Maestro Nicola Rescigno (1916 – 2008) – Co-Founder of The Dallas Opera

by christian.anderson
TDO Co-founder Nicola Rescigno on stage with legendary soprano Maria Callas
TDO Co-founder Nicola Rescigno on stage with Maria Callas

Nicola Rescigno, a well-known conductor and founder of two major American opera companies, died in a hospital in Viterbo, Italy, on Monday, August 4. He had fallen previously and was awaiting surgery for a broken femur. His death was confirmed by his nephew, Joseph Rescigno, of New York.

Rescigno had maintained a residence in a suburb of Rome for most of his adult life and had lived there full-time since his gradual retirement in the 1990s.

Rescigno was born in Manhattan in 1916 of Italian-American parents. His father was a trumpeter at the Metropolitan Opera for 30 years and played briefly at the New York Philharmonic, while several of the elder Rescigno’s brothers and cousins were also professional musicians. Nicola Rescigno was educated at an Italian boarding schooland also obtained a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. He then returned to New York where he studied at The Juilliard School and began a career as a conductor of opera. In the words of Ronald L. Davis, “Since American conductors for opera were practically unknown at the time, young Rescigno was something of a novelty.” (La Scala West: The Dallas Opera under Kelly and Rescigno, Southern Methodist University Press, 2000.)

In 1953, Rescigno was one of three founders of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, along with Carol Fox and Lawrence Kelly. Four years later, Kelly and Rescigno moved to Dallas to found the Dallas Opera where he remained until 1990 while continuing a busy free-lance career that took him to most of the major opera houses of the world. Rescigno was particularly associated with the soprano Maria Callas, but conducted
and recorded with many prominent singers. His performances include the US debuts of Callas and Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo, Dame Joan Sutherland, Teresa Berganza, Magda Olivero, and Jon Vickers. He made a Metropolitan Opera debut in 1978 conducting Don Pasquale, and he led l’Italiana in Algeri and l’Elisir d’Amore in the following season.

Nicola Rescigno is survived by his companion of 40 years, Aldo Marcoaldi, and also by his two sisters, Rita Pignatelli and Dolly Di Napoli both of New York, ten nieces and nephews (including Joseph Rescigno, the well-known opera conductor and artistic advisor of the Florentine Opera Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and six grand nieces and nephews.

For more information, read the Dallas Morning News article.


Born: May 28, 1916
Died: Morning of Monday, Aug. 4, 2008.

34 Responses to Maestro Nicola Rescigno (1916 – 2008) – Co-Founder of The Dallas Opera

Barry Craft says: August 21, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I will never forget that this great man gave a young Texas school teacher the chance to do leading roles on the stage of the Dallas Opera. He believed in me. Without Nicola Rescigno I would have never had a singing career at all. I was fortunate to work not only with him but also the “La Scala” Italians in general. It was a magnificent thing to be able to hone my artistic skills with him and the world-class company he founded.

I called him a few years back and we talked for a good while. He sent me an autopgraphed photo for my studio. He was very pleased that I had been singing non-stop since he first allowed me to sing for him and the Dallas Opera. Grazie Maestro

gabriele says: August 20, 2008 at 12:26 pm

caro Nicola, sempre presente saranno i tuoi sorrisi. le bonarietà varie che sempre erano presenti nei tuoi lazzi e scherzi. Sempre avevi nei ns. riguardi delle parole benevoli, i tuoi insegnamenti, rimane in noi il ricordo delle molteplici orchestre da Te magistralmente e brillantemente dirette in tutti i teatri del mondo hai saputo renderle immortali come sempre sarai Tu nei ns. cuori. Grazie Nicola amico e fratello riposa in pace

Matt Capell says: August 20, 2008 at 11:08 am

How saddened I was to hear of the maestro’s death. I shall never forget my audtion for him. I sang the aria from Der Freischutz. He paid rapt attention as I sang and was most complementary but wanted me to sing again the allegro portion of the aria. I thought perhaps I had done something wrong! However, he wanted it faster and with more excitement. Suddenly I was not nervous as he stood and conducted me through the selection. “Now, he said …that’s the way I would do it.” What a thrill! Somewhat irreverent but always that biting humor beneath even the most serious moments. There was never a dull moment. Farwell maestro. Now, perhaps he is with Begnalio….what a thought!

