Conductor  Bruno  Bartoletti

Three Conversations with Bruce Duffie


Bruno Bartoletti (Sesto Fiorentino, 10 June 1926 – Florence, 9 June 2013) was an Italian operatic conductor. His active international career lasted from 1953 to 2007, and he specialized in the Italian repertory and contemporary works. He was particularly noted for his 51-year association with Lyric Opera of Chicago, as co-artistic director, artistic director, principal conductor, and artistic director emeritus. He also served as Artistic Director of both the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma (1965–1973) and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (1985–1991), and as principal conductor of the Danish Royal Opera (1957–1960), in addition to frequent work as a guest conductor at various major opera houses.

Bartoletti's father, Umberto Bartoletti, was a blacksmith, who also played clarinet in a Florence band. As a youth, Bruno played the piccolo. A teacher in Florence recognized the young Bartoletti's talent in music, and her husband, the sculptor Antonio Berti, recommended him to the Cherubini Conservatory. There, he studied flute and piano. Bartoletti later played in the orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and subsequently became a staff pianist with the Teatro Comunale Florence, at its centre of vocal training. He was an assistant to such conductors as Artur Rodzinski, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Vittorio Gui and Tullio Serafin. In particular, Serafin encouraged Bartoletti to study conducting.

In December 1953, Bartoletti made his professional conducting debut at the Teatro Comunale with Rigoletto. In 1957, he became resident conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, where his work included conducting the Italian premiere of Shostakovich's The Nose. He made his US conducting debut with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1956, conducting Il trovatore, as a replacement for the indisposed Serafin. In 1964, General Director Carol Fox named Bartoletti co-artistic director of Lyric Opera, alongside Pino Donati, and served jointly with Donati until his death in 1975.  Bartoletti then became sole artistic director, and held the post until his retirement in 1999. Following his retirement, he had the title of artistic director emeritus for the remainder of his life. In all, at Lyric he led approximately 600 performances of 55 different operas.


Bartoletti focused almost exclusively on opera in his career, with few conducting engagements in symphonic work. He conducted several world premieres of works by composers such as Luciano Berio, Luigi Dallapiccola, Paul Dessau, Lodovico Rocca, Gian Francesco Malipiero, and Alberto Ginastera (Don Rodrigo, 1964).

The Italian government had bestowed on Bartoletti the rank of Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana. He was also a member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, and a winner of the Abbiati Prize. In his later years, Bartoletti taught at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.

It was my pleasure and privilege to meet with Bruno Bartoletti a number of times, and on three occasions (October 1981, February 1996, and November 1998) he allowed the tape recorder to eavesdrop.  Portions of these conversations were used several times on WNIB, Classical 97, and one section was posted on the Lyric Opera website during their 50th anniversary season celebrating their Jubilarians.  Now all three chats have been transcribed and are seen on this webpage.

Names which are links on this page refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  In addition to those, a full list of my guests during Bartolettis tenure with Lyric (including links to the chats which have been transcribed thus far) appears HERE.

In our first meeting, we discussed several topics, including the difficulties of bringing new operas to the stage . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You seem to have a special flair for contemporary opera.  What is it about twentieth-century works that fascinates you particularly?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Sherrill Milnes, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and John Del Carlo (Zuane).]

Bruno Bartoletti:   Because it’s the music of our time!  You must live with this music.  It’s impossible to ignore this music because it is important in our musical life and in our cultural life.  During the time of Verdi, or Wagner, or Bellini, the people was interested in contemporary music.

BD:   Then why are we, the public, not interested as much in contemporary music these days?

Bartoletti:   The public?  It’s true, and it’s wrong sometimes, because you can call Stravinsky and Schoenberg and Prokofiev contemporary music.  The public is very interested in this music.  What is wrong with this question is that you don’t perform enough of this music.  When we do the masterpieces of this contemporary music, the success is enormous.  When we did Wozzeck here for the first time, maybe the public was very afraid about it.  But they responded so well when we did The Angel of Fire by Prokofiev.  It was the same when we did Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók.  The success was enormous, and I don’t need to tell you how successful our Peter Grimes was.  However, we must do more.  We must perform more of that music.  It’s not easy music, but if you don’t perform it, the public won’t know it.

BD:   Do you feel that Peter Grimes, and Wozzeck, are of the same magnitude as Traviata and Tristan?

Bartoletti:   It’s very hard to say this.  You need time to respond on this question.  The public at that time of Verdi didn’t think Traviata was really a masterpiece.  We need time to understand the importance of each piece.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But it seems like it was such a short time, though.

Bartoletti:   Undoubtedly, in twenty or thirty years, Wozzeck and Peter Grimes will be in every theater’s repertoire.  The public will love them like Traviata or Rigoletto in this moment.

BD:   Lulu also?

Bartoletti:   Lulu also.  Why not?  Lulu is a very important masterpiece.  I saw the performance in Paris which included the third act.  As you know Berg didn’t finish it, and Friedrich Cerha completed the opera.  Maybe I still prefer it Lulu in two acts.

BD:   [Surprised]  Really???

Bartoletti:   Maybe.  I don’t know exactly.  You can see it’s not the same hand that has written the instrumentation.  I think Berg didn’t want to finish this opera.  It’s finished when he’s finished.

bartoletti BD:   If you were doing Lulu here in Chicago, would you do it in two acts, or would you include the third act?

Bartoletti:   No, we’ll do it with the third act, of course.  If we’re able to do this opera, we’d do it with the third act.

BD:   There seems to be such a wide disparity of styles from, say, Lulu to a work say by Thomas Pasatieri, or Menotti.  It seems there are two schools
the melodists and the atonalists.

Bartoletti:   We have many schools in modern music.  Also speaking about another important composer, Hindemith.  He’s a completely different school from the atonal school, or, as you call it, the melodic school like Menotti and Pasatieri.  Hindemith is completely apart from atonal and from melodic opera.  There are many different styles in modern music, also, Britten.

BD:   Were there that many different styles in the time of Verdi?

Bartoletti:   Of course, if you think of Wagner and Verdi at that time, and later, Puccini, or Debussy.  I don’t know if you consider Debussy of that era, but you must consider him in this century no doubt.  But there were many, many different styles.  Look what happened to German opera, or Russian opera.  They are different styles.  Also, technically they are different.

BD:   Are we, the public, lumping together too many things, too many styles in the nineteenth century, and calling them one style?

Bartoletti:   The public is too much concerned with it.  They like to come to the opera and see Rigoletto because they saw it twenty years ago, and they liked it.  They don’t like the adventure.  The management of the theater has to bring the public to the new things.

BD:   How do we educate the public besides bringing them in?  If you do a repertoire with seven operas, can two or three of them be things that the public doesn’t know?

Bartoletti:   Speaking only about our theater at this moment, we have a small repertoire.  Our season is only in the Fall, and we perform seven operas.  We also have a problem with the budget.  To produce a new opera is sometimes very expensive, because many times it must be a new production, which costs a lot.  But I’m not just speaking only about the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  I am speaking also for the European theater, which is a different organization, because the European theater gets money from the government.  It’s much easier to do modern opera that way than when you must raise to the money from the public.  When you get money from the government, you have much more freedom to perform contemporary music.  When you see the program from Florence, or La Scala, or Munich, you’ll see how many modern contemporary operas they do there.

BD:   Each season there will be several new works?

Bartoletti:   Yes, several new works.  I conducted many premieres in my life
Berio, Penderecki, Henze, Dallapiccola.   

BD:   Thinking of these operas for which you have conducted the world premieres, are there some that you don’t think are very good?

Bartoletti:   I think Paradise Lost is a very good opera, but also, I think the opera I conducted by Luciano Berio four years ago, which is named Opera, is great.  It was first performed at Santa Fe about ten years ago [1970, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies].  Then Berio reduced and refined the opera, and I did that premiere in Florence four years ago [1977].  It’s a beautiful opera by a great composer.  [See catalogue listing above-left.]  For me Luciano Berio is one of the greatest modern composers in our time.  There is no doubt about that for me.  I try to convince the people with my performance and with my talk, but I’m sure about this.  The libretto is very important, and I don’t think so far that Berio has gotten a very operatic and strong libretto.  Any time he can get a fine, strong libretto, he will be able to compose a beautiful opera, because he’s a great musician.

BD:   What about his librettos is not operatic?

Bartoletti:   It’s because they confuse the public.  In Opera, there are three different stories, and the public doesn’t easily get the sense or the dimension of this work.  The music is beautiful, but the libretto is unclear.  It needs a lot of explanation.  When it needs too much explanation, it’s not really right.  [Both laugh]  It confuses the audience, but, in any case, the music is really important and beautiful.  He is writing a new opera, and it will be performed at La Scala.  I don’t know the name of this opera... it’s a secret.  [This would be La vera storia.]  I’m very curious about this new experience and evolution.

As in many of Luciano Berio’s musical dramas, there is no real plot to La vera storia, but rather a series of events. Wolfgang Schreiber said of the première at the Milan Scala in 1982: “Berio’s theme is tension, and the violent conflict between individual and state or society, of people and power, of freedom and authority.” In order to convey this, Berio and Italo Calvino created a storyline which draws elements of its plot from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. More important than these elements of the plot, however, is the manner in which they are presented, which also draws on existing operatic models, including solo arias, duets, trios, chorales – archetypal operatic forms. Berio extends this musical vocabulary with the two “cantastorie”, who describe and comment on the events of the opera in six folk-like ballads (unforgettable Milva as ballad singer). As with many of his other music theatre works, in La vera storia Berio also attempts “to enhance our consciousness of the fact that we ourselves are the only ones who are able to fit a story as it is told into our own experience of the world.”

BD:   What special problems are there bringing new works to the stagea world premiere as opposed to, say, a new production of an old opera?

Bartoletti:   They have a different problem.  Sometimes the composer doesn’t finish on time for the performance.  This has happened to me several times.  The first was in Buenos Aires in 1964, when I conducted the world premiere of Don Rodrigo by Ginastera.  I got the piano score, which was unfinished, three months before the opening.  Then I got a part of an orchestral score when I got to Buenos Aires just one month before, and he was writing until the dress rehearsal.  He was helped by a fantastic musician who was also our assistant conductor, Antonio Tauriello.

Antonio Tauriello (b. 20 March 1931, died 20 April, 2011), Argentine composer, pianist, and conductor.  Born in Buenos Aires, he studied composition with Alberto Ginastera at the National Conservatory, and piano with Walter Gieseking in Tucumán.  A resident conductor with the opera and ballet at the Teatro Colón, he worked extensively in the United States as assistant director and conductor of the New York City Opera, the American Opera Theater at the Juilliard School of Music, and the Chicago Lyric Opera.

Tauriello was a member of the Agrupación Música Viva (AMV) in Buenos Aires, a group founded by Gerardo Gandini, Alcides Lanza, and Armando Krieger.  The AMV ensemble presented premieres of his works, and with it Tauriello conducted performances of contemporary music in Argentina and New York.  He also appeared as conductor at the Inter-American Music Festivals in Washington, D.C.  In 1968 his Piano Concerto was premiered there, a work in which Tauriello sought to explore freer relationships between the soloist and the orchestra, with the piano part existing as an independent entity.  Except for some synchronization cues, the pianist can choose the speed and pacing of musical phrases and the duration of individual notes.

