Claudio Abbado, a conductor whose refined interpretations of a large symphonic and operatic repertory won him the directorships of several of the world’s most revered musical institutions — including La Scala, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic — died on Monday at his home in Bologna, Italy. He was 80.
Raffaella Grimaudo, a spokeswoman for the Bologna mayor’s office, announced the death without giving a specific cause, saying it followed a long illness.
President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy paid tribute in a statement, saying Mr. Abbado had “honored the great musical tradition of our country in Europe and all over the world.”
Mr. Abbado was known for the directness and musicality of his performances. He almost always conducted from memory, insisting that using the score meant that he did not know the work adequately.
He was a particularly lyrical interpreter of Mahler, whose richly emotional language he had absorbed as a student in Vienna. But he was also a distinguished conductor of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, and he had a flair for Russian symphonic music.
Reviewing a Beethoven concert by the Berlin Philharmonic in New York City in 2001, Bernard Holland wrote in The New York Times: “Much-performed music needs different approaches in order to survive, and Mr. Abbado had his own. First, any sound worth making must be a beautiful one. Beethoven’s rough surfaces are sanded and polished to a shine. The sweep of a melodic line takes precedence over the absolute clarity of inner voices.”
In the opera house, Mr. Abbado’s repertory was similarly broad: He made his professional debut with Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges,” in Trieste in 1958, and had successes with productions of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” and “Khovanshchina.” His repertory included Mozart and Wagner, but his specialties were Rossini and Verdi, whose music he performed with respect for the artistry they embody rather than the showmanship they allow, which he disliked.
Like other opera conductors who came of age after World War II, he preferred to perform Verdi and other Italian Romantics in modern scholarly editions, in which opera house traditions like interpolated high notes were eliminated and material that had been cut was restored. In the mid-1970s, for example, he began to present the restored, five-hour version of Verdi’s “Don Carlos.” And his 1984 Pesaro Festival performance (and subsequent recording) of Rossini’s long-lost “Il Viaggio a Reims” helped find that work a place in the repertory.
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