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Gianandrea Gavazzeni studied initially at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and then at the Milan Conservatory, where his teachers included Pizzetti and Pilati for composition, and Lorenzoni for piano. Having graduated as a pianist in 1929, and gained his diploma in composition in 1931, he became widely known as a composer in Italy during the 1930s, with several of his works being performed, such as his one-act opera Paolo e Virginia (1935), the violin concerto (1937), and the ballet Il furioso nell’isola di San Domingo. He made his conducting debut in 1940 at La Scala, Milan, and emerged as a musician of unusual capability, frequently through the direction of his own music; however in 1949 he unexpectedly gave up composition and did not allow any further performances of his works.

During the 1950s Gavazzeni conducted several studio recordings of complete operas and operatic excerpts, principally although not exclusively for Decca, while maintaining an active schedule of performances at all the major musical centres in Italy such as Milan, Rome, Florence and Bologna, as well as at other smaller centres such as Bergamo (his birth place and also that of Donizetti, about whom he wrote eloquently), and with the various orchestras of Italian radio. Gavazzeni became closely associated with the performance of lesser-known works of the verismo school of composers, for instance directing Mascagni’s Le maschere in 1955 at the Maggio Musicale in Florence; and also with the bel canto revival led by Maria Callas, conducting her in an important production by Luchino Visconti of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at La Scala in 1957. In the same year he appeared with the company of La Scala, Milan, at the Edinburgh Festival conducting Rossini’s Il turco in Italia, and at the Chicago Lyric Opera, directing Puccini’s La Bohème.

Gavazzeni went on to open the 1957–1958 season at La Scala with an incandescent performance of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera; again this featured Callas, together with Giuseppe di Stefano and Ettore Bastianini. He conducted Anna Bolena at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1965, with the greatly under-estimated soprano Leyla Gencer in the title part, a singer with whom he worked frequently. Between 1965 and 1968, Gavazzeni was chief conductor at La Scala, Milan, having appeared with the company with great success during the previous year in Moscow at the Bolshoi Theatre. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1976 with Verdi’s Il trovatore.

A musician of tireless energy, Gavazzeni continued to conduct well into the last years of his life, directing an important series of revivals at the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo, notably Poliuto in 1993 and Caterina Cornaro in 1995, in which his last wife Denia Mazzola took the title role. Gavazzeni was also a writer of note, publishing works on opera and musical interpretation as well as personal memoirs. He was awarded the freedom of Busseto, the birthplace of Verdi, in 1970, an honour only previously bestowed on Boito, Pizzetti and Toscanini.

With the increasing circulation of unofficial recordings, particularly of operatic performances, during the 1960s onwards on LP and later CD, the full majesty of Gavazzeni’s conducting became more widely recognised, and it is his live performances in the opera house and radio studio that do him fullest justice. Of his studio recordings, his account of Verdi’s Rigoletto is one of the most compelling and dramatic in the catalogue, while of the numerous live performances, few carry greater weight or are more exciting than his legendary realisation (referred to above) of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera on the opening night of the La Scala, Milan season in December 1957. The Italian writer Fedele D’Amico has succinctly summed up Gavazzeni’s finest qualities as a conductor: ‘…his were not only hypnotic performances: they were also wordless and crystalline critical interpretations, revealing more than any written comment.’

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

Role: Conductor 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
A TO Z OF SINGERS Naxos Educational
CILEA, F.: Adriana Lecouvreur (La Scala, 1989) (NTSC) Opus Arte
Opera DVD
DONIZETTI, G.: Anna Bolena [Opera] (Rossi-Lemeni, Callas, Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra, Gavazzeni) (1957) La Scala Memories
GIORDANO, U.: Fedora (La Scala, 1993) (NTSC) TDKDVD
Opera DVD
Opera DVD
MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 24 Dynamic
Opera Arias (Soprano): Callas, Maria - BELLINI, V. / ROSSINI, G. / DONIZETTI, G. (Callas Alla Scala, Vol. 1 - Bel canto) (1953-1957) La Scala Memories
Opera DVD
PUCCINI, G.: Turandot [Opera] (Nilsson, Corelli, Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra, Gavazzeni) (1964) La Scala Memories
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly (los Angeles, di Stefano, Gobbi) (1954) Naxos Historical
ROSSINI: Turco in Italia (Il) (Callas, Rossi-Lemeni, Gavazzeni) (1954) Naxos Historical
VERDI ALLA SCALA, Vol. 1 - Cori, Preludi, Sinfonie (1931-1961) La Scala Memories
VERDI ALLA SCALA, Vol. 2 - Arie Celebri e Romanze La Scala Memories
VERDI, G.: Opera Arias (Callas Alla Scala, Vol. 2 - Arie Verdiane) (Callas) (1952-1957) La Scala Memories
VERDI, G.: Trovatore (Il) [Opera] (Bergonzi, Tucci, Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra, Gavazzeni) (1964) La Scala Memories
VERDI, G.: Un ballo in maschera [Opera] (Di Stefano, Bastianini, Callas, Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra, Gavazzeni) (1957) La Scala Memories
VERDI: Due Foscari (I) (La Scala, 1988) (NTSC) Opus Arte
Opera DVD
Vocal Recital: Corena, Fernando - ROSSINI, G. / CIMAROSA, D. / THOMAS, A. / SAINT-SAENS, C. (1956) Naxos Classical Archives

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