Also, you know the story of Paradise Lost.  The last page came to us on the day of the dress rehearsal.  It was the ballet of Eve and the Creation.  When I did Opera by Berio, I was rehearsing with the orchestra, and I saw the librarian come with an enormous stack of papers.  He said that it was the new music Berio had sent.  It was to be performed during the second act, because he found that act too short.  Immediately I showed the orchestra the parts, but there was no time to learn this music.  This is what the problem often is.  It is also difficult to get the right cast.  I study the scores because generally for a modern opera, the position of gestation, the learning period, is very important, much more important than for Trovatore or Don Carlo, or L’Assedio di Corinto.  The position of the director in producing a modern opera is very important because it is always complicated.  What is seen is as important as what we hear.

bartoletti BD:   Are the new operas more dramatic?

Bartoletti:   Generally, they are more dramatic, especially the Viennese School [Berg, Schoenberg, Webern].

BD:   Who are the Italians who are of the same school?

Bartoletti:   The first one was my teacher, Luigi Dallapiccola [1904-1975].  He was the first Italian to write atonal music, twelve-tone music.  He was really devoted to this School, and he brought to Italy this new style, this new technique to the mainstream of music.  In this style he composed Il Prigioniero, Volo di Notte, and Job, and his last opera was performed for the first time in Berlin a few years ago, Ulisse.  [Ulisse is an opera in a prologue and two acts composed by Luigi Dallapiccola to his own libretto based on the legend of Ulysses. It premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin (in a German translation by Karl-Heinrich Kreith) on 29 September 1968 conducted by Lorin Maazel.  It was Dallapiccola
s last opera, and took eight years to compose.  As in his previous operas, his declared theme was "the struggle of man against some force much stronger than he".]  This is the master of atonalism in Italy, and he loved very much to write operas.  We have another one, a great composer in Italy who is the same age as Dallapiccola, Goffredo Petrassi [1904-2003], but his tendency is more for symphonic music.  [On his very first concert, Bartoletti would include a piece of his.]  He composed two operas, but they were really not successful.  Hes talented, but his talent isn’t for opera.  His talent is for great choral and symphonic music.  He is realty a Roman Catholic Baroque composer.  But now we have many people in Italy who compose, not really in the style of Berg, but post-Berg.  After that school you have Berio, Luigi Nono, Silvano Bussotti and many, many others.

BD:   Where does Pizzetti [1880-1968] fit in?  [He was part of the "Generation of 1880" along with Ottorino Respighi, Gian Francesco Malipiero, and Alfredo Casella. They were among the first Italian composers in some time whose primary contributions were not in opera.]

Bartoletti:   Pizzetti is a different case.  He’s very traditional composer.  He loves opera, and composed many operas.  [There are 16 completed works, including Assassinio nella cattedrale (Murder in the Cathedral), which premiered at La Scala in 1958 with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni and Leyla Gencer.]  For me personally, he’s a very important composer, really conservative and traditional but in a good way, because what he studied was very important.

BD:   [With mock horror]  Are you saying that being conservative is not bad???

Bartoletti:   [Laughs]  No, no!  But some think being conservative is bad.  It is one way to do music.  Normally the one way is to do atonal music or twelve-tone music, but in this moment, he is conservative.

BD:   In your role as Music Director of a theater, when you think about doing a contemporary work, what kinds of considerations enter your mind?  Do you think about maybe doing a conservative work?

Bartoletti:   We must look at general repertoire to have a balance between modern music and old music.  It’s impossible when you do only seven operas, to do three contemporary operas.

BD:   It should be possible to do one within seven?

Bartoletti:   One, yes.  One is always possible, and if we don’t do it, it’s our mistake.  You must, of course, do non-experimental music.  It’s not the place here to try experimental music.  Ours is a theater for masterpieces.  We did always masterpieces when it came to contemporary music.  Think of Wozzeck, Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, The Love of Three Oranges, The Fiery Angel.  These are contemporary music, but masterpieces and famous music.  For this theater, we have done non-experimental opera.

BD:   Should there be other theaters that do the experiments?

Bartoletti:   Yes, the University can do much more to create a public.  It’s impossible only for us to create that other public.  The public is not created only by one theater, but by many different associations, like the University, like the small theaters, like underground theaters.  But I don’t think Chicago has a very full life in this area.

BD:   We are more conservative?

Bartoletti:   Yes, really more conservative.  Also, the programs of the Chicago Symphony are not very adventurous with regard to modern music.  They play modern music, but they could play much more because they perform forty, or forty-five concerts every year.  The percentage there between contemporary music and traditional music is not well balanced.  [Remember, this first interview with Bartoletti took place in 1981, during the CSO tenure of Sir Georg Solti, who did some new scores, but not a lot.  Leonard Slatkin, one of the regular guest conductors of that era, often brought newer works.  Then, when Daniel Barenboim took over as Music Director in 1991, he shifted the balance significantly toward the twentieth-century.  It should also be remembered that in 1989 Ardis Krainik initiated a decade-long endeavor at Lyric entitled Toward the 21st Century, which presented two works each season
one from Europe and one from the United States, including three commissioned works.  Also, from 1984-97, Lyric engaged five composers-in-residence, each of whom created a world premiere opera on a smaller stage in Chicago.]

BD:   Some years ago, at Ravinia [the summer home of the Chicago Symphony], Seiji Ozawa was the Music Director, and he loaded up a lot of the programs with contemporary music, and people didn’t come.

Bartoletti:   This is the problem, but when you have a subscription series, like the ones here, the public will come because they bought tickets for all seven operas.  Like or dislike, they come, but when they come, they realize the new works are good.  The public sometimes is lazy and they don’t like adventure.  It’s comfortable to see La Traviata again, or Tristan
again, but not a new opera.  But if they stay home, they make a great mistake.

BD:   Would it be easier for you, as management of the theater, to sell a contemporary opera if it had Luciano Pavarotti or Nicolai Ghiaurov?

Bartoletti:   It’s a dream to have Pavarotti or Ghiaurov, but they don’t sing modern opera.

BD:   Why not?  [Note that in 1966, Plácido Domingo made his international breakthrough in the title role of Don Rodrigo at its US premiere with the New York City Opera, and the following year on tour to Los Angeles.]

Bartoletti:   Because their style is completely different.  They think only of the voice, which is okay!  We have very, very good singers for modern opera.  We don’t need Pavarotti or Ghiaurov or Mirella Freni for modern opera.

BD:   No, but you need Pavarotti, or Freni, or Ghiaurov to draw in the public.

Bartoletti:   Yes, but if you have seven operas on each of several subscriptions, you get the big-name singers, too.

BD:   What would you tell a student who wants to be a singer like Pavarotti, rather than a singer like, say, Cathy Berberian?

berberian Catherine Anahid "Cathy" Berberian (July 4, 1925 – March 6, 1983) was an American mezzo-soprano and composer based in Italy. She worked closely with many contemporary avant-garde music composers, including Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, John Cage, Henri Pousseur, Sylvano Bussotti, Darius Milhaud, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, and Igor Stravinsky. She also interpreted works by Claudio Monteverdi, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Kurt Weill, Philipp Zu Eulenburg and others.

As a recital curator, she presented several vocal genres in a classical context, including arrangements of songs by The Beatles, as well as folk songs from several countries and cultures. As a composer, she wrote Stripsody (1966), in which she exploits her vocal technique using comic book sounds (onomatopoeia), and Morsicat(h)y (1969), a composition for the keyboard (with the right hand only) based on Morse code.

From 1950 to 1964 Berberian was married to Luciano Berio, whom she met when they were students at the Milan Conservatory. They had one daughter, Cristina Berio, born in 1953. Berberian became Berio's muse and collaborator both during and after their marriage. Following her death, Berio composed Requies: in memoriam Cathy Berberian which premiered in Lausanne on March 26, 1984.

Bartoletti:   A man lucky enough to be born with a voice like Pavarotti, or like Ghiaurov, or like many others, thinks only of the voice, and develops the voice in that direction to do only music up through Giacomo Puccini, and then the repertoire is finished.  To sing modern music, you need a different quality
maybe not so much the beauty of the voice, but musicality, to be an actor.  I don’t say Pavarotti is not a great actor, but he does not sing in that repertoire.

bartoletti BD:   [Ever the optimist]  There must be some contemporary operas that are beautiful just to listen to... their melodic line and their harmonies...

Bartoletti:   [Slightly agitated]  Melodic line???  The melodic line of Puccini is different than the melodic line of Verdi.  The melodic line is different from Rossini and Bellini, because the beauty of the melody in Bellini’s Norma is not the same beauty of Verdi.  Verdi is more dramatic, but the line is less beautiful.  It is ugly.

BD:   What about the cantilena?  [
Cantilena refers to a musical passage in a smooth, lyrical style]

Bartoletti:   The cantilena of Verdi is different.  What do you think about the melodic line of Alban Berg?  If you think about first act of Wozzeck, there is such a beautiful melody when Maria sings the beautiful [sings her tune].  The melodies of Prokofiev are fantastic, but they are different melodies.  Also,
Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy.

BD:   I’m trying to draw a line from Monteverdi through Bellini and Donizetti, to Verdi and Puccini, to who?

Bartoletti:   Who???  Alban Berg!  That is very easy to say.  It’s true! 

BD:   But it seems to be a farther jump from Puccini to Berg, than from Verdi to Puccini.

Bartoletti:   Yes, many people think this.  For me, it’s not the same.  The jump is not enormous, no.  It’s not a world record jump from Puccini to Berg.

BD:   But it seems like we need something in between, something to bridge the gap more than just Debussy.

Bartoletti:   Yes.  The revolution that passed from tonality to atonality was shocking for the people, but it only took a few years.  The difference was not so great.

BD:   Where do electronics fit into opera?  Electronic music?

Bartoletti:   I’m not interested in electronic music.

BD:   Not at all?

Bartoletti:   It’s not my cup of tea.  I understand the people who want it, and I also understand myself with no interest in this electronic music.  Maybe I am wrong.  I like to be wrong!  But in this, I don’t have any interest in the electronic music.

BD:   You’ve experienced it and then don’t like it?

Bartoletti:   No, I don’t like it.  What I’ve heard, I don’t like.  You can use it for a few moments to have some effect, but to do an opera electronically, my God!  This is so anti-musical for me.

BD:   What about commercial recordings?  How have they changed the theater?

Bartoletti:   They have changed it a lot.  The diffusion that music has gone through on recordings, to tape, to the radio.  The public likes to be well-informed.  When I was very young, it was quite impossible to find good records.  I remember when I saw the first issue in Italy of a Second Symphony of Mahler on 78s... my God!

BD:   Too many discs!

Bartoletti:   The set was enormous!  Now you go into the store and get this Mahler symphony on two records.

BD:   Or on one tape.

Bartoletti:   Or one little tape.

BD:   But how has this changed performing in the theater, and the approach to the theater by the public?  I know that I’m asking very difficult questions...

