] He conducted at many more opera houses all over the world including the Verona Arena.[5]

Santi followed the tradition of Arturo Toscanini, to stay close to the score, accompanying the singers without overpowering them, but restraining "excessive liberties" in embellishments and drawn out notes. Santi was able to sing "any Italian opera vocal role from memory while conducting".[2]

Santi retired to Riehen (canton Basel-Stadt), but still occasionally gave much-appreciated concerts in Basel and Zürich. He was often called "Papa Santi" by his fellow musicians to show their high respect for his work.[2] In 2017, he was invited to conduct La traviata at La Scala in Milan, with Anna Netrebko in the title role, and Verdi's Nabucco, with Leo Nucci performing the title role.[2]

Santi died in Zurich on 6 February 2020 at the age of 88 while undergoing treatment for a blood infection.[2]



  1. ^ a b c Hagmann, Peter (8 February 2020). "Nello Santi zum Gedenken". Opernhaus Zürich (in German). Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kandell, Jonathan (6 February 2020). "Nello Santi, Conductor With His Heart in Italian Opera, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  3. ^ Crutchfield, Will (10 March 1988). "Nello Santi, an Italian Maestro 'Discovered' at 56". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Geisseler, Dominic (26 February 2019). ""Pavarotti sorgte für den Wein, ich kümmerte mich ums Essen" / Der 87-jährige Stardirigent Nello Santi über Diven, junge Regisseure und Pop-Musik". Tagesanzeiger (in German). Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Zelger-Vogt, Marianne (6 February 2020). "Der letzte echte Maestro der Opernwelt: Nello Santi, der frühere Musikdirektor des Zürcher Opernhauses, ist tot". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Performancs with Nello Santi". Metropolitan Opera. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  7. ^ Fischer, Volkmar (8 October 2018). "Seidiges Timbre und schwebende Pianissimi / Das Beste von Montserrat Caballé". BR (in German). Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  8. ^ Boyden, Matthew; Kimberley, Nick (2002). L'amore dei tre re. The Rough Guide to Opera. Rough Guides. p. 385. ISBN 978-1-85-828749-2.
  9. ^ Schoell, William (2015). Discography. The Opera of the Twentieth Century: A Passionate Art in Transition. McFarland. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-47-660556-2.
  10. ^ "Giordano Andrea Chénier Benacková Santi". Deutsche Grammophon. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  11. ^ Lace, Ian (November 2003). "Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) / La Fanciulla del West". Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  12. ^ "Maria Chiara - Rossini - Guillaume Tell - Zürich - 1987". Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Verdi / I due Foscari". Naxos Records. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  14. ^ OCLC 981409803

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