Nello Santi

Italian conductor Nello Santi was born in Adria, Veneto on 22 September 1931. His mother was a schoolteacher and classical music enthusiast. He learned several instruments as a child, then studied at Padua Conservatory. His conducting debut in Padua in 1951 - Verdi's Rigoletto at Teatro Verdi - began a career which lasted over sixty years.

He was principal conductor at the San Carlos Theatre in Lisbon, and then Principal Guest Conductor of Zurich Opera, where he worked for forty years. He was principal conductor of Radio Sinfonieorchester Basel from 1986 until 1994. He also conducted at Covent Garden, Hamburg State Opera, La Fenice, La Scala, New York Metropolitan Opera, Opéra National de Paris, the Salzburg Festival, the Swiss Radio Orchestra in Basel, Verona Arena, Vienna State Opera and the Yomuiri Nippon Symphony in Tokyo.

A traditionalist, he specialised in mainstream Italian opera but also had a passion for Wagner. He thought that younger Italian conductors had become too obsessed with the orchestra, forgetting the song and not understanding theatre. He had a very good memory, and could sing any vocal or instrumental passage from Italian opera whilst conducting. He had a reputation for demanding perfection, resulting in long, tiring rehearsals, during which his own energy never sagged. Other musicians often called him 'Papa Santi' as a mark of respect. Critics, however, often gave him a hard time during the earlier years of his career.

His recordings include operas by Donizetti, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Montemezzi, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi.

On retiring, he remained in Switzerland but moved to Riehen, and occasionally conducted in Basel and Zurich.

Nello Santi died at his home in Zurich on 6 February 2020, aged eighty-eight, whilst undergoing treatment for a blood infection.


A selection of articles about Nello Santi

Classical music news - February 2020 Obituaries - Our summary of those the classical music world lost last month

Ensemble. A Different 'Norma' - Giuseppe Pennisi visits Naples

CD Spotlight. Inestimable Worth - Joan Sutherland's debut recital, assessed by Howard Smith. 'No other single disc has these historic performances.'