While lacking the celebrity of certain other more glamorous figures, Vittorio Gui was a conductor of exceptional gifts, a knowledgeable leader and supportive accompanist to the hundreds of singers whose careers were enhanced by his tutelage and care, and a vivid and musically sound conductor of the symphonic literature. During a long career, he helped establish one important music festival and greatly influenced another, even while appearing in numerous other venues to great acclaim.
Gui was trained at Rome's Academy of Saint Cecilia, following piano instruction from his mother. Study in composition was accompanied by courses in the humanities at Rome University from which institution he obtained his degree. On short notice, Gui was summoned to take over a December 1907 performance of La Gioconda at the Teatro Adriano in his native city. The success he enjoyed led quickly to engagements at Turin and Naples. Within three years of his debut, Gui was appointed principal conductor at the San Carlo Opera in Naples. During this time, he also led a number of symphonic programs, most prominently at the 1911 Turin Exposition and, in 1912, at the Augusteo in Rome.
Gui's early achievements gave considerable luster to his name. Termed "a young Toscanini," he was celebrated for his meticulous preparation. Mastering a broad repertory of operatic and symphonic works, he invariably conducted from memory. In 1923, he was engaged by Toscanini to make his debut at La Scala in Strauss' Salome, therein being entrusted with the opening of the theatre's 1923 - 1924 season. In 1925, Gui was appointed music director of the Teatro Torino, instituting a regime of revitalized repertory and carefully restudied performance, and conducting many of the productions himself. An example of his intentions in managing the theatre came with a first-year revival of Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri featuring Conchita Supervia.
Three years into his work at Turin, Gui established the Orchestra Stabile in Florence, leading in 1933 to the beginning of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Also in 1933, Gui received an invitation from Bruno Walter to appear at Salzburg where he would become the festival's first Italian guest conductor. At Salzburg, he arrived with a reputation as not only a superb conductor of opera, but also as a symphonic director with particular abilities in the music of Debussy and Brahms.
Gui's warm relationship with the English public began with his debut at Covent Garden in 1938, when he conducted productions of Rigoletto, La bohème, and Tosca. Although his return there was delayed until a 1952 Norma with Callas and Stignani, he had followed wartime appearances in Vienna and Berlin with a debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1948. His sparkling manner and thorough preparation in both Mozart and Rossini made him a welcome part of that company. Assuming duties as music director in 1952 following the death of Fritz Busch, Gui remained at Glyndebourne until 1964 when he was approaching 80. Several recordings preserve his work, notably La Cenerentola, Le comte Ory (a brilliantly conducted, well cast production from 1952), Le nozze di Figaro from 1955 (with Jurinac, Bruscantini, and Stevens) and Il barbiere di Siviglia from 1962 (Bruscantini and de los Angeles).
Vittorio Gui also gained favorable comments for his composing. Writing in a neo-impressionistic style, he produced two operas of some merit, a symphonic poem, and several cantatas. Gui made substantial contributions to musicology as well, with numerous articles and editions of important scores.