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Renato Cellini learnt to play the cello, organ and piano as a child and by the age of ten was already playing the cello in public. He studied with the composers Alfano and Ghedini at the Turin Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1930. Gradually he established himself as a conductor, and following World War II was a member of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s music staff with particular responsibility for the Italian repertoire. He conducted the Glyndebourne production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at the 1947 Edinburgh Festival alongside Walter Susskind: both stood in for George Szell who had decided to withdraw from appearing with the company. The following year Cellini joined the music staff of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, working on the preparation of operas in both the Italian and French repertoires, and conducting several performances; he remained with the Met until 1954.

His career started to develop significantly following his assumption of the principal conductorship between 1948 and 1950 of the National Opera in Mexico City, where he led performances featuring Giuseppe di Stefano and Giulietta Simionato, amongst many other major singers of the day. He went on to conduct at the Cincinnati Opera Summer Festival and from 1954 to 1964 was chief conductor of the New Orleans Opera Company. Cellini was also a guest conductor at Caracas, Mexico City, and most notably, La Scala, Milan. He was held in high esteem in New Orleans, and several ‘in-house’ tape recordings of him conducting performances with the company have recently come to light, supplementing his commercial discography. Fine readings of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with Dorothy Kirsten as Butterfly, and of Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila, with Ramon Vinay and Risë Stevens in the title roles, are worth noting.

Renato Cellini recorded several complete opera sets for RCA during the early years of the LP era. These were solidly based upon the casts of the Metropolitan Opera. They included an exciting Il trovatore, with Jussi Björling in magnificent form, an effective reading of Rigoletto with Leonard Warren in the title role, and Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, both again featuring Björling. Another recording of note consisted of excerpts from La forza del destino, with the great soprano Zinka Milanov. Cellini’s conducting has often been criticised for being light-weight; however as both his commercial and ‘live’ recordings clearly demonstrate he was an efficient and effective conductor in his chosen repertoire, engendering a strong sense of energy and forward motion, while also drawing precise, well phrased and clearly balanced playing from his orchestral forces. He provided at all times an effective support for his singers, and often much more, depicting the operatic drama in graphic musical phrases.

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

Role: Conductor 
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