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Ettore Panizza’s parents were Italian: his father was a cellist as well as a composer and it was he who gave his son his first music lessons. Ettore travelled from Argentina to Italy to enter the Milan Conservatory, where he studied piano, composition, harmony and counterpoint, receiving the Conservatory’s first prize for composition upon graduating. In 1899 he began a most distinguished career as a conductor, initially in Italy at, amongst others, the opera houses of Bologna, Naples, Palermo and Rome; and appearing also at Covent Garden regularly between 1907 and 1914. By 1908 Panizza was conducting at La Scala, Milan, reappearing there during World War I; and when, after the war, a new management structure (an ente autonomo) was created at the theatre, he conducted half of the first season’s productions (five out of ten) alongside Toscanini, who conducted the balance and retained a controlling influence over all of La Scala’s activities. In the same year, 1921, Panizza recommended a distinguished opera conductor of the future, Antonino Votto, to Toscanini as a répétiteur for La Scala. Throughout Toscanini’s period as chief conductor, which ended in 1929, and beyond, until 1932, Panizza remained as a devoted assistant to him, conducting numerous productions at La Scala including the first performances in Italy of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar Saltan, and in 1926 Wagner’s Ring cycle. During this period, having heard the English soprano Eva Turner singing the title role in Madama Butterfly, he recommended that she sing for Toscanini in Milan, thus launching her distinguished international career.

Like Toscanini, Panizza eventually moved the base of his operations across the Atlantic, succeeding Tullio Serafin as the principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera’s Italian repertoire between 1934 and 1942. He also conducted regularly in his home city of Buenos Aires, between 1921 and 1955 being responsible for twenty seasons of opera at the Teatro Colón. In addition he conducted, as a guest, opera performances and symphony concerts in Berlin, Vienna and Chicago. He was greatly admired for his grasp of the German as well as the Italian repertoire: in 1932 Richard Strauss wrote to him, ‘I continue to recall the magnificent Elektra which you directed in Milan with such finesse and élan, fulfilling all my wildest dreams. I hear that they intend to put on Elektra this summer in Buenos Aires, and you mentioned that you most probably will be the musical director of the Colón Theatre. In that event, I shall have only one desire: that you direct my Elektra also in Buenos Aires; I cannot think of a better interpreter...’ As a composer Panizza possessed complete technical mastery, and his own operas reflected the verismo style of composition which was both popular and influential at the turn of the century. He enjoyed early acclaim when his opera Medio evo latino was performed in Buenos Aires during the 1901 season conducted by Toscanini; and two more of his operas, Aurora and Besanzo, were successfully mounted in Buenos Aires, with the former joining the permanent repertoire of the Colón in a revised version.

Panizza’s conducting style was highly dynamic and extraordinarily vigorous, as may be heard from the many published recordings of radio broadcasts of performances that he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera. For instance in the famous performance from 1935 of Verdi’s La traviata with Rosa Ponselle, he can be heard quite clearly shouting ‘Attacca!’ to the orchestra after the end of the Prelude to Act I, and immediately launching into a most hectic and dramatic, as well as highly appropriate, tempo.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Conductor 
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