Seattle Opera celebrates the life and artistry of the great Italian maestro Edoardo Mueller, who passed away last week in Milan.
Bill Mohn, photo
A beloved, familiar figure in Seattle, Mueller made his local debut conducting Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in 1991. He returned frequently for the next two decades, conducting popular Italian favorites such as Rigoletto and Turandot as well as many of the bel canto operas performed here: The Barber of Seville, Lucia di Lammermoor, Norma, L’italiana in Algeri, and I puritani. Seattle Opera couldn’t get enough of his leadership, and not just because he understood every note, every nuance of these wonderful operas. He had an uncanny ability to motivate and prepare everyone involved to give their absolute best.
Bill Mohn, photo
Born in Trieste, Mueller began his career assisting such legendary Italian maestros as Tullio Serafin and Vittorio Gui. His breakthrough came in 1973, when he conducted Rossini’s Mosè at the inauguration of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence (substituting for Georges Prêtre). Also a well-known recitalist, he conducted and performed all over the world, but he made a special home in San Diego, where he conducted 45 opera productions between 1980 to 2011. He was always welcome at opera companies in New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Detroit.
Here in Seattle, he became a legend following a stressful rehearsal of Norma in January 1994. Not only had the soprano originally cast in this most demanding of title roles withdrawn from the production, her late-arriving replacement, the young and then-unknown-in-Seattle Jane Eaglen, had caught a cold en route to Seattle. So Mueller not only conducted the opera, he sang the role of Norma at the final rehearsal so she could rest up for opening night! His work as conductor and accompanist built on an extraordinarily comprehensive understanding of vocal technique and Italian style, so it was no wonder that he was a wonderful singer himself.
He was also a gifted teacher, and Seattle Opera’s Young Artists regularly benefited from his wisdom. “Edoardo Mueller was so very important to me, especially in the beginning of my career," says tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who stars as Count Ory at Seattle Opera this summer. "As a member of Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program, I sang for him in a masterclass in the fall of 2000. He was there conducting a mainstage opera at the time, but so graciously agreed to work with us. At the conclusion of the masterclass, he walked directly to Speight Jenkins' office and said to him, 'Do you realize that you have a star in the Young Artist Program?' I don't consider myself a star, but I so appreciate the enthusiasm both he and Speight had for me. Maestro Mueller encouraged me, supported me, and taught me so much about the style of bel canto singing. He and I performed together on a few occasions and he was a true champion of my talent, but more than anything, an incredible human being. I will never forget the positive impact he had on me and my career.”
Bill Mohn, photo
Through Seattle Opera's Education programs I fondly remember taking Maestro Mueller (and his lovely wife, Giovanna) to visit a class at Mountlake Terrace High School. I was expecting the students, who were studying Italian, to learn a little about opera and Italian culture from meeting him. Instead, he taught them about leadership and teamwork. “My job as a conductor means above all I have to be good at psychology,” he said. “I must do whatever is necessary to get them—the singers—relaxed and confident, each of them ready to bring their souls into their throats and send them out into the public. If I am capable of doing that, well, that’s why they call me maestro.”