Mrs Margaret D'Arcangeli says: August 20, 2008 at 9:02 am

Dearest Nicola, I happened to be in Dallas staying with friends when I heard you had left us so I was unable to say a final goodbye to you in Rignano Flaminio. I spent many, many happy hours being a guest in both your lovely homes with Aldo and enjoying your company, listening to your anecdotes about your conducting experiences. I did have the honour to live near you for so many years. I had the pleasure and again honour of being invited by you to go to visit Dallas, Glyndebourne and Naples when you were conducting at these places. I will always remember Mama and your father who loved talking to my then little daughter who would climb up the hill to visit you in your splendid casale. I hope you have a happy life in your new celestial home. To your family and to Aldo I can only express my sorrow and deepest sympathy and condolences. Much love, Mary.

Eva Klotzer says: August 13, 2008 at 6:56 pm

As I read all of the heartfelt and comforting words of condolences, I am truly taken aback at just how big an impact my great uncle’s career made. Like my brother Tom and mother Marie let me say thank-you to all who cared for and loved my uncle. I didn’t inherit the awesome musical talent of my great-uncle but did receive a deep love and respect for opera. I look toward one day sharing that love and heritage with my children the way my mother did with me and my brother. Unfortunately I was only able to make two trips in my life time to that spectacular villa in Italy. However I do still possess fond memories of the short time I spent there. I also am able to recall numerous family gatherings at my grandfathers home in Flushing which Nicola often attended. As you can imagine to a six year old, he was rather intimidating. Little did I know this man’s life was rich in accomplishment and respect. To me he was the smoking man with a big grin who lived in a magical castle far away with rabbits and chickens just outside the kitchen and a haunted wine cellar where bats dwelled and other night creatures roamed. I take these memories into my heart and rejoice in knowing my uncle gave you all lasting memories just as magical.
Eva Klotzer

Marie Heller says: August 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Upon my return from my uncle’s funeral, I felt compelled to express my thanks to all his friends and family for their true, heart-felt condolences.

It is a great comfort to know that after twenty five years he will be reunited with my father;his brother and most beloved friend, Joseph.

I remember spending numerous summers with my parents and brothers at my Uncle Nicky’s villa in Rignano. One of my fondest memories was my uncle’s 90th birthday party where he was surrounded by good food, great friends, and my little shih tzu Suzie on his lap.

Again Thank you all,
Marie Heller née Rescigno

Carla Marini says: August 12, 2008 at 11:03 am

Ciao Nicola,
sarai sempre nel mio cuore: la tua arte ti rende immortale. Il tuo sorriso, il tuo amore, la tua simpatia non le dimenticherò mai.
Your italian friend
Carla Marini

Catherine DiNapoli says: August 11, 2008 at 3:54 pm

When I read all these lovely tributes to my mother, Dolly DiNapoli and aunt, Rita Pignatelli, the maestro’s 87 year old “kid sisters,” (or “sorelline,” as he called them) they were very touched and gratified. They want to thank all of you for your comments and let you know that in addition to being a great musician, Uncle Nicky was a kind, loving and generous brother. He had a happy, optimistic temperament, loved to tease the twins and never said a cross word to them.

Both my mother and I went to Italy frequently over the past 10 years to visit him when he stopped coming to New York. She called him last May 28 to wish him happy birthday. I called him three weeks later to let him know that I wouldn’t be in Rignano this summer because of other committments. Unfortunately, I did go, not to visit, but for the funeral.

Buona notte caro, amato zio e fratello. Dio ti benedica.

Suzanne says: August 8, 2008 at 12:52 pm

I find all these tributes, from co-workers, friends and family members, exceptionally moving. How wonderful to have one’s life and work remembered around the world with such respect, affection, and sincere regard.

He must have been an extraordinary man, as well as a one-of-a-kind artist, musician and mentor to have touched so many hearts and minds — both on and off-stage. I deeply regret my own association with the company came too late to know him. I have the feeling I would have shared the sense of joy and awe in his presence that so many here have beautifully expressed.