Bartoletti:   No, I don’t think it’s difficult.  The public generally likes to hear a record two or three or four times before going to the opera.  It’s good instruction.  They’re good, but the public may realize that the opera can be heard only in the theater.  The real house to make theater is the theatre.  To make opera is the theater, not to stay at home and listen to a record.  This is artificial.  But the real life of the theater, the opera, is only in the theater
what is happening that night.  The record is always the same, and the opera is always different because it is made by human beings who change every night.  It may be a little bit or a great deal, but there’s change.  If you are religious, it’s different to go to the Mass on a Sunday in a real church, rather than hear the Mass on the television.  It’s not the same.  It’s the ritual that is different, because to go to the theater you must dress up, you must prepare yourself, you must talk with the people and make comments during the intermission.  It doesn’t happen at home.  It's not really live on the record.  It’s useful, but it’s not the way to hear music.  The way to hear music is go to the concert and go to the opera.

BD:   Let me pursue this idea of having to converse at the intermission.  What do you say to the businessman who goes to the opera, enjoys the first act and then goes out between the acts, and talks with another business man about stocks and bonds, or about something else?

Bartoletti:   I don’t think it’s the right way to go to the theater.  When you go to the theater, you must be involved with this opera for the acts and for the intermission.  Three hours is not too much to ask.  You must forget your business in the intermission and during the opera.  Talk about singers, or the music, or the conductor.  This is very important.  You need to be totally involved for three hours.  We don’t ask very much for three hours every two weeks during the season.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask you about early opera.  Is there more of an affinity, a closeness, between Berg and Monteverdi, rather than between Berg and Verdi and Puccini?

Bartoletti:   This is a difficult question, but I don’t think there is any relationship between Berg and Monteverdi and the early opera.

BD:   What is the place in the modern theater of the works of Monteverdi and Handel, etc?   Would they be done, and if so, should they be done a lot, or just a little?

Bartoletti:   It is important to do these Baroque operas, especially Handel or Monteverdi.  The problem always is that you have a very large theater here, for 3,600 people.  The theater now is very big, very large, and at that time, the opera was performed with few instruments, and only a few choristers.  Ideally for performing these operas, you need a small theater.  To reproduce their sound, it’s impossible with all these instruments and the way we play them now.  You can do it with modern instruments and modern singers, of course, but they don’t know much about the style or the vocal problems of that time.  Who knows in any case?  At that time there were no records and no tapes.  It can only be studied in a book.  So, to reproduce exactly the sound of the singer or the orchestra is quite impossible.

bartoletti BD:   We have to guess.

Bartoletti:   Yes, guess, but in any case, our theater, and many of our theaters are too big to perform these operas.  You need something like our Civic Theater.  [The Civic Theater was a 900-seat gem adjacent to the main stage of the Opera House.  Unfortunately, it had to be destroyed during the renovation of the backstage area in the mid-1990s.  Established in 1974, the Opera School of Chicago (later the Ryan Center) produced a few works there by Cimarosa and Britten and others.]

BD:   If you were given an ideal situation, where you could run opera in the large theater and in the small theater all year around...

Bartoletti:   [Enthusiastically]  Yes, that would be fantastic to play not only Monteverdi or Handel, but opera buffa.

BD:   Cimarosa or Paisiello?

Bartoletti:   Certainly.  It’s impossible to put Cimarosa and Paisiello or Pergolesi in the larger theater.  In this repertoire, the instruments needed to play would be ludicrous.

BD:   Would that kind of small opera work better on television than a large opera?

Bartoletti:   It depends on the stage, and the director of the television.  I have seen beautiful performances of large operas on television when they had the right stage director, and I have seen awful performances of opera buffa, especially on Italian TV.  They were very badly performed.  It depends generally on the performer, but the stage director is the most important person for television, not the conductor.  For the conductor, it is the same on television or in the theater.  For television, what I did is similar to conducting for a record.  I did Tosca, for instance, with Plácido Domingo, Riana Kabaivanska, and Sherrill Milnes [shown at left].  My job was to make the tape in London with the orchestra, like a record.  I didn’t see anything of the show.  They did that later, and generally videos like the Fidelio or Salome are the same.  The conductor does a tape first, and then it is played back while the singers act.  Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is not very good.  Sometimes the mouth is not going exactly with the sound.

BD:   Do you think that the television is a viable addition, not something that should be in place of the theater but something that should go with it?

Bartoletti:   In addition, yes.  Not in place of, but an addition to develop.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve watched many singers grow and develop.  You have had the privilege of watching and working with artists such as Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi.  Perhaps an indelicate question, but are there artists today of that caliber?

Bartoletti:   [Laughs]  Ha!  To answer this question, I think of all the singers we have today.  We have a few great singers now, but I don’t like to compare them with Tebaldi or Callas.  We have great singers now like Monserrat Caballé, like Mirella Freni, like Luciano Pavarotti, like Nicolai Ghiaurov.

BD:   Are singers today in general as good, better, or worse than singers twenty, thirty, forty years ago?

Bartoletti:   For me, they are better.

BD:   Why?

Bartoletti:   They have more presence on stage, they are better actors, and are better musically.  They are more precise.

BD:   Is this because the public demands it?

Bartoletti:   Yes, the public demands it!  Also, the public demands to see actors on stage, not only singers.  The habit of the public is that they see television, they see theater, they see movies, and when they go to the opera, they want the performers to not only stand and sing, but also act.  There are some great singers and actors at this moment in time.  I am not a pessimist.  Maybe we do not have a miracle like Callas, but we have many, many big stars.  I am optimistic.

BD:   Let’s pursue that.  Where is opera going today?

Bartoletti:   I don’t know.  At some moments I cry, and at some moments I believe in the opera.  For the opera to survive in the theater, we need composers, composers, and more composers.  We are now living with the operas of the past, and always of the past.  They are leaving out contemporary opera.  Verdi was performed every season in every theater in Italy, just like Donizetti, and they were contemporary at that time.  Now we are living on the capital of another century, and to have really a living opera, we need a composer who writes an opera every month, not one opera every five years.

BD:   How can you convince a composer to work on a piece for only four or five weeks?

Bartoletti:   [Laughs]  Well, I don’t say five weeks, because now it’s difficult to simply notate the score.  In the last century, there were twenty notes on one page.  Now we have a hundred thousand notes on one page.  Also, the material is difficult to write.  I don’t commission anybody to compose an opera in five weeks.  This is impossible, but for a very good composer to compose one opera every year would be possible.  However, it is necessary that they see their works performed.  If you ask everybody if you can have a new opera every year, fifty composers will write an opera.  We must commission an opera for the next season and the next season.  If we don’t do this, we will have no composers writing for the theater.

bartoletti BD:   What advice would you give to a composer who is writing a score?  If I, as a composer come and said, “Maestro, I have a libretto and I want to write the music,” what advice would you give me?

Bartoletti:   To write an opera for the public and not for the colleagues, or for the critics.

BD:   Did Alban Berg think of the public?

Bartoletti:   I think so.  He wanted a difficult opera, but it was for the public, I’m sure.  Britten encountered the public.  Prokofiev always.  Stravinsky always.

BD:   Was Berg thinking of the public of 1925, or was he thinking of the public of 1985?

Bartoletti:   Maybe the public in 1985.  In any case, it was for the public.

BD:   What if I write something very difficult, and say, “This is for the public of 2020?”

Bartoletti:   Okay, in any case it’s the public, for the people.  The music must go to the people.

BD:   I’m looking for an answer that may be impossible.  Why is it so difficult?

Bartoletti:   My theory is because the theater doesn’t pay the composer for the season.  The old impresario commissioned Rossini for an opera for next season in Naples, the next season in Rome, and the next season at La Scala.  This is business.  It’s only my theory, but the music must also be business.  It was a business at that time, and the composer wrote operas like today they write series for the television.  We need to perform them, and now we don’t perform anything.

BD:   Have you done some composing?

Bartoletti:   [Emphatically]  No!  No, no, no, no, luckily no.  It’s too difficult for me.  I must spend much more time to study these new operas.  To study an opera like Paradise Lost is not as easy as studying The Barber of Seville was 150 years ago.

BD:   But you’ve spent a lifetime studying the style of The Barber of Seville, and you’ve only spent a few weeks before the premiere studying the pages of Paradise Lost.

Bartoletti:   Yes.

BD:   If you did Paradise Lost again this year, would it be better than it was two years ago?

Bartoletti:   Of course!  It must be better!  If it’s the same, it’s wrong.  It always must be better, or in any case different, because the interpretation is live.  We don’t change the ideas, but we develop the ideas.  Every time you approach a score, it must be like new, not routine.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You mentioned before about the Lyric being a place to only do masterpieces.

Bartoletti:   Yes, for contemporary music.

BD:   What about the lesser works of Verdi, and Meyerbeer, etc.?

Bartoletti:   We did a lot of minor operas by Verdi.

BD:   Sure, I Due Foscari...

bartoletti Bartoletti:   We did I Due Foscari, and I think all Verdi deserves to be performed, as he was such a genius.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Even Oberto and Alzira?

Bartoletti:   [Smiles]  Well, I don’t like AlziraI Due Foscari is much better, Attila is much better, Ernani is an important opera, and Macbeth, especially in the usual version.

BD:   I’m glad you mentioned versions.  In your role as Music Director and as a conductor, you have to decide which version you’re going to use of Macbeth, and of Boris, and other works.  What do you think about when you’re presented with an opera with two, or three, or four versions?

Bartoletti:   In the case of Macbeth, and also Simon Boccanegra, without a doubt there is only the second version, the definitive version.

BD:   Is there any value to doing the first version of either of those?

Bartoletti:   You can do it just for curiosity, but when Verdi changed it himself, he recognized it was not as well done the first time.  The second version is really the only version we can use in the theater.  There’s a different case with Boris Godunov or Khovanschina.

BD:   No, because you have other hands working on it.  Now that we have the
original version of Boris, is there any point in doing the Rimsky-Korsakoff version?

Bartoletti:   No, now we get it the right way.  If you do Boris now, you must do the original... [laughs] if you call
this version the ‘original version’.  The instrumentation is by Mussorgsky himself.

BD:   Is it always true that when composer revises his work, is it better the second time?

Bartoletti:   I don’t know if it is always better, but in the case of Verdi’s two operas, Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra, without doubt, they are much better.  They are definitely the right versions.

BD:   So, there should be one recording of the old version just for reference?

Bartoletti:   Yes, a recording just for curiosity, but not to perform it in the 
theater.  Actually, not only for curiosity, but to know the score, and to see the difference to show the work Verdi did to improve his ideas.  [This point is brought up again in the box (below) dealing with Cardillac.]

BD:   Should a young composer today listen to the original Boccanegra and then the second version to see the differences?

Bartoletti:   Not just the composer, but the Musical Director, too, and to explain to the public how and why he changed it.

BD:   What about for the performer?  Is it of value for the singer to know about the development?

Bartoletti:   I don’t think it’s very important.  They sing Simon Boccanegra in this second version.

BD:   And they shouldn’t worry about the other one?

Bartoletti:   No, no, absolutely not.  No, I’m sure.

BD:   Do you find that singers are able to respond to conductors and directors today more than they did twenty or forty years ago?

Bartoletti:   Yes, because the director and the conductor are more important at this moment, and impose more the general ideas of the interpretation.

BD:   Who’s the most important
the singer, the conductor, the composer, the producer?

bartoletti Bartoletti:   All of them together are most important.

BD:   [Gently pressing the point]  But if there’s a disagreement, someone must have the final say.

Bartoletti:   The conductor.  He is the man of the music.  [Both laugh]  The opera is the music.  The final word comes from the conductor, no doubt.

