Conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli was one of the world's great conducting stars. He gave powerful, psychologically penetrating, even expressionist, performances that were often highly controversial. At the age of 12, Sinopoli studied harmony and organ at Messina, then harmony and counterpoint at the Venice Conservatory (1965-1967). At the insistence of his father he simultaneously studied medicine. From 1969 to 1973, he attended the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, studying under Franco Donatoni. He graduated with his doctorate of medicine in psychiatry and a PhD in anthropology from the University of Padua in 1972. His psychiatry dissertation was on the physiology of the areas of the brain concerned with creating the sensations of sound.
After a period as Donatoni's assistant, Sinopoli was appointed to the faculty of the Venice Conservatory as professor for contemporary and electronic music. In that year he also took up conducting studies with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. In 1975 he founded the Bruno Maderna Ensemble, an avant-garde music group, while continuing to teach and compose.
He began to make a reputation as a composer. His work, typically, was intense and followed the trend toward serial music that prevailed at the time. He received several major commissions. His largest work was an opera named Lou Salomé, based on the life of a 19th century literary figure. It was premiered at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1981.
Meanwhile, his work leading the Bruno Maderna Ensemble had been noticed. He began receiving requests to conduct. In 1976 and 1977, respectively, he led highly acclaimed performances of the Verdi operas Aïda and Macbeth in Venice, then the same composer's Macbeth at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Attila at the Vienna State Opera. Sinopoli's London operatic debut was Puccini's Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden (1983) and his New York debut was at the Metropolitan with Puccini's Tosca (1985). As an operatic conductor, he performed frequently at the Bayreuth Festival, La Scala, and other major opera houses. He is particularly known for his electrifying performances of the Richard Strauss operas Salome and Elektra.
In addition to Bayreuth, Sinopoli was also a frequent guest at the Salzburg, Lucerne, and Schlewsig-Holstein Music Festivals. From 1990 until his death, Sinopoli was director of the Taormina Arte Festival in Sicily. He was appointed principal conductor of the Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (serving there through 1987) and in 1984 became the principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, remaining through 1994. In 1987, his position was upgraded to that of music director of the Philharmonia, which he held until 1994. From 1992 to 2001 Sinopoli was principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden.
Giuseppe Sinopoli recorded exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon. His set of Maderna works won the Grand Prix International du Disque and Premio della Critica Discografia Italiana in 1981. His Manon Lescaut recording won both those prizes in addition to the International Record Critics Award in 1985. Further prizes were a Gramophone Award in 1987 for La forza del destino, the Tokyo Record Academy Prize and Stella d'Oro for Madama Butterfly, three prizes for Tannhäuser, and three for Tosca. Sinopoli's most honored recording was Strauss' Salome, which won the Orphee d'Or, the Stella d'Argento, the Grand Prix de la Nouvelle Academie du Disque, and the Edison Award. In 1994, the Italian government awarded Sinopoli its highest award, the Gran Croce al Merito, for his contribution to arts and music. Giuseppe Sinopoli died at the Deutsche Oper Berlin of a heart attack while conducting the third act of Aïda.