How proud I am to be a small part of his gift and legacy to the city of Dallas!

With warmest regards to all,

Suzanne Calvin, Assoc. Dir. of Marketing, The Dallas Opera

Joseph Rescigno says: August 8, 2008 at 5:58 am

I’ll echo my nephew’s thanks to all who posted here or may yet do so. I would especially like to thank Jonathan Pell for his friendship and responsiveness.

Fortunately, I was able to spend time with my uncle Nicola each summer for the past four years. His home was filled with memorabilia of a long and distinguished career but, above all, his years with you. The Dallas Opera meant so very much to him and was the centerpiece of his musical life.

Very sincerely,

Joseph Rescigno

Thomas Heller says: August 7, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Let me be the first family member to express my deepest and sincerest thanks to you all on your love for my great-uncle. At age 30 I’m the oldest of his grandnieces and grandnephews and unfortunately, I had only just begun to discover my Uncle Nicky’s impact on the Opera world.
When I was 5 I saw him conduct Turandot in Italy and remember very little. Recently as a gift to my mother, Marie, I bought the ’57 Dallas Rehearsal CD. After hearing Maria Callas’ voice I fell in love with the music. Callas was just a name to me before. I went out and started buying any opera recordings that I could find the two of them collaborating on. Then I bought Ronald Davis’ book and began to realize that the sarcastic, smoking man who I called and will always call “Uncle Nicky” is actually Nicola Rescigno, big-time opera conductor, and he was actually just as cool as he made himself out to be.
All kidding aside, I hadn’t seen my Great-uncle in over 10 years, and I talked to him via phone maybe twice in that time. Of course I’d seen him often when he visited Flushing, but not taking a trip to Rignano is something I regret now. I take comfort in the fact that he had so many wonderful friends who loved him so much and cared for his art as much as he did. Thank you all, so much

Deborah Rothermel says: August 7, 2008 at 11:32 am

I was truly blessed to have worked with Nicola Rescigno for the many years that I did at the Dallas Opera. He was one of the most amazing gentlemen I have ever met, and his influence and fierce loyalty to his music and all colleagues, no matter how low on the totem pole in the music world was amazing.He influenced my life from my first audition, when he took the time to make corrective comments, converse with me, and tell me exactly what to do to attain my goals. He then followed up on my progress , and came to my concerts/recitals to monitor my progress,until he felt I WAS READY TO SING IN THE CHORUS… one day out of the blue, our dear Charlotte called me to say I was invited to sing in the chorus, after he had heard me sing in the finals of the Dealey Awards..
With Maestro Benaglio at his side, he created a chorus, and a sound from the stage that has rarely been heard since their departure and passing.
I was privileged to continue our correspondence after he left Dallas, and saw him in Rome only two years ago.. I send my regards to his partner, and his family , and I only hope that heaven is ready for the new Opera company they will all put together there..

Beverly says: August 6, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I was sad f his passing make familybe love by forever he willalways be remember of the opera. Give all family deepest sympathy of love gave to the world. opera music. beverly

Candace Hagan says: August 6, 2008 at 6:51 pm

I was so saddened to hear of the passing of this great man. It was such a pleasure to sing under his baton. The opera world will miss him dearly. All who knew him loved him. My deepest sympathy to his family. Candy

Iris Belk Smith says: August 6, 2008 at 6:23 pm

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Maestro Rescigno. I do hope that all of the family members are comforted by the knowledge that people of all walks of life and in every corner of the earth are remembering the many ways this incredible man of music influenced their lives. He was larger then life… the chorus members, dancers, orchestra members, fundraisers, stage hands and on and on. All who met him were so influenced by his enormous gifts. I was in the Opera chorus for 13 glorious years. They were, and still are the most incredible 13 I’ve ever had.
God bless you Maestro, I love you. Iris

George Ward Shaw says: August 6, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Our prayers for the family & loved ones of Nicola Rescigno. From those of us @ IATSE 127 (Dallas) that had the opportunity to be around this amazing man. Thank you for all that you’ve done for our Company in Dallas & your achievemnts worldwide. You have always been missed & truly loved here.

