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Victor de Sabata

Victor de Sabata

(1892 - 1967)


Victor de Sabata was an Italian conductor and composer widely recognised as being one of the most distinguished operatic conductors of the twentieth century.

He was known for his exceptional renditions of Verdi, Puccini and Wagner operas.

Like Wilhelm Furtwängler, de Sabata regarded composition as more important than conducting and like Furtwangler, he is remembered more for his conducting than his compositions.

De Sabata has been frequently compared to Toscanini for the title of "the greatest Italian conductor of the twentieth century", and some have even gone as far as to suggest he was "the greatest conductor in the world".

In 1918 de Sabata was appointed conductor of the Monte Carlo Opera and went on to conduct the orchestra of La Scala in 1922. He conducted opera there from 1929 and succeeded Toscannini there in 1930.

After a dispute there with the orchestra regarding one of his own compositions, he resigned soon after.

Toscanini begging him to return in a letter saying that his absence was "damaging to you and the theater".

De Sabata took umbridge and the two men didn't speak again for decades despite the fact he did return to La Scala, and stayed in the post for over 20 years.

He conducted widely throughout Italy and Central Europe during the 30's and in 1933 he made his first commercial recordings with the Orchestra of the Italian Broadcasting Authority in Turin.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's son claimed that de Sabata was "a personal friend" of his father which added to the estrangement between he and Toscannini.

In 1936, he appeared with the Vienna State Opera and in 1939, he conducted at Bayreuth with "Tristan und Isolde".

At that time he also began a strong friendship with the young Herbert von Karajan. It remains unclear why De Sabata was permitted to work in Germany by the Nazi regime given his part-Jewish background.

During the last days of World War 2, De Sabata helped Von Karajan relocate his family to Italy.

De Sabata continued to be based at La Scala, Milan, giving him the opportunity to work with two recent "sensation sopranos" Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas.

In August 1953 in a collaboration with Maria Callas he produced his only commercial opera recording ever- Puccini's "Tosca" with Giuseppe Di Stefano and Tito Gobbi, and the La Scala orchestra and chorus.

It is this production that is widely regarded as one of the greatest opera recordings of all time, with one critic claiming that "De Sabata's success in this Tosca remains so decisive that had he never recorded another note, his fame would still be assured".

It was hoped that this recording would be the first of a series by HMV but plans to continue were stymied when De Sabata suffered a severe heart attack that stopped him performing publically.

His scheduled performance at La Scala in 1953 with Alessandro Scarlatti's "Mitridate Eupatore" with Maria Callas was replaced at short notice by an acclaimed production of Cherubini's "Médée" with Leonard Bernstein on the podium.

On his resignation at La Scala, he was succeeded by his assistant Carlo Maria Giulini.

In 1964 Walter Legge (Head of EMI and husband of Elizabeth Schwartzkopf) offered him an opportunity to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra - and even suggested he might write a completion to Puccini's opera Turandot, but neither of this things eventuated.

De Sabata died in Liguria, Italy, in 1967 and at his memorial service, the Orchestra of La Scala performed without a conductor as a mark of respect to him.

As a conductor, De Sabata was exceptionally demanding of his players and one musician noted - "Those eyes and ears missed nothing ... "

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