Obituary: Italian Conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti Dies 75

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Athole Still Artists)

On August 11, Gianluigi Gelmetti died at the age of  75 in Monte Carlo.

The celebrated conductor was born on Sept. 11, 1945 in Rome, Italy where his father was a pianist and his mother was a poet. Gelmetti went on to study at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia where he became interested in music, art, and literature. At the age of 16, Sergiu Celibidache let him conduct an orchestra before becaming his teacher. Gelmetti went on to study with Franco Ferrara and Hans Swarowsky and in 1967 he won the “Firenze” prize.

Gelmetti went on to make debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and from 1989 to 1998, he became the  Principal Conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra as well as the Schwetzingen Festival.

In 2000, he became the Musical and Artistic Director of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma where he would lead until 2009. During his time in Rome, he conducted the world premiere of “Marie Victoire” and led rarely performed works such as Respighi’s “La fiamma,” and Franco Alfano’s “La leggenda di Sakùntala” and Mascagni’s “Iris.” From 2004 to 2008, he was named Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and in 2012, he was appointed Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. He would stay in the postion until 2016.

The conductor was also a frequent guest at the Rossini Opera Festival where he led productions of “Tancredi,” “La Gazza Ladra,” “Otello,” “Maometto second,” and “Guillaume Tell.” He was awarded the Rossini d’Oro for “Guillaume Tell,” for which he led the world premiere of the complete opera. Gelmetti also conducted in Toulouse, Trieste, Parma, Zurich, Napoli, Liege, Oman, Japan China, Berlin, Bonn, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Munich, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Madrid, and Bilbao, among others.

His repertoire included the music of Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Zadonai, Wagner, Puccini Debussy, Leoncavallo, Berg, Respighi, Piccinni, Mascagni, and Johann Strauss. He was also known for leading the symphonic works of Stravinsky, Ravel, Rota, Webern, Beethoven, Bruckner, Varèse, and Mozart.

Aside from conducting, Gelmetti took up composing and wrote “In Paradisum Deducant Te Angeli,” which premiered in Rome and later performed in London, Munich, Frankfurt, Budapest, Sydney, and Stuttgart. His work “Algos” had its world premiere in 1997 by the Münchner Philharmoniker and his 1999 commission “Prasanta Atma,” which aimed to celebrate Sergiu Celibidache, also had its world premiere in Munich. The Teatro Comunale di Bologna also commissioned him on “Cantata della Vita” for choir, cello solo, and orchestra.

He was also a conducting teacher at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena and at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, his alma mater.

For his many accomplishments, he was knighted “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” in France, “Commandeur de l’Ordre du Mérite Culturel” in Monaco and “Cavaliere di Gran Croce” of the Italian Republic. He was also named Chef Honoraire for life and was awarded the Monaco citizenship by H.S.H. Prince Albert II.

Gelmetti last conducted “Macbeth” at the Opera Lombardia and was expected to lead Rossini’s “Otello” in December in Liège.

The conductor left numerous recordings from EMI, Sony, RICORDI, FONIT, DECCA, TELDEC, NAXOS, and AGORÀ.

The Teatro dell’Opera di Roma first broke the news writing “with deep sorrow, we communicate that Gianluigi Gelmetti has died.” Other opera houses have since honored the conductor including the Teatro La Fenice, Teatro Verdi di Trieste, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and the Rossini Opera Festival. Additionally, several operatic figures have taken to social media to pay their respects including Angela Gheorghiu, Francesco Meli, Eleonora Buratto, Roberto Abbado, and Riccardo Frizza, among others. Additionally, the Rossini Opera Festival has decided to dedicate this year’s festival to Gelmetti.