Aída Betancourt says: August 6, 2008 at 11:58 am

What beautiful memories come to my heart when I think and hear Maestro Rescigno’s name. He took me under his wings when I worked at The Dallas Opera. His kindness and patience while teaching me about Opera. We spoke in Italian and Spanish so we could both practice each others native language. His laugh, always telling jokes and stories of the wonderful opera singers he directed and his many travels around the world.

He would always hum or sign parts of “Celeste Aída” as he passed my desk. I will always remember you as My Maestro. Grazie per tutti …Maestro

My condolences and prayers to your family and your many friends throughout the world. We will meet again, love, Aída

Michael Foutch says: August 6, 2008 at 8:40 am

What a sad day it was yesterday when I learned of the passing of the maestro. I first met him years ago when I was dancing with Dallas Opera. I found him to be an educated and cultured gentleman. Since then, partly because of his inspiration, I have striven to be the same. He was unfailingly kind to all the dancers. His conducting suited the dance perfectly. He was not just a singer’s conductor but a dancer’s conductor as well. It was always a pleasure to dance when he was in the pit. He will be missed.

Marjorie Henderson says: August 6, 2008 at 8:31 am

Relocating from Los Angeles in 1974, and all of its musical venues, I was looking forward to rolling cactus balls and some John Wayne. NO SO
My first visit/trip found me at the Dallas Opera!!!
To Jon Vickers, et al, and my everlasting thanks to NR!
Dallas was indeed blessed by his tenure.

William Paul Harbig says: August 6, 2008 at 7:09 am

A great man has died, but what a brilliant life he had! I first learned to love opera as a child in Dallas, using materials supplied to the Dallas schools by the DCO and attending their special performances for school children. It opened a completely new, and exciting, world to me and I became a regular opera goer from about the age of 9. I later worked as a spearcarrier, then sang in the DCO chorus in performances with Carlo Bergonzi, Renanta Tebaldi, Peter Glossop and Gwyneth Jones, none of whom would have been in Dallas but for Maestro Rescigno – and what a thrill that was! After leaving Dallas, I saw Maestro Rescigno once more in Washington DC, where he was conducting for the Washington Opera. I went backstage after the performance where he received me with unfailing politeness and interest, still eating his beloved kumqwats and making the same jokes (going to black tie dinners still dressed in white tie and tails, he invariably said, “My tie is white; I’ll help serve….”) A brilliant and talented conductor as well as an innovative opera entrepenuer, he was the most modest of men. A great man, and a great life. I am honoured that I knew him.

Kathleen Terbeek says: August 6, 2008 at 1:03 am

My audition for The Dallas Opera Chorus went much better than it deserved to. I felt at the time that there was something about Maestro Rescigno’s presence, while I was singing, that was somehow very supportive, though he was not the least overt about it. Not until those first rehearsals and performances did I begin to realize what an extraordinary listener he was. Indeed, his ears were the most prominent feature of his conducting — not his hands or his body or his face. I always, always was aware of his ears — and yes, that is to say his keen listening for what he wanted to hear, and for the potential in what he was hearing — but also his ears themselves, so astute, so alert, turned into the hall or to the pit or to the stage. I always found them very compelling! His arms seemed never to go down — they were always rising, hovering, providing such elegant elasticity, such a cushion of embracing sound for the singers. But it was because of those ears! They made us feel better informed by the music, and we sang beyond ourselves. He listened so intently — with scrutiny of course, but the bottom line was so obviously a tremendous admiration for singing and for singers — and not just the principals. I always felt personally attended to by those ears, and honored by them. No matter how well rehearsed or how often we’d performed it, the music always gained a sense of immediacy because of this quality of his. Call it love.

