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When he was eleven years of age Serafin left Venice for Milan, where he studied the violin and viola at the Conservatory and played in the orchestra of La Scala. Having made his conducting debut in Ferrara at the age of twenty (under the pseudonym of Alfio Sulterni) with Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, he quickly gained further conducting experience in various other Italian cities and made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, during 1907. He was appointed principal conductor at La Scala in 1909, remaining in this position until 1914, as well as during 1917 and 1918. While at La Scala, where he was held in high esteem by Toscanini, Serafin conducted the first performance of Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re in 1913, as well as the Italian premières of operas by Dukas, Humperdinck, Rimsky-Korsakov, Richard Strauss and Weber, indicating the considerable range of his musical sympathies.

Between 1924 and 1934 Serafin was in charge of Italian repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. Here, in addition to works from the Italian and European repertoires, he conducted the first performances of several operas by American composers, including Peter Ibbetson by Deems Taylor (1931), Emperor Jones by Louis Gruenberg (1933), and Merry Mount by Howard Hanson (1934). During this period Serafin helped to foster the careers of several major singers (as he was to continue to do throughout his own career), including that of Rosa Ponselle, who appeared with him in Verdi’s La forza del destino at Covent Garden in 1931.

Serafin left America and the Met in 1934 to take up the post of artistic director and chief conductor at the Rome Opera House. Here he continued his policy of introducing contemporary operas to the public, leading productions of new works by Alfano and Pizzetti, as well as the first performances in Italy of Berg’s Wozzeck, with Tito Gobbi in the title role. He relinquished his post at Rome in 1943, but continued to conduct in Italy, appearing at the Maggio Musicale in Florence and at La Scala in its first post-war season, which included Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. Throughout the period following World War II he appeared as a distinguished guest conductor in the major opera houses of Italy and Europe; he also appeared regularly with the Lyric Opera of Chicago between 1956 and 1958. Serafin continued to be highly influential in launching the careers of major singers, notably those of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland; conducting the former in Bellini’s I puritani at Venice in 1949, and the latter in her sensational 1959 debut at Covent Garden in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, for which he also coached her. In addition he recorded extensively throughout the 1950s, when the operatic catalogue was expanding as a result of the introduction initially of the long-playing record and later of stereophonic sound. He returned to the Rome Opera House in 1962 with his appointment as artistic adviser, conducting Rossini’s Otello there during the same year in a striking production with sets by the artist Giorgio de Chirico.

Serafin’s numerous recordings testify consistently to his remarkable skills as an operatic conductor. Without exception they display a satisfying synthesis of the dramatic and lyrical, as well as respect for the singers involved. He recorded extensively in the studio with Maria Callas for Walter Legge and EMI; these recordings have stood the test of time well. Notable among these performances are those of Bellini’s I puritani and Norma, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Turandot, Verdi’s Aida and La forza del destino, and the popular as well as powerful double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. In addition, during the monophonic era, Serafin recorded memorable accounts of two rarities, Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix and Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto with the forces of the San Carlo Opera House, Naples, for Philips. With the introduction of stereo he made outstanding recordings of Puccini’s La Bohème and Madama Butterfly for Decca, Verdi’s Il trovatore for Deutsche Grammophon, and Otello for RCA. A pre-war account of Verdi’s Requiem should also be mentioned, as should a live recording in which Serafin conducts Joan Sutherland in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in London during 1959. Serafin was a professional to his fingertips, and his name on a record label is a guarantee of musical style and dramatic realisation.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).

Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
Role: Conductor 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
A TO Z OF SINGERS Naxos Educational
BELLINI, V.: Sonnambula (La) (Callas, Monti, La Scala, Votto) (1957) Naxos Historical
BELLINI: Norma (Callas, Filippeschi) (1953) Naxos Historical
BELLINI: Puritani (I) (Callas, Di Stefano) (1953) Naxos Historical
CALLAS, Maria: Callas at La Scala (1956) Naxos Classical Archives
CALLAS, Maria: Immortal Opera Arias (1949-1955) Naxos Historical
CALLAS, Maria: Portrait (A) (1949-1954) Naxos Historical
CALLAS, Maria: Puccini Heroines / Lyric Arias (1954) Naxos Historical
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi) (1953) Naxos Historical
LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci (Callas, di Stefano, Serafin) (1954) Naxos Historical
MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana (Callas, di Stefano, Serafin) (1953) Naxos Historical
Opera Arias (Soprano): Callas, Maria - BELLINI, V. / ROSSINI, G. / DONIZETTI, G. (Callas Alla Scala, Vol. 1 - Bel canto) (1953-1957) La Scala Memories
PUCCINI, G.: Manon Lescaut [Opera] (Callas, Di Stefano, La Scala, Serafin) (1957) Naxos Historical
PUCCINI, G.: Opera excerpts Phoenix Edition
PUCCINI, G.: Suor Angelica (Los Angeles, Barbieri, Rome Opera, Serafin) (1957) Naxos Historical
PUCCINI, G.: Turandot (Callas, Fernandi, Schwarzkopf, La Scala, Serafin) (1957) Naxos Historical
ROSSINI: Turco in Italia (Il) (Callas, Rossi-Lemeni, Gavazzeni) (1954) Naxos Historical
ROYAL OPERA (The): Great Performances (Recorded Live 1955-1997) Opus Arte
VERDI ALLA SCALA, Vol. 1 - Cori, Preludi, Sinfonie (1931-1961) La Scala Memories
Orchestral, Opera
VERDI ALLA SCALA, Vol. 2 - Arie Celebri e Romanze La Scala Memories
VERDI, G.: Messa da Requiem (Gigli, Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Serafin) (1939) Naxos Historical
Choral - Sacred
VERDI, G.: Opera Arias (Callas Alla Scala, Vol. 2 - Arie Verdiane) (Callas) (1952-1957) La Scala Memories
VERDI, G.: Opera Arias (Callas) (1954-1956) Dynamic
VERDI: Aida (Callas, Tucker, Serafin) (1955) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Ballo in Maschera (Un) (Gigli, Caniglia) (1943) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Forza del destino (La) (Callas, Tucker, Serafin) (1954) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Rigoletto (Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi / La Scala) (1955) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Traviata (La) (Di Stefano, Stella) (1955) Naxos Historical

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