BD:   When you’re conducting a performance, how much give and take can you have on that night?  How much elasticity is there?  [Vis-à-vis the DVD shown at left, see my interview with Ileana Cotrubas.]

Bartoletti:   The conductor must be very severe during the rehearsals.  I want the rehearsals to be perfect, but I will give some freedom during the performance.

BD:   During a performance, do you watch if a singer takes a little larger breath, and then holds the note?

Bartoletti:   Of course, of course!  [Both laugh]  As I told you before, 
theater is live, and every singer is different from another, like a violinist or pianist is different from another.  The conductor should agree with the performer.  The idea remains the same, but the particular song can change.  This is the interpretation.

BD:   What about works of unknown composers, such as Lortzing, or Marschner, or Meyerbeer?  Should these be done, or are they really more localized to the region where they were premiered?

Bartoletti:   We have hundreds of these composers.  What happened to Saverio Mercadante?  During his time, Mercadante was probably as important as Verdi, but he is not popular anymore for some reason.  He was important at that moment, but not universal.  Salieri was very important.  Some figures, like Verdi, like Wagner, like Puccini, like Bach, go through the centuries, but the majority remain important only for that moment.  That’s the difference.  A journalist and a novelist write, but the journalist is for one or two or three days, but Dostoevsky remains for the future.

BD:   What about the fashions that come and go?

Bartoletti:   We are now reviving these composers.  Sometimes it happens that there is a revival, but that also happened with Verdi operas.  For a time, there was Otello, La Traviata, Trovatore, Masked Ball and Aïda, and that was all.  Now the revival is so important, because the 
theaters are lazy sometimes.  Trovatore is liked by the public, but they don’t get to see Simon Boccanegra.  Then finally some intelligent people re-discover Simon and it immediately became popular.  But some revivals are only for the scholars.  Composers like Mercadante or Spontini are not really very popular.

BD:   [With a grin]  La Vestale should not be done every year???

Bartoletti:   [Laughs]  I don’t think so, but that’s only my judgment.  Maybe I’m wrong...

BD:   Do you think that maybe in twenty, or forty, or sixty years we’ll have a revival of the operas of Milhaud or Hindemith?

Bartoletti:   It would be possible.  I believe in Hindemith.

BD:   Cardillac is a fine piece.  Could the Lyric do it?

Cardillac, Op. 39, is an opera by Paul Hindemith in three acts and four scenes. The first performance was at the Staatsoper, Dresden, on 9 November 1926. It was promptly performed throughout Germany. The opera's Italian premiere took place in 1948 at the Venice Biennale as part of the Venice Festival of Contemporary Music XI. The American premiere took place at the Santa Fe Opera in 1967 using a staging by director Bodo Igesz.

Hindemith revised both the score and the text because the musical idiom "seemed crude and undisciplined". This second version was first performed at the Zurich Stadttheater on 20 June 1952. Both versions were published, but after 1953, Hindemith sanctioned only the 1952 revised version for theatrical performances. However, after the composer's death in 1963, the original version became available again for production. There are 4 recordings currently on the market, and each uses the original 1926 version.

Bartoletti:   Yes, easily, but we come back to the same problem of only doing seven operas.  Last year, it was five operas!

BD:   Yes, but what about the Met, or at La Scala, where they have twenty or thirty or forty operas?

Bartoletti:   La Scala played Cardillac three years ago!  Next year they will play Berio, and they play Luigi Nono.  Last year they did Stockhausen.  Every year they play one or two or three modern pieces.

BD:   But the Met doesn’t?

Bartoletti:   The Met, no.  It’s a very conservative 

BD:   Is America conservative, or is it the 
theater that’s conservative?

Bartoletti:   I think it’s the mentality of the 
theater that is conservative.

BD:   Do you think with James Levine there now it’s going to broaden a little bit?

Bartoletti:   I hope so.  I think so.  James Levine is a good conductor, a very fine conductor.  He’s young, and he loves modern music.  He must do something for the modern composer at the Met.

BD:   What about giving a commission?

Bartoletti:   Why not?  We did a commission of Penderecki.  Maybe some years from now we will do a commission from a young American composer.

BD:   When you give a commission, what do you tell the composer?

Bartoletti:   It is impossible to say, “We want this opera.”  You can discuss it, but some composers say no, it’s not their idea.  They want to compose this opera with this libretto and this area.  Penderecki likes the religious ritual, and Berio composes very differently.  You can’t impose on Berio to write Paradise Lost.

BD:   He wouldn’t do it?

Bartoletti:   No.

BD:   What about Stockhausen?  He’s writing his Days of the Week cycle.  It’s going to be a cycle of seven operas.

Bartoletti:   Oh, my God!

BD:   I think Thursday is done...

Bartoletti:   Yes, Donnerstag (Thursday) was performed at La Scala last year.  It’s a very long opera.  I didn’t see it, but I think it was successful.  It’s very long.  It’s very important and I think a little boring...

Karlheinz Stockhausen (22 August 1928 – 5 December 2007) was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, for introducing controlled chance (aleatory techniques or aleatoric musical techniques) into serial composition, and for musical spatialization.

Licht (Light), subtitled "Die sieben Tage der Woche" (The Seven Days of the Week), is a cycle of seven operas composed between 1977 and 2003. The composer described the work as an "eternal spiral" because "there is neither end nor beginning to the week." Licht consists of 29 hours of music.

Donnerstag aus Licht (Thursday from Light) is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting, three acts, and a farewell, and was the first of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche (Light: The Seven Days of the Week). It was written between 1977 and 1980, with a libretto by the composer. Its second act, Michaels Reise um die Erde (Michael's Journey Around the Earth), has been performed and recorded individually.

Donnerstag was given its staged premiere on 15 March 1981 by the La Scala Opera in the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, but without the third act, which had to be omitted due to a strike by the opera chorus of La Scala. They had demanded soloists' bonuses because of one brief passage in act 3, and had been turned down by the management. Further performances without the third act followed on 18, 21, 24, and 27 March. An agreement was finally reached and the complete opera was finally performed on 3 April, with two further performances on 5 and 7 April. Péter Eötvös conducted, and played the Hammond organ in act 3, scene 2. Stockhausen was the sound projectionist.

Donnerstag is scored for 14 performers (3 voices, 8 instrumentalists, 3 dancers) plus a choir, an orchestra, and tapes. In the larger context of Licht, Thursday is Michael's day. Thursday's exoteric (primary) colour is bright blue, and its esoteric (secondary) colours are purple and violet. Thursday is also the day of plants.

On 19 December 1981, Donnerstag was awarded the Premio Critica Musicale F. Abbiati for "best new work of contemporary music".


BD:   What if Lyric were to go to Stockhausen and ask for an opera.  Would Tuesday be something that Lyric could accept, or would it be better for Lyric to go to Pasatieri or some other tonal American?

Bartoletti:   No, you ask much at this moment!  [Both laugh]  I’m speaking for myself now.  It’s my personal taste.  The business of opera sometimes must be different from my idea.

BD:   How much do the financial obligations of a 
theater dictate the artistic decisions, or is that an impossible question to ask?

Bartoletti:   Very much!  This is not impossible, but the balance between the financial necessities and the artistic desires must be very precise.  If you’re not precise with the financial realities, it is impossible to do a season.  You lose money, of course, in every season.  The 
theater is always in this situation.  It is patronized, but you must spend the money of these people carefully.

bartoletti BD:   If you’re producing a new opera with a certain cast, and it’s a failure, is it possible that that opera would have been a success with a different cast?

Bartoletti:   Of course.  It’s happened many times in the history of the opera.  La Traviata at La Fenice, Venice, was unsuccessful because the soprano wasn’t very good.  It didn’t show to the public the art of this opera, and then when they changed  the cast, the opera was successful.

BD:   Are contemporary composers, whose operas are failures, getting the same opportunity to be reheard that Verdi got?

Bartoletti:   Yes!

BD:   [Surprised]  Really???  I
ve often been told by composers that it’s not too hard to get a first performance, but it’s harder to get a second performance.

Bartoletti:   Many composers get the first, the second and the third.  The good composers get many performances, for example Stravinsky and The Rakes Progress.  Pelléas still is an unpopular opera, but it’s getting many, many performances.  The Fiery Angel, Wozzeck, and Lulu are popular in every 
theater in Europe.  Generally, when you don’t get the second performance, it means it’s not a beautiful opera, or not important, or not an interesting opera.

BD:   I assume it
s difficult to work with new scores and new ideas, and bring them to the public.  I’m very glad we have conductors like you, who put forth all that special effort.

Bartoletti:   [With a big smile]  Not only in Chicago, but I did a lot in Europe.  I did the first European performance of The Nose.  This is a fantastic opera, only it’s very difficult.  The cast for this opera, my God, is a mess with forty-five people on stage, thirty of whom are very important, and fifteen in the supporting cast.  It is very difficult to stage this opera.  I did it in Florence and at La Scala with the famous stage actor Eduardo De Fillipo  He was fantastic.  He was also in Chicago twice to stage Don Pasquale.

BD:   Should the contemporary composers find new librettos, or should they go to the old masters?

Bartoletti:   It depends.  Both ways are good.  You can do it like Paradise Lost, or go to a new libretto, a new story.  I like new stories which are more contemporary now to debate our modern problems.  They can deal with psychological and philosophical problems.  Traviata was completely new.  At that time it was modern.

BD:   It seems that there are not as many comic operas coming today.

Bartoletti:   Ha yes, it is not the time for comic operas.  Only Henze wrote a comic opera, The Young Lord.  Maybe our feelings are not comic these days.  It’s tragic always because our time is really tragic.  Once you are involved in this political and philosophical situation, you have no heart to compose a comic opera.

BD:   I would think it would be just the opposite, that in heavy times you would want a comic opera, and in light times you would seek out heavy subjects.

Bartoletti:   [Laughs]  That’s a strange idea you have!  You see what happens today with Anwar Sadat.  My God, it’s terrible. What a really terrible time!

BD:   If someone came to you with the project to write an opera on the life of Anwar Sadat, would you try and push it through and produce it?

Bartoletti:   Yes, why not?  He was a great man.  He worked a lot for peace in the world, and you see what happened.  It’s a terrible political situation.

BD:   Are artists in danger the same way that politicians are?

Bartoletti:   No, I don’t think so.  The people love Pavarotti.

BD:   Everyone?

Bartoletti:   Maybe not everyone, but ninety-nine percent do.

BD:   What about the publicity surrounding Pavarotti?  He’s always appearing on television and in commercials.  Is it too much?

Bartoletti:   It’s up to him.  I don’t agree with it, personally.  I don’t do it myself because I’m not a tenor, but he likes it and gets enormous publicity, especially in America.

BD:   I’m wondering at what point it becomes too much.

Bartoletti:   Who knows that point?  It must be indicated only for what is good taste.  Where the good taste finishes and the bad taste starts, who knows?  The future will tell us.

BD:   A hundred years from now they will be able to do that?

Bartoletti:   No, maybe five years.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Bartoletti:   I’m glad to do it.

Almost fifteen years later, we met again in February of 1996 . . . . .

BD:   You’ve been associated with the resident opera company in Chicago now for forty years.  Have you been pleased or dismayed with the twists and turns that have happened in Chicago opera?

