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Obituary: Lamberto Gardelli

LAMBERTO GARDELLI, the Italian-born conductor and composer, had the inestimable advantage of beginning his career at the Rome Opera as assistant to Tullio Serafin, himself once assistant to Toscanini. Like his master, Gardelli was a magnificent interpreter of Italian opera in general, and of the operas of Verdi in particular, although he worked for many years outside Italy, in Stockholm (he became a Swedish subject), Copenhagen, Budapest and on the international opera circuit.

His many records, in particular those of early Verdi operas, won him a great many admirers. He composed five operas, but only L'impresario delle Americhe, the second part of a trilogy, was performed. It was shown on Budapest television in 1982.

Gardelli was born in Venice in 1915 and trained at the Liceo Musicale Rossini in Pesaro, studying piano, double-bass, singing and composition as well as conducting. During his eight years as assistant to Serafin in Rome, he also worked with the composers Pietro Mascagni and Francesco Cilea. Gardelli made his official conducting debut in 1944 at the Rome Opera with La Traviata, but he is reputed to have conducted other operas before then, notably Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, coached by the composer, in 1939.

In 1946 Gardelli became a resident conductor with the Swedish Royal Opera in Stockholm, where he mainly worked in the Italian repertory. Those were exciting times, when Jussi Bjorling might sing Cavaradossi in Tosca, or Rudolfo in La Boheme, or Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci at the same performance, or Birgit Nilsson might appear as Lady Macbeth. Gardelli also conducted at the 18th-century Drottningholm Theatre, and I remember a particularly successful performance of Domenico Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto, which was repeated over several years between 1947 and 1952.

Moving from Stockholm to Copenhagen, in 1955 Gardelli became chief conductor of the Danish State Radio Orchestra. He made guest appearances in Helsinki and Berlin, then in 1961 became music director of the Budapest Opera, where he continued to conduct into the mid-Nineties.

Gardelli conducted an exciting Macbeth in 1964 at Glyndebourne, where he returned in 1968 to conduct Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Having made his US debut in 1964 at Carnegie Hall, New York, with a concert performance of Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, he first conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1966, making his debut with Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chenier, followed by Rigoletto and Madama Butterfly.

Gardelli came to Covent Garden in 1969, when he conducted a fine performance of Verdi's Otello. The London audience, used to the force, or violence even, of conductors such as Georg Solti in this opera, were at first taken aback by the gentleness of Gardelli's reading, but to anyone who had heard Serafin conduct Verdi, it caused no surprise. The exquisite orchestral detail of the last act won over the most sceptical member of the audience. Another Verdi opera on which Gardelli threw new light was La forza del destino, which he conducted in Budapest in 1964, and again in 1990, when he was 75 years old.

After a serious illness in the late 1980s, Gardelli returned to Budapest, where during the next few years he conducted La fiamma by Ottorino Respighi, La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli. Adriana Lecouvreur, another old favourite, which he also conducted at Zurich in 1994, and Moise et Pharaon, produced in 1992 to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Rossini. La fiamma, and another opera by Respighi, Semirama, are two of his best recordings.

Among the astounding series of early Verdi operas conducted on record by Gardelli, which include Attila, I Lombardi and I masnadieri, perhaps the most interesting is Il corsaro, for the reason that few people have had a good word to say for this work, but in Gardelli's hands it is transformed, if not into a masterpiece, then into a recognisable part of the Verdi canon.

Elizabeth Forbes

Lamberto Gardelli, conductor and composer: born Venice 8 November 1915; died Munich 17 July 1998.