Trieste, June 16, 1938 – Milan, June 24, 2016
Edoardo Müller, one of the most respected and admired Italian opera conductors of our time, died today in Milan at the age of 78. An “old school” conductor in the best sense of that phrase, Müller was also a conductor to whom two generations of major operatic artists of our time. A true scholar of singing, he understood vocal technique and style in extraordinary depth. In rehearsing an opera, it helped enormously that he was able to demonstrate exactly what he wanted by singing himself. On at least one occasion -- at a San Diego Opera dress rehearsal he sang through an entire leading role (in this case, Alfredo inLa traviata during a dress rehearsal) with exquisite elegance while conducting at the same time. It was the bel canto repertoire – Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti – that brought Müller particular renown. For decades he was at the helm for performances of these works in major opera houses, imparting stylistic refinements to singers who profited immeasurably from their work with him. His immersion in bel canto opera continued to the end of his career. In 2009, for example, the Virgin Classics label released “Colbran the Muse,” an all-Rossini program by Joyce DiDonato concentrating on roles written for the composer’s first wife, Isabella Colbran. It was singularly appropriate that DiDonato, one of today’s most prominent bel canto singers, turned to Müller to conduct. Leading Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia orchestra and chorus, Müller made a superb contribution to one of the most acclaimed Rossini discs of recent years. Müller began his career as a pianist, but eventually turned to the operatic repertoire. He developed his musical standards as the assistant of many of the greatest conductors of the mid-20th century, among them Karl Böhm, Carlos Kleiber, and Müller’s compatriots Tullio Serafin, Vittorio Gui, Antonino Votto, Claudio Abbado, and Francesco Molinari-Pradelli. It was a rarely heard bel canto opera, Rossini’s Mosè, that brought Müller his conducting debut – substituting for George Prêtre -- at the opening of Florence’s 1973 Maggio Musicale. His career took him thereafter to many of the world’s major opera houses, from Milan’s La Scala and the other leading Italian theaters to Buenos Aires, Santiago, Montreal, Mexico and Tokyo. Müller also was for many years a favorite conductor on the podiums of American opera companies. He debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984 with Il barbiere di Siviglia, and continued with Lucia di Lammermoor, La fille du régiment, Roméo et Juliette, and I Puritani. His final Met performance was Lucia on January 5, 2006. He also appeared with great success at Seattle Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the major houses of Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, Dallas, and Houston. Müller was especially acclaimed at San Diego Opera, where he conducted extensively over a period of 31 years. He held the post of principal guest conductor from 2005 to 2011. Of the more than 40 works led by Müller at SDO, 16 were by Giuseppe Verdi, beginning with a rarity, Giovanna d’Arco (West Coast premiere), which introduced Müller to the company in 1980. That work was part of SDO’s Verdi Festival, as was another unfamiliar work, Il corsaro, which Müller conducted two years later. His other successes in San Diego included works of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Bizet, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Puccini. His final SDO performance was Carmen on May 22, 2011. His brilliance at the keyboard brought Müller many engagements as collaborating pianist for recitals by many of the world’s most distinguished singers, among them Montserrat Caballé, Leyla Gencer, Elena Obaztsova, Carlo Bergonzi, José Carreras, Renato Bruson, and above all Renata Tebaldi. Müller recorded for four commercial labels -- Philips, BMG, Bongiovanni, and Orfeo. In addition, privately released recordings document a great many of Müller’s performances. Hugely influential as a coach for young singers, Müller was exceptional as a leader of master classes and as an adjudicator for competitions. He inspired great love among opera professionals as well as audiences, who cherished his effervescent spirit, his joie de vivre, and above all, his passion for the art form he served with such dedication. The conductor is survived by his wife Giovanna, his children Michele and Laura, and four grandchildren.