Arturo Toscanini might be the most iconic conductor of all time. When people talk about conductors as dictators, the image of Toscanini is impossible to overlook.
Born on March 25, 1867 in Parma, he started off his musical careers as a cellist. But fate would eventually have him perform as a conductor.
During a tour of Rio de Janeiro with an opera company, the conductor fell out of favor with the musicians. When all other options for a replacement fell through, Toscanini was offered up as an option, since he knew the entire score of the opera (it was “Aida”) from memory. He led the entire performance from memory and earned tremendous accolades. He was but 19 years old and would go on to conduct 18 operas for the remainder of the season with the company.
Upon returning to Italy, he resumed his career as a conductor and started premiering a number of Italian works. He also retained his work as a cellist, appearing the world premiere of Verdi’s “Otello.” He developed a relationship with the composer.
In 1898, she became principal conductor of La Scala and would become its music director from 1921-29. He also led the Met Opera and NY Philharmonic. In 1937, he took over the newly created NBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he would create many of his iconic recordings.
He died in 1957 at the age of 89, leaving behind an expansive recorded legacy.
Toscanini was the undeniably bridge between the music of Puccini and Verdi, knowing both composers in person. And as such, his opera interpretations really hinged on his brilliance in the repertory of both composers.
He recorded many of Verdi’s scores while also performing Puccini’s throughout his career. He famously aided in completing the score of “Turandot” after the composer’s death and also put down the baton in the opening performance at the point where Puccini stopped composing the work.
He premiered three of Puccini’s operas throughout his career.
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Watch and Listen
Toscanini’s “Falstaff” is arguably the greatest recording of the famed opera. Take a listen.
Check out his approach to Puccini with this recording of “La Bohème.”