Nicola Rescigno was an acclaimed American conductor of opera. It wasn't just his insightful interpretations and brilliant baton technique that he is remembered for. It is that Rescigno presented Maria Callas to the American operatic world and regularly performed and recorded with her and he also co-founded the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Dallas Opera. Moreover, many other front-rank opera stars debuted in the U.S. under his aegis, including Domingo, Vickers, Franco Zeffirelli, Sutherland, Caballé, Teresa Berganza, and Magda Olivero. There is little doubt that Rescigno was one of the most influential figures in American opera from the latter half of the twentieth century. He was in his element in the classic Italian operas, particularly those of Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, and Puccini, but he also led operas by Handel and Mozart, as well as contemporary operas. Rescigno made countless recordings, many still available on Decca, EMI, DG, and reissue labels like Opera D'oro, Bella Voce, and Melodram.
Rescigno was born in New York City on May 28, 1916. Discouraged from studying music by his father, a trumpeter with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, he went to Italy to study law, but returned to enroll at Juilliard. He eventually studied with three prominent composers: Vittorio Giannini, Ildebrando Pizzetti, and Giorgio Polacco.
Rescigno's official debut came in 1943 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where he led a performance of La Traviata. He steadily built his career thereafter, working first in smaller opera houses. By the early '50s he was an international figure on the opera scene. He co-founded (with Lawrence V. Kelly and Carol Fox) the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1953, and then served as its music director (1954-1956).
In 1957 he co-founded (again with Kelly) the Dallas Opera, initially called the Dallas Civic Opera, serving as principal conductor and artistic director until 1990. Except for Callas, whom he introduced to the U.S. in Chicago in 1953, it was in Dallas that Rescigno oversaw the U.S. debuts of so many opera stars, including Domingo and Sutherland.
Rescigno's debut at the Met came relatively late in his career — 1978 — when he led a performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, with Beverly Sills among the principals. With the appointment of Plato Karayanis as general director of the Dallas Opera in 1977, Rescigno gradually became disenchanted with the progressive changes Karayanis introduced. Rescigno departed in 1990 and spent most of his remaining years in Viterbo, Italy.