Bartoletti:   [He noted that it would not be officially forty years until October!]  I must be pleased because being here after forty years means I like very, very much to stay in this 
theater, in this city.  What I like very, very much is they improve with it in this theater.  I remember well, when I came here to replace Tullio Serafin, who got sick.  It was on very short notice.  I was conducting on the radio in Torino a very unpopular opera, but one I liked at that time very much, and also now, Ariane et Barbe-Bleue by Dukas.  I got a telephone call from my agent from Rome, asking me if it would be possible to go to Chicago to conduct four operas.  I asked which operas, but they didn’t tell us.  I had to go to Florence to get the visa at the American Consulate, the fly immediately to the performance in Torino, and then fly immediately to Midway Airport in Chicago.  When I arrived, I was told the operas would be Trovatore, Traviata, Bohème, and Tosca.  There were eight performances, two performances each of these masterpieces.  Now, you see the progress, the improvement.  We do nine or ten performances for each opera.  I like to be here just because we work so peacefully in this theater.

BD:   Is this a tribute to the company, or is it a tribute to the Chicago public, or both?

Bartoletti:   Both, of course!  The Chicago company without the public is impossible.  The public without the Lyric Opera also is impossible, and I praise them both. 

BD:   You mentioned that you were asked and conduct, and yet you did not know which operas.  Is it really the responsibility of the conductor to be able to go and conduct an opera, no matter what the opera is?

Bartoletti:   No, but in that case yes, because I was so young and so willing to come to Chicago.  I accepted in any case.  I was hoping for opera I knew [laughs] but frankly, for an Italian conductor, even a young Italian conductor, you must know La Bohème, Tosca, La Traviata, and Il Trovatore.  It is part of our memory, part of any age.  They must know them.  I was so young, but not that young.  But the first important 
theater for me was really Chicago.

BD:   Would you have accepted if your operas had included, say, Vittorio Giannini’s The Harvest?  [That opera would have its world premiere at Lyric in 1961, conducted by the composer.]

Bartoletti:   No, that would have been impossible.  They didn’t ask me to come to do The Harvest because they knew I didn’t know what happens!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Now are you sitting in the chair of the Music Director.  Is it part of your responsibility to make sure you engage the right conductor for the right opera?

Bartoletti:   Yes.

BD:   How do you know it’s the right conductor for the right opera?

Bartoletti:   We have friends who give advice.  We do, of course, know the operas we perform, and we know much of the full panorama of the conductors, but we make mistakes.  It’s part of our job to make mistakes, but I try to choose the right person for each opera, and generally we do, as you know.  If you remember, in 1974, a conductor was engaged for Butterfly, and at the last moment, he said no, he can’t come.  He is sick and he doesn’t like the opera.  I asked how he couldn’t like the opera.  It’s Butterfly!  It’s not a new opera!  Well, not long before that, I was in Siena at the school which was run by the most famous conductor and teacher at that time, Franco Ferrara.  [Among the many students of Franco Ferrara (Palermo, 4 July 1911 – Florence, 6 September 1985) are various prominent conductors, including Riccardo Chailly, Andrew Davis and Riccardo Muti.]
 At the school, there was a very young conductor, who was only twenty years old at that time, and I thought that I must write to this guy because I trust in him.  I saw his great talent, and asked him to come, and so Riccardo Chailly made his American debut here in Chicago.  He’s had a great career.  Another young conductor who came here, again to do Butterfly [1991-92], was Daniele Gatti.  He had a good success, and now he’s everywhere.  Butterfly must be good luck for an Italian conductor.

BD:   Do you now have young conductors saying, “Can I do Butterfly for you?”

Bartoletti:   Not yet!  [Both laugh]  Now it would be dangerous.

BD:   These conductors, Chailly and Gatti, both have a symphonic and an operatic career.  You’ve spent most of your time in the opera house, but not so much in the symphony.

Bartoletti:   It’s true now, but it was not true at the beginning.  Then, I did much, much more symphonic music than opera.  I remember when I was very young and I did my first opera, but my debut in music was a concert.  You remember always the first program and the first concert.  My program was
Pulcinella by Stravinsky, and a beautiful piece, Coro di morti by the modern composer Goffredo Petrassi in the first part.  Then in the second part was the First Symphony of Shostakovich.  Also, at La Scala I did Tartiniana Seconda of Dallapiccola, and Bartóks Music for Strings and Percussion.  I love the world of the opera, but I know the music was all the same, the symphonic or the opera.  Also, I like to stay in one theater and work for two or three weeks and get to know to people.  When you do only concerts, you stay three or four days for the rehearsals of three concerts, and then you go home.  You never take time to talk face-to-face to people in the orchestra.  I like to work with the people, the orchestra or the chorus.  I like to start from the beginning of an opera with the stage director, rather than just to arrive at the first performance.  But even though now my world is the opera, I still love concerts.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   Tell me the joys and sorrows, if any, of working with human voices.

Bartoletti:   [Sighs]  I tell you the joy.  The joy is to work with the great stars.  In that first season, I worked with Renata Tebaldi, Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini, Jussi Björling.  I was in fear because I was so young, and just to work with these great, very famous singers was a joy because you get the best.  Another joy is when you discover new people.  Maybe that’s the best joy, because when you have an audition, you hear this soprano, or this tenor, or you go to the Opera Center just to hear these people coming up.  Then you decide this lady would be wonderful for this opera, or this man would be good for that opera.  When you realize they are doing very well, and you are right, that’s really a joy of a conductor or an Artistic Director.  The sorrow is when you are wrong!  [Both laugh]  Sometimes it happens.  Maybe you choose the right person, but they can be disappointing during the rehearsal.  Sometimes it’s sorrow when you get a famous singer but they are not doing well anymore.  But I must tell you, in my career I get more joy than sorrow from the singers.

BD:   Is it really good to engage a singer two, or three, or four years ahead?

Bartoletti:   Now you must do it this way, but I don’t think it’s good.  Every 
theater, or the most important theaters, make a program three, or four, or five years in advance.  You must follow this because, if not, you don’t find anybody.  Sometimes you engage a tenor or a soprano now four years ahead.  What happens in four years’ time?  Maybe the singer is growing up and would be better, but maybe the voice has completely disappeared, or is no longer any good.  It’s a risk.  The risk is indispensable in this job now.  When I began in Chicago, I remember exactly.  I had nothing to do with the organization of this theater.  I was only a guest conductor, and I was sitting many times at the Italian Village Restaurant, alone, or with some friends, or my wife.  I saw the administrators arrive with Giulietta Simionato, or Renata Tebaldi, or Tito Gobbi, and they would ask them what they would like to do next season.  [The photo at left was taken later in the 1950s, when Bartoletti was invited to be at their table!]  If you do this now, you don’t get anybody.  It’s the risk.  It’s there, but you must accept the risk.
BD:   Does that put too much pressure on the singer to know that in four years they must be in top shape to sing that opera in this city on that date?

Bartoletti:   That is part of the job of being a singer.  They know!  Now this is part of the business.

BD:   In opera, how much is business and how much is art?

Bartoletti:   [With a grin]  This is a very mean question.  I can figure it out a little bit.  [Thinks a moment]  Sixty percent is music, twenty-five percent is business, and fifteen percent is a risk!

BD:   You listen to voices all the time.  What do you listen for in a young voice?

Bartoletti:   In young people, I try not to judge in the audition for that moment.  I try to imagine how be this voice would be in one year.  This is the most difficult thing to do, because it’s easy to say, “No, not yet.  You must do this.  No, no, no!”  But the most important thing to know is that they are not ready, but in one year if they do this, this, and this, they’ll be a singer good enough for our 
theater, for La Scala, for Rome.  You must be able to look ahead.  Sometimes you say he’s too young, but in one year he’ll be one year older, and in two years he’ll be two years older.  You must see the future of these people.  This is not easy, my dear friend, it’s not easy.

BD:   Can you gaze into your crystal ball?

Bartoletti:   No, I don’t need a crystal ball.  I only need to listen to the voice.  They also need to have musicality.  You don’t judge only the voice.  You judge also the phrasing, the solfeggio, the memory, everything.  The voice is one part of the job of the singer.  Maybe it’s the most important part, but it
s just one part.  They have other parts.

BD:   Now you’re dealing with this 
theater here in Chicago.  You’ve also dealt with other theaters?

bartoletti Bartoletti:   In Rome I was Principal Conductor for seven years, and I was Artistic Director and Principal Conductor in Florence.

Is there a major difference in repertoire, in casting, in ideas of presenting opera from Italy to Chicago?

Bartoletti:   Let’s speak about Florence, which has three seasons.  One is the normal operatic season in the fall, one is a concert season in the winter, and one is the May Festival.  Everybody knows the Festival, and of course, when you do a program for a festival, it’s different from a season like Chicago, or like La Scala, or like the Metropolitan.  A festival must be something unique.  The people must come to Florence to see this opera at the May Festival.  It must be something novel, or a premiere, or a big discovery from the past, or to have some exceptional conductor, like Dmitri Mitropoulos.  In 1951, he came for the first time and did Elektra.  [See review of the recording of this production at right.]  But it must be something really special because the period is very short.  You must do many things, but you must find something exceptional
maybe controversial, maybe bad, but interesting.  Sometimes you create a scandal, but this is a normal festival season.  You asked about the difference between American theater and Italian theater.  There is a difference of mentality.  Also, the political affect is different!  [Both laugh]  Also the business is different... everything!  The difference here in the United States, in Chicago, is the possibility of the beautiful great organization, and the idea to do this opera for the public.  The public must come to the opera to make income for us.  In Italy, it’s not very important because you have the State subsidy.  It’s not a secret.  For an opera house like Florence, or Naples, or Rome, the government pays most of the total budget.  If the theater is sold out, okay, but if it’s not sold out, who cares?  The government pays.  Here in Chicago, you must have an income at the end of the season.  Every theater wants everything, and its been this way from the beginning of the history of the theater.  Our theater here covers sixty-three per cent of the income from the box office.  For Italy, in Florence, it covers twenty per cent; in Naples, fifteen per cent; in Rome, ten per cent.  If you think of this, you understand how different it is.

BD:   Does that make the difference in the artistic decisions, or just in the practical decisions?

Bartoletti:   Practical decisions are also artistic decisions.  We have this subsidy from the government, but you don’t know exactly how much you will have for next year.  You don’t know exactly what you will get this morning.  You’re afraid to make the program, because if you do a budget, and then get a fund from the government which is less than you thought, there will be a deficit.  Who covers this deficit?  Not any people because it is the government who gives this money.  The program in Italy will buy one year.  In the United States, or Covent Garden, or Munich, they can do one, two, three, or four years in advance.  Another thing is that all the 
theaters in Italy are technically old.  The back-stage is old, obsolete.  They can really only cope with one opera at a time.  Elsewhere, there can be several going at once, so if you come to Chicago for a week, you can see three or four different operas.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Technically, are you optimistic about the future of opera?

Bartoletti:   The future of new operas, or the 

BD:   The 

Bartoletti:   I’m optimistic.  In most seasons, there are more performances in every 
theater in the world, but I am not so optimistic in the United States.  You have good theaters in the United States, but every year it’s more difficult to raise the money.  In Italy you have thirteen important theaters, and then we have ten other theaters which are less important.  In Germany you can see opera every night.  If you go to Zurich, you go round the square, and you can see three or four different operas.  They perform every day.  Covent Garden is good.  Every theater is good.  I am optimistic.

