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Francesco Siciliani, leading Italian opera director, dead at 85

December 19, 1996

ROME (AP) _ Francesco Siciliani, one of the leading opera impresarios of 20th century Italy, has died. He was 85.

He died of complications from lung cancer at a Rome hospital Tuesday night, said a spokesman for the Gemelli Polyclinic.

Siciliani, who once said he learned to read notes before words, was a musical prodigy and composer. But his fame came from helping revive Italy’s musical scene after World War II and leading some of its great opera houses, including Milan’s La Scala, the San Carlo theater in Naples and the Florence opera.

He promoted the early careers of such artists as Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Mario Del Monaco and worked with the greatest conductors of the age, including Furtwangler, von Karajan, De Sabata and Mitropoulos.

He was artistic director of the La Fenice opera in Venice at the time of his death.

Siciliani was born in the Umbrian town of Perugia on March 3, 1911, the son of a clarinet teacher.

At age 6 he already was playing the piano in public and conducting. At home, Siciliani once said, ``Everybody played music, including the maids, and I learned to read notes before words.″

In the years during and just after the war, Siciliani served as artistic director at the San Carlo theater in Naples.

He directed Florence’s Teatro Comunale opera from 1948 to 1957, and moved to La Scala from 1957 to 1966 and 1980 to 1983. Before joining La Fenice six years ago, he was artistic director of Rome’s Academy of Santa Cecilia, which includes the city’s main orchestra.

His compositions included ``Fragments from the Canticle of Canticles,″ ``Psalm 12″ and ``Four Madrigals of Tasso″ for voices and orchestra.

Siciliani is survived by his wife, Ambra, son Alessandro and daughter Maria Francesca, a theater director.

A funeral was planned for Friday at Santa Maria del Popolo church in Rome, where Siciliani lived.

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