Among the many memorable productions over which he presided during his last 9 years, here, I recall with particular pleasure Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” with Von Stade singing cadenzas the maestro had written for her — and the Spring Season we did in the Majestic Theatre, when he was so enthused about being able to do more intimate works, especially Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” with baroque instruments. At the end of his last season, here, he very graciously offered a Master Class for the Chorus, and it was sheer privilege to hear the ideas that informed those ears! Such a rich source of authentic information about Bel Canto he was, and no shenanigans! — just a profound respect and appreciation for beauty, for art. It’s inestimable, the value and influence he and Maestro Benagio brought to this city. Certainly my life would have been much, much the poorer without those ears. And when the new house opens with Verdi’s “Othello,” I know I will sense their presence.

Molti grazie, Maestro. Sempre Maestro.

Marilyn Walton says: August 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Dear Jonathan:
I worked in Chicago (went to college there) and tried to work in Dallas! He was patient with those of us who were not perfect, but strived for perfection. This man was one of the greats! It is horrible to think that someone like him can not live forever. I am not in the opera world, but the Maestro loved all music. I remember that he enjoyed a particular tenor from Elmhurst (my alma mater), while I was singing jazz in Chicago and Champagne-Urbana. Bravo for a wonderful performance, Maestro!
Love to your family and love to you! May you find angels singing in the styles you loved best!

Ted & Mary Virginia Tuinstra says: August 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Mary Virginia and I have a very special place in our hearts
for our beloved Maestro and are deeply saddened by his passing.
Although he was a stern taskmaster, he truly loved his
chorus. I became aware of this while I had the privilege of
attending him several times for some medical problems.
Case in point: MV and I sent him a wedding invitation for May 16, 1981. Most of you know that we met in ’74 when I first joined the chorus ( MV joined in ’70 ). Little did we know at that time, that this was also his birthday !!!
Nevertheless, he left Italy 1 week earlier than planned. To our great astonishment, there he was sitting on the aisle with Charlotte ( our dear chorus-mom ), flashing his
famous toothy grin at us, while we walked down the aisle
awash in happiness and love.
Just one small example of this man’s great loyalty to his
colleagues and friends. We love you Maestro !!!

Mary Virginia and Ted Tuinstra

kay parsons says: August 5, 2008 at 9:21 pm

i shall always be grateful and enriched that maestro rescigno brought his dream to dallas. we are all his beneficiaries.

Thomas Hawkins says: August 5, 2008 at 9:13 pm

How sad to hear of Maestro Rescigno’s passing. I and many other long time members of the Dallas Opera Chorus have so many wonderful memories of him, foremost is how secure we always felt with him leading us with great confidence, and emotion, through the many great operatic gems.

My condolences to his family and many loved ones.
Grazie per tutti …Maestro.

Teresa Barchuk says: August 5, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Maestro Rescigno was one of the warmest memories I have of working at the Dallas Opera. He was incredibly funny, friendly,and could make anyone feel at ease. His repartee was one of the things I shall always remember him for.
My deepest condolences to his family.

Jennifer McMahan Carr says: August 5, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Maestro Rescigno was a brilliant musician and conductor. What a sad loss for the opera world. My fondest memory was singing for him in the 1980’s, and he coached me through Cherubino’s arias to get my Italian to sound more correct to his impeccable ear.
He was a unique and wonderful man with a delightful smile and sense of humor. Buona sera, Maestro!

Jose d'Andrade-Santos W. says: August 5, 2008 at 3:54 pm

My deepest condolences to the
Family of Mr. Rescigno.

? Jose Alberto d’Andrade-Santos W.
*Polyglot (7 spoken_10 sung )

Barbara Allen says: August 5, 2008 at 3:45 pm

It was a real pleasure having the opportunity to work professionally with Maestro Rescigno for several years as a member of the Dallas Opera Orchestra. He was a tremendous musician and will certainly be missed.

Joe Bennett says: August 5, 2008 at 3:33 pm

What a sad day for all of us who knew him and had the opportunity to work with him. The world of opera has, indeed lost one of the greats.

Jeffrey Snider says: August 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Of course, I saw many performance conducted by Maestro Rescigno during my student days, but I only met him once, while auditioning for a “Career Development Grant.”

What I remember most is the gleam in his eye as I sang “Eri tu” from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. He so loved the great Italian operas, and the class and distinction he brought to Dallas will be remembered for years and years to come.