BD:   Now musically, are you optimistic about the future of opera?

Bartoletti:   This is a different question.  I don’t see many, many great composers of opera.  Look at a season at the Met, or at La Scala, or a season here.  Look at the program
Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss, etc.  Sometimes there will be a contemporary opera, a modern opera, but in the past, a hundred or a hundred-fifty years ago, the whole season at La Scala was modern opera.  There were pieces by Rossini, and later there were first performances by young modern composers.  Umberto Giordano did Andrea ChénierLa Bohème was first given a hundred years ago in Torino under Arturo Toscanini.  The program was almost all contemporary.  Now you look only at the past.  We have great composers in this century, of course, like Prokofiev and Shostakovich.  But how many operas did Shostakovich compose?

BD:   Two!

Bartoletti:   Right.  Two big operas.  The Nose and Katerina (a.k.a. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk).  [Bartoletti had conducted Lady Macbeth at Lyric in 1983.]  Prokofiev did more.  [Bartoletti had conducted The Love for Three Oranges at Lyric in 1976 and 1979, and The Gambler in 1991]  Stravinsky just one!  [The Rake
s Progress was conducted by Dennis Russell Davies at Lyric in 1994.]

BD:   [Knowing full well that this is the impossible question]  Why don
t composers write more operas these days?

Bartoletti:   [Laughs]  This is the most important question.  For this you need to have a roundtable to discuss with many people!  A roundtable with five or six people would be interesting to do.  We would also need two hours for the discussion.

bartoletti BD:   Or two days, or two months!

Bartoletti:   Two months!  And then do you get any decision?  I don’t think you would get any result.  [Much laughter]  [Note that along with the new works and world premieres done by Lyric in the 1990s, there were public panels where the creative teams discussed their ideas, and the future of opera.]

BD:   But it’s not just the opera.  It’s also concert music and chamber music.  We’re not getting so much that is memorable.

Bartoletti:   For this reason, the public is depressed, so they look more at the performers.  They say they go to hear La Bohème conducted by so-and-so.  They like to hear Pavarotti.  The focus now is interpretation.  There is no more creation because you don’t have much repertoire.  Not many people are writing opera.  [Turning the tables on the interviewer]  Who is writing opera now?  Tell me!  I interview you now!  [Both laugh]

BD:   We’ve had some of the good ones.

Bartoletti:   Luciano Berio?

BD:   Berio.

Bartoletti:   Penderecki?

BD:   Yes.  Stockhausen?

Bartoletti:   Stockhausen!  He’s in Europe, but who else?

BD:   Here in America we’ve got Argento...

Bartoletti:   Dominick Argento, Thomas Pasatieri, William Bolcom...

BD:   Robert Ward?

Bartoletti:   Robert Ward, John Adams, many others... [Argento, Bolcom, and Adams all had operas done by Lyric in the 1990s and 2000s.]  But how many of these composers would be famous with just one Andrea Chénier?

BD:   But when you look at the history of Italian opera, there are hundreds of composers who are just names in the history book.

Bartoletti:   Yes, of course, but from the quantity you have the quality, also.  If you don’t have the quantity, you cannot have also the quality.  You have great qualities, like Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Shostakovich’s works, but it’s not enough.

BD:   For instance, here in Chicago, when you give Bolcom, or Corigliano, or someone else a commission an opera, what do you tell them?  Do you ask them to just write a piece, or do you give them any more guidance.

Bartoletti:   We engage them to do a piece, but we might discuss about the libretto, or about the idea.  This is not to say ‘write an opera,’ and three months later, this is the opera.  It’s not easy.

BD:   Is there any chance there are too many cooks meddling into the broth?

Bartoletti:   No, the cook is only one, but the composer needs help.

BD:   Was Rossini, or Donizetti, or even Verdi, getting so much help and so much advice?

Bartoletti:   Oh, absolutely, from the Impresario because he paid the composer.  They were commanded.  Or maybe the soprano didn’t like this aria, so he was forced to compose something different.  When you are a genius, you can do everything!

BD:   [Asking another impossible question, though his answer does come freely]  What’s the purpose of music?

Bartoletti:   The purpose of music is the purpose of poetry, or architecture.  Art is from the head to the heart, and it goes to the people.  Music is to express feelings for the people.  Without the people, there would be no art.  Without the arts, there would be no communication with the people.  You must communicate to the people.  This is the purpose of music, and the purpose of the arts in general.  The music is like poetry, but it’s a different kind of expression.  You arrive as the human being with the music.  Like poetry, you have this message to human beings to try to improve the attitude of all people.  Are is just to put people possibly a little bit closer to God.

BD:   For you, is conducting opera a religious experience?

Bartoletti:   Sometimes, yes.  Sometimes it is a religious experience.   It’s a big rite, the opera.

BD:   A ritual?

Bartoletti:   A ritual, yes.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   When you come back to an opera now that you learned when you were a young man, is it completely different, a little bit different, or very much the same?

Bartoletti:   This is a good question.  In my life I like to conduct the musicians.  Many, many years ago I made some mistakes, some errors.  Trovatore I know so very well that I could conduct it tomorrow.  I don’t study it anymore because I conducted it many times.  I love Bohème.  I conducted that twenty-five times.  I know it by memory, but with this idea it became a routine.  Many years ago, I changed completely, because I realized how much I was wrong in this.  Then I decided if I conduct an opera that I conducted many, many times, and knew very well, I would start to study it again like a completely new opera.

BD:   Would you get a clean score?

Bartoletti:   No, but I clean in here [pointing to his head].  I restudy each opera from the beginning, trying to discover what is inside.  You never discover everything in an opera, but every day, every performance, you discover something more.  My interpretation now of La Bohème is different from thirty years ago.  It must be this way.  If it’s the same, you are wrong.
bartoletti BD:   Were you wrong thirty years ago?  [DVD shown at left was recorded in 2003.]

Bartoletti:   The beautiful thing is that I was right thirty years ago, and if I do it differently now, I am right, too.  Una verità sola, tante verità. [One truth, many truths.] We have many truths, because the life of the music changes the music, and it changes the public.  It changes your point of view in this opera, or in that opera.

BD:   Is the responsibility of the conductor to make his point of view the same point of view as the singers on stage?

Bartoletti:   This you must try, absolutely.  I’m not talking about a great change.  My God, the tempo is always to be felt more inside.  A different point of view is when you try to see what the composer really wrote, because you never understand everything a composer is saying.  You must re-study all the time.  The orchestra must play the tempo a little differently than before, and also the singer must change.  This is not routine.  This is art, this is music.

BD:   Is the composer always right?

Bartoletti:   Generally, yes!

BD:   Is this what makes a great composer great, and a lesser composer less great
that the great composer is more right?

Bartoletti:   No.  More composers can be right.  [Laughs]  It’s a different invention.

BD:   What advice do you have for young conductors coming along?

Bartoletti:   It looks very easy now for a young conductor to study and to start.  For example, now every young conductor has at his disposal every opera and every symphonic piece on tape or compact disc.  He can hear this.  Also, he can see videos of Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, to study the gestures.  In my time, it was difficult.  Just to find a record was difficult at that time.  We had to go to the 
theater to see one conductor or another.  Now the young conductor has everything at homethe media, with Karajan conducting and Solti conducting.  It is dangerous for these people because it can lead to never being original.  They always copy Karajan, or copy Riccardo Muti.  They copy this, and that, and their tempo.  Bruno Walter did this, so they copy.  [Sighs]  They must study the score before they hear and compare.  These are easy to conduct.  They should study difficult scores to get an original idea of the new music.  The terror is always to imitate somebody.  You can see gestures like Karajan, or gestures like Solti.  They must find their own first from within by studying.  Be humble.  Don’t try to be a star the day you start to conduct.  It is a long way.

BD:   Eventually it will come?

Bartoletti:   Eventually it will come, but it is a long way, a long way.

BD:   What advice do you have for the young singer?

Bartoletti:   The same, really the same.  For the singer, what I can say is to be prudent in the repertoire.  Sometimes, the wrong repertoire can ruin the voice.

BD:   But how do you know at twenty-two or twenty-six what is the right repertoire for your voice?

Bartoletti:   For this, the old conductors and the old teachers are there!  The young singers must believe it, and some of them don’t believe it.  They take the risk, and this is the sorrow when they don’t believe us.  I knew many, many tenors who started with the wrong repertoire.  Then, after two or three years, they were completely finished.  When a young singer starts to sing Mascagni or Giordano at the beginning, it is terrible because you must have a special technique to sing the verismo.  You must move slowly through Bellini and Donizetti.  Mozart is always good for your voice.  It’s like a medicine, and when you have a great, great technique, and also you are experienced, you can trust to do some different repertoire, some heavier repertoire like Mascagni, Giordano, or even Wagner.

BD:   But again, you must wait?

Bartoletti:   Wait, and go step by step.

BD:   [Wistfully]  It’s so hard for the younger set to wait.

Bartoletti:   Yes, but you must wait.

BD:   What advice do you have for audiences?

Bartoletti:   Ha!  [Laughs]  I’m an advisor for everyone today!  My advice for the audiences is to come to the 
theater.  This goes for Chicago audiences, La Scala audiences, Berlin audiences, whoever, an audience in general.  Years ago, someone asked me the difference between the Italian public and the American public.  I said that generally the Italians, especially in some cities, and very much at the premiere performance of each repertory opera at La Scala, they go to find mistakes.  [Both laugh]  This is wrong.

BD:   That’s too bad.

Bartoletti:   Yes.  The people here come to enjoy the music, and I say to the public, especially if it’s something new, come to the 
theater well-prepared.  You can go to the theater to see a modern opera, or an old opera, and enjoy it more if you’re prepared beforehand.  It’s not enough just to be there for three or four hours of performance.  For the composer to get inside of you, you must put something in.  You must be prepared.  Study the libretto beforehand.  Study the music.  Try to hear a recording.  You should go prepared.  Also, have confidence in the music and your theater.


BD:   What do you mean by having confidence in the 

Bartoletti:   Yes, have confidence in your 
theater, and the composer.  Generally, the composer and the theater don’t try to offend anybody.  The public should go, and do your part, which is to be prepared.

BD:   One last question.  Can you give me a word about Carol Fox?

Bartoletti:   That is easy to do.  She invented this 
theater.  She invented this company, absolutely.  Without her, Chicago would not have this theater, for sure.  Many years after this great invention, she became sick.  She was not any more able to control the financial situation, and at the moment when Ardis Krainik took over, she did a great job to restore the theater, and put it financially in order.  But I must tell you, Carol Fox invented this theater, and it is something great.  There is no doubt about that.

Nearly three years later, in November of 1998, we met yet again . . . . .

bartoletti BD:   We were talking momentarily about critics.  Do you play attention to the critics?

Bartoletti:   Not all, but generally yes.  Why not?

BD:   Do you ever learn anything from the critics?

Bartoletti:   No, but from the good critics you learn all the time.

BD:   Do you teach the critics anything by your conducting?

Bartoletti:   I don’t teach anything to anybody.

BD:   A conductor is not part-teacher???

Bartoletti:   Yes, but I’m not really a teacher.  I’m a driver!

BD:   Do you not teach in rehearsal?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Regina Resnik, Helen Donath, and José van Dam (Silvano).]

