By James Conlon Several great classical musicians have passed away in recent months.  Van Cliburn, Henri Dutilleux and Sir Colin Davis have each left an enormous mark on our world, and their passing, in keeping with their international status, has been rightly observed on several continents. Today I offer a personal homage to the conductor Bruno Bartoletti, who died last week in Florence, a day before his eighty-seventh birthday. He was known, and will thus be remembered by those of us who had the fortune to know him, for his extraordinary knowledge, artistic vision, elegance, courage and tenacity. In Florence, at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the many colleagues, musicians and chorus members whose lives and careers he influenced over the course of decades feel his loss. His colleagues and public in Chicago also acknowledge the same appreciation, where his association and artistic leadership saw the newly born Lyric Opera grow into the international opera company it is today. He was born in an age when conductors did not study gestures, podium demeanor or baton technique.  He learned music in conservatory, and then conducting by apprenticeship. He first witnessed, and later participated in, a golden age of Italian vocalism. He embodied many qualities of the conductor/artistic director that seem to be in shorter supply now. He was erudite; a person of broad culture and taste. It was an age in which knowledge of, respect for, and devotion to inherited tradition was considered fundamental. Part of that tradition was the defense of new music. He courageously and tenaciously promoted twentieth-century opera everywhere he worked. The new works he introduced, and sometimes premiered, is long. Today, the presence of many of these operas in the repertory is taken for granted.  It is easy to lose sight of the fact that, at the moment Bruno Bartoletti was defending them, many were not even known, let alone accepted by the public. The list includes works by Bartók, Berg, Bolcom, Britten, Ginastera, Janáček, Penderecki, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Alongside that mission, he defended Italian opera as part of the great patrimony that he, and his entire nation, received as a birthright. He took Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini no less seriously than Verdi and Wagner. He insisted that conducting Puccini and the Verismo composers be taken no less seriously than conducting Stravinsky or Debussy. He revered this tradition and bristled – as I do – at the notion that it is in some way inferior. By happenstance, I was in Florence the day he passed away. I had barely arrived here when I heard the news, and consequently did not make it up the hill for my customary visit. His sprawling villa, with his many scores and books, was situated across the road from the estate of Lord Acton (which now serves as the Florentine Academic Center of NYU). My older daughter Luisa studied there for a year, and I once visited them both on the same day. I am in Florence for this year’s Maggio Musicale, marking the Verdi Bicentennial by conducting the original version of Macbeth in the Teatro della Pergola, the very theater in which the work was created in 1847, conducted by the composer. I was looking forward to discussing the early version of Macbeth with Bruno. He would doubtlessly have had a lot to say. He was the embodiment of an age that took for granted the notion that an interpretative artist’s first obligation was to know, respect and, yes, revere inherited culture, its works of art and performing traditions.  For him, defending those traditions was not in any way antithetical to the advocacy of the new and innovative, demonstrating that there is no contradiction in so doing. By serving two supposedly inimical masters, he showed that they are, in reality, one.

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