Gabriele Santini was a major conductor of opera in the early and mid-twentieth century, but his name gradually faded in the decades following his death. Reissues of his recordings in recent years, however, have revived interest in his career. Santini worked with some of the greatest singers of the day, including Maria Callas, Jussi Björling, Franco Corelli, Beniamino Gigli, Toti Dal Monte, Tito Gobbi, and numerous others. Santini's repertory was rich in Verdi and Puccini fare, as well as other staples of the Italian stage, but it also included works outside the Italian sphere, like Carmen, Der Freischütz, and Ravel's L'heure espagnole. He often introduced new works as well, among them Giordano's Il re (1930). His recordings are available on many labels, including EMI, Naxos, Pantheon, and Warner Fonit.
Gabriele Santini was born in Perugia, Italy, on January 20, 1886. He studied with several teachers locally, but his advanced training came at the Bologna Conservatory. He was a mere 20 when he gave his conducting debut. After a brief stint at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, Santini left Italy and settled in Buenos Aires, where he worked for eight seasons at the Teatro Colón.
He held posts thereafter in Rio de Janeiro and Chicago, and then returned to Italy. Perhaps his most important activity came in the crucial years ahead (1925-1929), when he worked with the influential Toscanini at La Scala. Here Santini led acclaimed performances of Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Aida, Carmen, and other staples of the repertory. From 1929-1933 he worked at the Rome Opera, and in the prewar and wartime eras — a period when, for obvious reasons, opera performances were scaled back — he managed to lead many important productions at La Scala. In 1944 he was appointed artistic director at the Rome Opera. He served in that capacity until 1947, when he assumed duties there as music director.
From this time until 1962 — the year he stepped down — Santini led some of his most memorable performances, and with many of the opera world's superstar singers. Almost all of his recordings date to the period of 1952-1964. Among the most memorable of them is a La Traviata featuring Callas. Santini continued introducing new works during this period as well, including Milhaud's Christoph Colomb (1954). The busy Santini collapsed during a recording session of Tosca in 1964 and died a short while later.