Bartoletti:   Ah, this is much different.  With a singer, with the chorus, and with the orchestra, it is part of my job to teach a little bit, but not in the performance.  There I only conduct, and I try to do my best.

BD:   Do you always do your best?

Bartoletti:   I don’t think so.  Like anybody, I try to do my best.  Sometimes I fail, like every human being.

BD:   Is opera human?

Bartoletti:   I am human, but also the opera is human.  Why not?  Why should it be different?  It’s from human beings.  Who wrote the opera?  A human being, and the opera is a product of the human being.

BD:   The characters on stage, are they fictional, or are they really human?

Bartoletti:   With the great composers they are human.  Sometimes they are marionettes.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Without being specific, are there ever nights when you get it all just right?

Bartoletti:   To be a performing artist is like being an athlete.  They run always in the same way.  Every night would be different.  I hope every night is good, but no, it is never the same.  The improvisation is different, so the atmosphere is different, and the singer is different.  Every night is live.

BD:   Every night is a new beginning?

Bartoletti:   A new beginning, yes.

BD:   When you rehearse, do you try to get it close to being right?

Bartoletti:   Of course, you do the rehearsal to get everything right, but what you do in the rehearsal is not really a performance.  The reason for the rehearsal is the preparation for the performance.  You can do beautiful rehearsals sometimes, but you can do a bad rehearsal and then do a good performance.  Who knows?  The rehearsal is not the performance.  You need a lot of rehearsals to do a good performance.  Without rehearsals you can’t do anything.

BD:   Do you get enough rehearsal time at Lyric Opera, Chicago?

Bartoletti:   Yes, now.  For many years we did not get enough time.

BD:   Is there any chance you can get too much rehearsal?

Bartoletti:   Too much???  Never!  Too much rehearsal is terrible.  You don’t know what to do if you have too much rehearsal time.  The rehearsal must be the necessary rehearsal, no less and no more.  You have a good balance in this 
theater, especially for the orchestral rehearsals.  You know what to do for every opera, and no one opera is the same as another.  A Mozart opera is not Rigoletto, which is not Die Walküre, which is not Pelléas and Mélisande.  Each opera needs some hours of rehearsal and no one knows how much rehearsal every opera needs.

bartoletti BD:   Do you know how much rehearsal you’ll need for a world premiere?

Bartoletti:   It depends if I know the work.  When we have a world premiere, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s very difficult, but in any case, for a world premiere you will need more rehearsal.  But one thing is Paradise Lost, another thing is McTeague, yet another will be The View from the Bridge next season.  Who knows?  It is important to do for every opera enough rehearsal.

BD:   Does it excite you especially to do a world premiere, to give birth to the new opera?

Bartoletti:   I did many world premieres in my life [lists a few which have been mentioned in the previous interview above].  I like to see an opera born, especially when it is an important opera like it was with Don Rodrigo in Buenos Aires, and Paradise Lost here, and especially The Nose, which was the most difficult opera to conduct, but I was very successful.  I did it in many 
theaters in Italy including Florence, Rome and La Scala.  In Florence it was a trial.  In Rome, I was successful.  La Scala likes every new opera by modern composers, but the public is mixed.

BD:   What can we do to get the public to not be quite so mixed, to be more enthusiastic?

Bartoletti:   It depends on who the composer is, and it depends upon the public.  The public at La Scala is different from the public of Florence, because in Florence we did much modern music, contemporary music.  At La Scala, we do less because they are a traditional public.  In Florence, when we did Wozzeck, in many was very successful, but when they did it at La Scala, the public was fifty per cent against it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   [This conversation was being held is his office, where his desk was littered with papers and folders.]  Now you are both conductor and administrator here at Lyric.  Do you take these different responsibilities into consideration?

Bartoletti:   I’m not an administrator in some ways.  I’m Artistic Director, so I do music.  I do art.  Administration is something different.

BD:   How so?  What you do at this desk as opposed to the conductor’s desk?

Bartoletti:   At this desk I decide
and we decide many times togetherhow many rehearsals there will be for any given opera.  At this desk we decide which operas we will do next year, or in three, or four, or five years.  When we are all together, we see if it is possible to do a particular opera, and how much money it will need.  It’s not really my business to do this.  It is my business to propose it and to see if we can afford to have this opera.  Then we’ll see how much it will cost.  This is administration.

BD:   Do you like the administrator’s side of this business?

Bartoletti:   I must like it because others must also like this.  No one person can pay attention to everything.

BD:   This is your last season as Artistic Director?

Bartoletti:   Yes, the last season.

BD:   Are you looking forward to being rid of the administrative duties?

Bartoletti:   For the future I don’t think I’ll be anymore Artistic Director in any 
theater.  At my age, I’ll go as guest conductor in many theaters.  I will come here also, but at seventy-two years, I don’t want to be an Artistic Director anymore.  I did my best here.  It’s difficult to do when you leave some best in one theater to continue to do it best.

BD:   You first came in 1956.  How has Lyric changed since that time?

Bartoletti:   That is easy to say, and for you to check!  You’ll see that in 1956, the number of performances of each opera was just two.  In my first season, I was engaged here to do four different operas
Trovatore, Tosca, Bohème, and Traviataa total of eight performances.  This year you can look at the schedule and see Gioconda [which opened the season] has ten performances.  There are more performances for one opera than before for four operas.  It’s an important change.  We also have much more rehearsal time now, especially stage rehearsals, because we have in this theater since 1964 very, very good stage directors.  Before that, a stage director was nothing.  He just had to put together singers and chorus in one, two, three rehearsals.  Now we have a stage director with rehearsals for one month.  For Mahagonny, we started rehearsals three weeks ago and have got five weeks of stage rehearsal.  Also, we have the space now with the new rooms.  In one, you can rehearse any opera because it’s so large.  You can put some scenery there as if it is on stage.  If you look at the schedule of La Scala, they do an opera, and then the next opera will be one month later.  In one month here, we have three operasGioconda, Mourning Becomes Electra, and Ariadne.  I don’t say the Levy is a world premiere, but it seems like a premiere because it was last done thirty years ago.

BD:   Thinking about standard operas, the composers would have done the old staging and the older, simpler ideas.  Do you think that the composers are happy with all of the new stagings, and all of the extra that goes on?

Bartoletti:   It depends.  I know many crazy mises-en-scène, many crazy stagings.  I don’t think Puccini would be happy to see a Bohème like they did in Macerata years ago with Ken Russell, when the poor Mimì died of an overdose!  Also, I was with our General Director, William Mason, in Hamburg, and we saw a Rigoletto which was everything except Rigoletto!

BD:   Is this part of your job as Artistic Director
to make sure that we, in Chicago, don’t get saddled with this kind of bad production?

Bartoletti:   Yes, of course!  It is our job is to do this, and maybe we have had a bad mise-en-scène, but none were offensive.  On the other hand, I don’t think the composer would be happy now to see the same staging that was used a hundred years ago.

BD:   [Genuinely curious]  Why not?

Bartoletti:   Because the public is no longer the same, the orchestra is no longer the same, and the 
theater is no longer the same.  We need development.  For mise-en-scène, I say we need tradition with fantasy.  If you do the same production that was done 150 years ago, the lighting was different, the production (scenery) was different, and the staging was different.  Then, what about the orchestra?  Dont you think Beethoven would be happy to see the symphony conducted by Karajan with a hundred people who play so beautifully?  It’s still Beethoven, but at the time of Beethoven, the orchestra was very thin.  Now the performances are much better, but it still remains Beethoven.  But on some stages, particularly in Germany, they try to destroy works, particularly the Italian opera.  I was with Ardis Krainik once in Frankfurt, and in a window they put a big picture of the opera they were to perform that night.  I had to admit that I didn’t know this opera, but there are many operas I don’t know.  Finally, by asking people, I discovered it was Aïda!  [Both laugh]  I know Aïda very well, but from the picture I don’t recognize it.

BD:   [Playing Devil
s Advocate]  Of course, they would argue that they’re expanding the experience.

Bartoletti:   They’re not expanding!  Expanding is different than betraying.  We can’t always do the same performance, but the opera must remain the opera.  I don’t think it's right.  It’s offensive.

BD:   [With a big smile]  You see, you are a teacher!

Bartoletti:   [Firmly]  I am not a teacher!  At this moment I am only an Artistic Director!

BD:   No, but with all of this that we’ve been talking about, you are teaching about the history of opera!

bartoletti Bartoletti:   [Laughing]  If you call it teaching, okay.

BD:   As Artistic Director, how much do you get involved with what’s on stage?

Bartoletti:   The first thing to do is to find the right person for that opera.  When we did Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk of Shostakovich here [1983], when we selected that design and that stage director, Liviu Ciulei, we were sure it was the right man.  We knew we would get a good job.  He also did The Gambler years ago [1991].  He specializes in this kind of opera with a very refined taste.  The concept is to choose the right person to do each opera.  If you are right, you don’t have any problems during the rehearsals.

BD:    [With a wink]  Did Lyric find the right person in Bruno Bartoletti?

Bartoletti:   This I don’t know... I’ve stayed here for many years, so I think so.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How did Lyric get from two performances of each opera to ten performances of each opera?

Bartoletti:   We always had very good quality, and we also improved the quality of these performances.  This brings in more public.  Then we also changed a little bit the 
‘standard repertoire, just to introduce in every season some contemporary, modern opera.  Maybe a hundred people walked out at the first performance of Wozzeck many years ago, but more people are interested in this opera than before.  They don’t like to come to the theater just to see Butterfly or La Traviata all the time, because Chicago is an intellectual city.  Think of the level of the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University, with the Nobel Prizes!  Do you think these people like to come only to see normal repertoire?  No, absolutely not!  When you change the repertoire to do Wozzeck and The Fiery Angel, etc., these people who came also realized that Butterfly is beautiful.  The public is much more interested when you do newer works every year, one per season.  This makes them much more popular.  The quality of the performances goes up with many stage rehearsals, and the public realizes and this.  So we ask people to subscribe.  Slowly, step by step, this is the response.  The quality of the opera, and the different kind of repertoire all mix to make it great.

BD:   Some years ago, I asked you if you enjoyed being a conductor, and you said, yes, of course.  Have you enjoyed being Artistic Director?

Bartoletti:   [Thinks a moment]  Absolutely, yes.  I was Artistic Director here, but I was also Artistic Director in Florence.  I was the Principal Conductor at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.  I like it, but why?  I don’t know!  I try to explain.  I am so involved in the world of the opera, and always I like to do everything besides administration.  For me to conduct an opera is beautiful, but also to find the right conductor for an opera that you are not conducting, or a stage director, for me is so beautiful.  I like it because I’m involved in this world.  For me this world is the best world possible for my taste.

BD:   How is Chicago different, or the same from Florence and Rome?

Bartoletti:   Everything is completely different because the culture is different.  It’s not the same, nor better or worse.  They are different.  Some programs in Chicago may not be good for Florence.  Maybe some programs we do in Florence are no good for Chicago.  When you are Artistic Director, you must know the traditional culture of that city.  This is very important.  If you go to China, you must do a different program.  In Buenos Aires, you can do everything, because the tradition of the opera in Buenos Aires is incredible.  The Teatro Colón, my God, everything is there.

BD:   Is the acoustic there as good as they say?

