How an old-school maestro conducts Tosca

How an old-school maestro conducts Tosca


norman lebrecht

February 06, 2020

Nello Santi, who died today.

The soprano Aprile Millo writes: One of the greatest and most knowledgeable maestri of the Italian repertoire and voice has crossed to Paradise. Nello Santi. Not only Italian Opéra but symphonic repertoire as well. Whole orchestras would respect him and laugh with him at his encyclopedic recitation of Opéra lore and in correcting some singing or orchestral members he would do so in in fast solfeggio every single note. Some of the greatest nights of my life on stage were under his superb direction. Since I was 22 I knew him. Some of my first rehearsals were with him at the Met. My first Luisa Miller at the Met. Countless Aida’s and Trovatore’s. He was the maestro who winked at me and gave me permission to cap the Triumphal Scene in Aida with a high Eb that brought pandemonium in the house of cheers. Andrea Chenier. Turandot. He said you should leave Liu now. You are Turandot with such easy top and thrilling C’s. That he helped form so much in my life with such charm and ease and his sense of total calm. He had heard and worked with them all. He made the orchestra a third lung. Breathing with you in a supportive ocean of beauty and sound. To his beautiful family go my heartfelt condolences. His wife, so very much a part of who he was, Gabby. My arms are around you. What a loss for all who love Opéra. A real maestro. God bless you this day in Paradise. I shall never forget a word you said. Or the emotions you made me feel while serving music. Pax perpetua!!!!

Maria Guleghina writes: No words… one of the greatest and most beloved maestros … one of the most most important ones in my life…
eternal memory. We did so many beautiful productions and concerts together, amongst them unforgettable Nabucco at Gran Teatre del Liceu and at Festival Castell de Peralada as well as Tosca at Opernhaus Zürich…
Rest in peace legendary Nello Santi Nello Santi



  • - says:

    a true master conductor and musician, like very few others. the highest level !

  • John Rook says:

    An old flame of mine sang in the chorus of Aida in London back in the 1980’s, one of those John McCarthy/Earl’s Court productions. Nello Santi conducted all the rehearsals from memory – nothing unusual in that, really – but he also knew all the rehearsal figures. Everybody loved him, apparently.

  • erich says:

    A wonderful old routinier, always without a score and a terrific accompanist for singers. Also, despite being large, very quick on his feet. When a journalist booed him at a curtain call, he was out of the pass door in what seemed like seconds, delivering a slap to the offender!

  • Costa Pilavachi says:

    In the early 1970s, when I was spending some time in Paris, I attended a Vespri Siciliani with Santi conducting at the Palais Garnier. The cast was average to quite good for the time, today we would be ecstatic with such Verdi voices, with soprano Christina Deutekom and tenor Wieslaw Ochman popping up in my memory. To begin the final act, Santi returned to the pit to be greeted with several loud boos. He turned to the audience and thrust his baton to them, shouting in heavily accented French “if there is anyone who would like to take my baton and conduct the orchestra……” and the place erupted in cheers and applause. The last act was spectacular, true Verdi fireworks, Deutekom finally found her pitch and was absolutely hair-raisingly thrilling, little Ochman was over the top and the orchestra played as if their life depended on it. An unforgettable night in the hands of a true professional. RIP.

    • Willymh says:

      I recall that Vespri but had forgotten that indeed Santi was the conductor. As you say we would kill for that cast and conductor today.

  • TishaDoll says:

    I saw him innumerable times at the MET where he was a GREAT favorite. Many, many happy evenings and matinees. Now a proper Verdi Requiem for him with Muti conducting Frittoli, Barcellona, Grigolo and Furlanetto. The ladies are still sublime as of last Sunday in FALSTAFF at Staatsoper here in Berlin.

    • MusicBear88 says:

      I sang Verdi Requiem with Frittoli back in 2002. One of the most astonishing voices I’ve had the pleasure of hearing live.

  • Fiddler says:

    My favorite conductor of all time. One of the greatest geniuses I’ve ever worked with. The end of Tosca act 1 he had such a terrifying grimace and the orchestra sounded like the end of the world. My hair felt like it was standing on end. It must have been funny for him to see me gripping my violin with fear. He looked down at me still grimacing after cutting off the orchestra and winked at me. Unforgettable.

  • TishaDoll says:

    I never did understand why they called him routinier. I have heard him more than 100 times. The singers and audience loved him. He was not dull. But always a ‘know it all’ would boo. Invariably. I am sure April’s Millo, her favorite conductor, is very sad tonight and or at mass.

  • MacroV says:

    My brother subbed a fair amount in the MET orchestra in the late 1980s and played with Nello Santi a few times. I’m thinking mostly Turandot. He talked about how he played the same opera with both Levine and Santi, and Santi just “got it.”

  • TishaDoll says:

    I see Aprile commented beautifully. She, Dawn Upshaw and I were Larry Stayers’ favorites at the MET in 1986. He was big on self discipline, the other singer’s didn’t have it. And, of course, he liked cute boys…and in those days

  • Kevin Scott says:

    One of the true maestros of the podium. RIP

  • Karl says:

    I heard him conduct the Zuerich Oper in the 80’s. He was a lagend and you could hear why. There was always a sense of joy and relaxation when he conducted. I saw him in the Kronenhalle after the shows where he invited everybody that congratulated hin to a glass of wine….

  • Michael Turner says:

    One of the old school. No massive histrionics, just a clear beat and the knowledge, for the players and singers, that he was right inside the score.