Known as the designer of many opera productions, mainly in Italy
and the United States, Pier Luigi Samaritani later became an equally
well-known director. A pupil of Lila de Nobili, he worked as her
assistant and also as assistant to Franco Zeffirelli and Giorgio
de Chirico. His traditional style, a heightened version of realism,
was graphically demonstrated in the magnificent sets he designed for
Semiramide, performed at the Florence Festival of 1968
with Joan Sutherland
in the title-role, and later exported to Chicago.
[Sutherland and Marilyn Horne in Semiramide in Chicago]
Samaritani was greatly helped at the beginning of his career by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, whose staging of The Medium at Spoleto he designed in 1969. Other Menotti productions which he designed included Help, Help, The Globolinks, given in Geneva, Rome and Vienna; Maria Golovin, seen at Marseilles, Paris and Trieste; Don Pasquale, set in Rome of the 1930s, unveiled at the Theater am Gartnerplatz in Munich and revived in New York at the Juilliard American Opera Theater; and a much-admired staging of La Bohème for the Paris Opera. During the 1970s Samaritani also designed Carmen and Luisa Miller for La Scala; Giovanna d'Arco, Lucia di Lammermoor and Maria di Rohan for La Fenice, Venice; and productions in Rome and Naples.
In Florence, where Samaritani had achieved his first success, his sets for Mosè were found very handsome and those for Eugene Onegin utterly exquisite, while his designs for Henze's Re Cervo, and Les Vepres Siciliennes were also liked. His fame had spread to the United States: designs for Les Contes d'Hoffmann at Dallas were very successful; in Chicago his lavish settings for Orfeo ed Euridice were admired, and he scored a triumph with sets for Massenet's Don Quichotte that evoked for one critic Constable, Turner, Goya and Dore.
Meanwhile Samaritani had turned director, staging The Old Maid and the Thief at Spoleto in 1975. His production of Faust for the Chicago Lyric was considered bizarre, but a Madama Butterfly and Werther in Florence were greatly liked, as were Rigoletto at Parma, Manon in Rome and Les Pecheurs de perles at Nice. All these productions were seen in other cities. In 1983 he designed and directed Ernani for the Metropolitan, and the following year Eugene Onegin was restaged in Chicago; an admirable production but for the thick scrim that obscured the handsome sets.
Samaritani's later productions included Guillaume Tell in Cagliari; La Forza del destino at San Francisco; and Andrea Chenier in Florence. He returned to Spoleto as designer in 1987, for a most impressive Parsifal, staged by Menotti, which later travelled to Trieste and Spoleto USA, and in 1992 for an equally fine Die Meistersinger, also directed by Menotti.
Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (Italian: [luˈkiːno visˈkonti di moˈdroːne]; 2 November 1906 – 17 March 1976), was an Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, as well as a screenwriter. Visconti was one of the fathers of Italian neorealism in film, but later moved towards luxurious-looking films obsessed with beauty, death and European history – especially the decay of aristocracy.
Visconti's love of opera is evident in the 1954 Senso, where the beginning of the film shows scenes from the fourth act of Il trovatore, which were filmed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Beginning when he directed a production at Milan's Teatro alla Scala of La vestale in December 1954, and La Sonnambula the following season conducted by Leonard Bernstein, his career included a famous revival of La traviata at La Scala in 1955 conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, an equally famous Anna Bolena in 1957, and Iphigénie en Tauride all at La Scala, and all with Maria Callas. [Visconti and Callas are shown together in the photo at right.]
A significant 1958 Royal Opera House (London) production of Verdi's five-act Italian version of Don Carlos with Jon Vickers, Tito Gobbi and Boris Christoff followed, along with a Macbeth in Spoleto in 1958, and a famous black-and-white Il trovatore with Gwyneth Jones and Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Bruno Prevedi, and Peter Glossop, which had scenery and costumes by Filippo Sanjust at the Royal Opera House in 1964. In 1966 Visconti's luscious Falstaff for the Vienna State Opera with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rolando Panerai, Ilva Ligabue and Regina Resnik, conducted by Leonard Bernstein was critically acclaimed.
There was also a Trovatore in Moscow with Gabriella Tucci, Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi, and Piero Cappuccilli in 1964, and a Rosenkavalier in 1966 with Sena Jurinac, Josephine Veasey, and Michael Langdon, led by Sir Georg Solti.
Pier Luigi Samaritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1971 - [Opening Night] Semiramide (designer), with Sutherland, Horne, Bottazzo, Malas, Ferrin, Estes; Bonynge, Sequi
1974 - Don Quichotte (designer), with Ghiaurov, Foldi, Cortez, Paige; Fournet, Tajo
1975 - Orfeo (designer), with Stilwell, Cotrubas, Zilio; Fournet, Sequi, Tallchief
1977 - Orfeo (designer), with Stilwell, Shade, Zilio; Fournet, Sequi, Tallchief
1978 - Werther (deisgner & director), with Kraus, Minton, Nolen, Voketaitis; Giovaninetti
1979 - [Opening Night] Faust (designer), with Kraus, Freni, Ghiaurov, Stilwell, Ciesinski, Decker; Prêtre, Fassini, Tallchief
Andrea Chenier (designer), with Domingo, Marton, Bruson, Sharon Graham/Wendy White, Kuhlmann, Gordon; Bartoletti, Gobbi, Schuler
1981 - Don Quichotte (designer & director), with Ghiaurov, Gramm, Valentini-Terrini, Gordon; Fournet, Tallchief, Schuler
1984 - [Opening Night] Eugene Onegin (designer & director), with Brendel, Freni, Dvorsky, Ghiaurov, Walker, Kraft; Bartoletti, Tallchief, Schuler
(This production was also televised, and later issued on video, as shown below)
1987-88 - Faust (designer), with Shicoff, Gustafson/Soviero, Ramey, Raftery, Wendy White, Vozza; Fournet, Diaz, Tallchief, Schuler
1990-91 - Eugene Onegin (designer & director), with Brendel, Tomowa-Sintow/Hartilep, Polozov, Kavrakos, Walker, Kraft; Bartoletti, Tallchief
1993-94 - Don Quichotte (designer), with Ramey, Lafont, Mentzer/Pancella, Perkins; Nelson, Koenig, Schuler, Dufford
© 1990 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on September 19, 1990. Portions were broadcast on WNIB a few days later. 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.