Bartoletti:   It must be.  I know it very well, because I conducted maybe thirty different operas in that 
theater.  The acoustic is really very good.  It has one of the best acoustics in the world, together with the San Carlo in Naples.  This is a fantastic acoustic, too.

BD:   How is the acoustic here in Chicago?

Bartoletti:   It’s good, on a very good level, but not the divine acoustic like San Carlo in Naples, or Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

BD:   Has it helped to dig the pit down and back over the years?

Bartoletti:   It’s helped, absolutely.  The pit is large and much better.  It is a little more difficult to cover the singer in this way.  La Fenice in Venice is a beautiful 
theater acoustically, but it’s small theater.  It has about 1,100 people.  But the miracle of the Teatro Colón is that it’s a very large theater [2,500].  It’s not a small theater, and then the acoustic is a miracle, like Stradivarius produced the violin!  Who knows the secret?

BD:   What advice do you have for the person who will next sit in your chair as Artistic Director?

Bartoletti:   I would hope they would continue the good innovation, and the tradition of this theater.  At the opera, it’s always the same.  Study the public, study the culture, study the new scores, and try to do over the years a good and balanced program.  Be diplomatic but not weak.

BD:   How can you be diplomatic and not weak?

Bartoletti:   I cannot teach this, but it’s possible.  [Much laughter]

BD:   That’s experience?

Bartoletti:   Yes, experience, but really you are born this way.

BD:   What advice do you have for someone who wants to be General Director of a 
theater?  You have worked closely with several.

Bartoletti:   This is not my job, but I suggest to find a very good Artistic Director.  [Both laugh]


BD:   Where do you see Lyric going in the next millennium?

Bartoletti:   It’s hard to say, but this season was born four years ago.

BD:   So you literally have looked into the next millennium and set it up.

Bartoletti:   Yes, we are interested in the millennium with the program, but they don’t care about a millennium.  It’s only something on a graphic.

BD:   I assume you’ve been pleased with what has happened with Lyric Opera over forty years?

Bartoletti:   I must confess, yes.  I’m proud about it, but it’s not possible to do this job if you don’t have a very good structure.  It means a good orchestra, a good chorus, good stagehands, and good people in administration.  Remember, you don’t know the details because they’re behind the scenes, like our good assistant conductors.  I worked in many 
theaters, but I think the level of our assistant conductors is among the best in the world.  We need these people, and we also need people like Susan Mathieson.

Susan Mathieson Mayer, Director of Marketing and Communications with Lyric Opera of Chicago 1988-2013

Ardis Krainik hired Mathieson Mayer in 1988 to replace Danny Newman, who became famous for making season subscriptions a key part of the Lyric Opera marketing game plan. Mathieson Mayer also served under recently-retired General Director William Mason and Anthony Freud, who took the helm of the opera institution in the fall of 2011.

Noted Freud: "Susan has earned an international reputation for arts marketing and is widely acknowledged as one of the leading practitioners in the field today. She has made a major contribution to the company during her tenure and will be greatly missed by her colleagues, Lyric's Board of Directors and the artists."

For most of her time at Lyric, Mathieson Mayer was wildly successful at keeping every seat filled at Lyric Opera. In fact for 16 consecutive seasons — 1989/90 through 2004/05 — Mathieson Mayer sold out the Lyric season, a feat that has yet to be equaled in the performing arts field in America.

But as Mathieson Mayer is well aware, times have changed for the arts in recent years. And her marketing task at Lyric had become more daunting, as people's entertainment options began to expand and opera became a harder sell — especially for the younger audiences who will be needed to fill Lyric seats in years to come.

==  From an article in Chicago Business Journal by Lewis Lazare, June 26, 2013  

BD:   [Knowing just how much she had assisted in arranging many of my interviews with Lyric artists]  Sure!

Bartoletti:   How important they are.  It is impossible to do with only one person.  We need the great collaboration.  This is really a theater where for many, many years I don’t find inside here any intrigue, any politics.  Every theater, especially in Europe, my GodLa Scala, Florence, Romeis terrible in this regard.  It is impossible, so vile!  Inside those theaters are intrigue and politics, but in this theater, no, none.

BD:   Bravo!

Bartoletti:   Very loud I can say this.  We have some discussions, of course.  It is human, but it is a 
theater with friends, with people who love the opera.  They are people who are very happy when they operate successfully, and unhappy when the opera is not as successful.  Sometimes you go to a different theater, and the people inside that theater are very happy when the opera is unsuccessful.  Here, no.  It is completely different.

BD:   Hurray for us!  I wish we could bottle that and sell it to other houses!

Bartoletti:   Oh, no, it must remain here.

BD:   Have you gotten to conduct all the operas that you wanted to do?

Bartoletti:   I’m 72, but I must say yes.  Maybe I would like to have done Schoenberg
s Moses and Aron, but generally I have conducted the operas I like to conduct, or the operas which are possible for me to conduct.

BD:   Are there some operas that are not possible for you to conduct?

Bartoletti:   Ah, of course.

BD:   Why?

Bartoletti:   Because they are far away from my mind, far away from my culture.  I don’t think it’s impossible, but to conduct The Ring you need to dedicate part of your life to Wagner.  I don’t know any conductor, except maybe Karajan, who does everything excellently.  Some conductor maybe is a great a conductor for The Ring, but is not a conductor for Puccini.  I don’t mention any names, but some are very good for Beethoven but not for Verdi.  It’s a time of specialization.  It
s impossible to do everything, or in any case, its impossible for me.

BD:   You’ve made good selections?

Bartoletti:   Good selections, but my selection was enormous!

BD:   Thank you for giving so much of your life to Chicago.

Bartoletti:   I must thank Chicago.  Chicago gave me many, many things, and beautiful things.  It was always mutual love.

BD:   That’s the best.  Mille grazie!

Bartoletti:   Mille grazie, bravo!


 [LP cover at left; CD booklet-back at right]
See my interviews with Richard Van Allan, Robert Lloyd, and Gwynne Howell


See my interviews with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi,
and others mentioned on the back cover - Alfredo Kraus, Firoenza Cossotto, and Ruggero Raimondi


June 9, 2013

By John von Rhein  Chicago Tribune

Bruno Bartoletti, the widely admired Italian conductor who served as artistic director of Lyric Opera of Chicago throughout a close association with the company that lasted a half-century, died early Sunday in a hospital in Florence, Italy, after a long illness.

His death, which came one day before his 87th birthday, was announced by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the annual arts festival in Florence, of which city he was a lifelong resident.

Bartoletti was a beloved fixture at Lyric from his American debut with the theater in 1956, at 30, as a late replacement for his mentor, the revered maestro Tullio Serafin. Although the young Florentine was relatively unknown at the time, his skills were evident from the start and he soon established himself as master of the Italian repertory that earned Lyric the nickname “La Scala West.”

Carol Fox, who had just seized control of the two-year-old company after a rancorous power struggle with the company’s other co-founders, was loath to surrender power to anyone, but she was impressed enough with Bartoletti’s skills to name him Lyric’s co-artistic director with Pino Donati, a post they shared until 1974. That year Bartoletti became the company’s sole artistic director and principal conductor.

He conducted nearly 600 performances of 55 operas at Lyric between 1956 and 2007, a remarkable track record by any standard. One of his final appearances in Chicago was a sentimental return at the beginning of Lyric’s 2007-08 season to conduct Verdi’s “La Traviata,” one of four Italian opera staples he had led here during his first season with the company.

Bartoletti retired as artistic director in 1999, at which time he was given an emeritus title by then-general director William Mason. Along with Mason’s predecessors, Ardis Krainik and Fox, he greatly valued Bartoletti’s artistic counsel, company loyalty and friendship, as well as what Bartoletti contributed in general to Lyric’s artistic integrity over the years.

Not only did the modest, genial Bartoletti have a keen appreciation of great singers and great singing, but he also had a sharp eye for budding podium talent. He made certain Lyric brought in some of the best up-and-coming conductors whose strengths he believed would complement his own. Thanks to him, Riccardo Chailly and Daniele Gatti both made their American operatic debuts here when they were not widely known.

Beyond that, his vast working knowledge of opera and the mechanics of running the artistic end of an opera company made him Lyric’s most trusted consigliere for decades.

“Unlike so many music directors today, Bruno remained a constant presence at Lyric for the entire season, and that meant a great deal to Lyric,” Mason said. “That kind of longer, deeply committed association with a company is probably a thing of the past.”

Although the Italian opera repertory from Rossini to Luigi Dallapiccola was in Bartoletti’s blood, his intellectual affinity for modern and contemporary opera made him singularly adept as an interpreter of 20th century repertory, here and abroad.

At Lyric he introduced Strauss’ “Elektra,” Berg’s “Wozzeck,” Prokofiev’s “Angel of Fire” and “The Love for Three Oranges,” Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” and Janacek’s “Katya Kabanova.” An important Bartoletti first was his conducting the U.S. premiere of Britten’s “Billy Budd” with the Chicago company in 1970. He also instigated the commission that resulted in Lyric’s giving the world premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Paradise Lost” here in 1979.

He also led the Italian premieres of such major 20th century works as Shostakovich’s “The Nose” and Prokofiev’s “The Gambler,” also the world premiere of Ginastera’s “Don Rodrigo” in Buenos Aires.

Bartoletti built the Lyric Opera Orchestra into one of the finest opera ensembles in the world. As late as 2006, more than 90 percent of the musicians were his appointees. To this day veteran Lyric players speak fondly of his tutelage in matters of sound, style and pacing, and of the reverence he brought to everything he conducted.

Rather than pursue a high-powered international career, Bartoletti preferred working extensively in one opera house at a time, resisting temptations to spread himself too thinly all over the world. Still, his close, longtime ties with the theaters of Florence, Milan, Rome, Parma, Genoa, Bologna and elsewhere around the world made him a valuable talent scout for Lyric.

After a brief period as a flutist in the Maggio Musicale orchestra, Bartoletti became pianist at the center of vocal training attached to the Florence Teatro Comunale. He worked as an assistant to such major conductors as Artur Rodzinski, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Vittorio Gui and Serafin. The latter encouraged him to take up conducting. He made his conducting debut at the Teatro Comunale in 1953 with a production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” prepared by Gui. He was named the company’s resident conductor in 1957.

Bartoletti held the rank of Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana, the highest honor the Italian government can bestow. A member of Rome’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia, he was also the recipient of the Italian music critics’ prestigious Abbiati Prize.

“I think I did many things for Chicago,” Bartoletti told the Tribune in 2006, the year of his golden anniversary with Lyric. “But Chicago did much more for me. This theater gave me something really essential. It created my (musical) personality. I will be eternally grateful to this theater and this city.”

Survivors include two daughters, Chiara and Maria; and five grandchildren. Rosanna Bartoletti, to whom he was married for 58 years, died in 2011.

A funeral is scheduled for Monday in Sesto Fiorentino, a Florence suburb where Bartoletti was born.

© 1981 & 1996 & 1998 Bruce Duffie

These conversations was recorded at the Opera House in Chicago on October 6, 1981, February 19, 1996, and November 2, 1998.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB several times, and a brief segment was posted on the Lyric Opera Website in 2004 as part of their 50th Season celebration of Jubilarians.  A portion was transcribed and published in Opera Scene magazine in May, 1982.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.