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Now on to Viotti's life and achievements: Marcello Viotti was born on 29 June 1954 in Vallorbe, in the French part of Switzerland near Lausanne. His parents were both Italian and although they were a working-class family of modest means, music was in their blood. Viotti was related to the composer Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824), and the love for music was passed down through the generations. Viotti's grandfather played the violin. Although Viotti's father had a wonderful baritone voice, according to his son good enough to become a professional opera singer, he made his living as a blacksmith and young Marcello almost followed in his footsteps. Eventually, the love of music won through and he went to Lausanne to study cello, piano and voice while, to please his father, he also trained and qualified as a teacher. Wolfgang Sawallisch, whom he met while singing as a chorister with Radio Suisse Romande, fostered Viotti's love of conducting and their meeting is responsible for the change of career path of the young Viotti. Later, Viotti became Patane's assistant at La Scala in Milan, and also in Bologna and Naples. Following engagements in Saarbrücken, Leipzig, Lucerne and Turin, Viotti came to Munich to take up his post as chief conductor of the Munich Broadcast Orchestra (Münchner Rundfunkorchester) in 1998. He put Munich on the world map with his discoveries of some of the most recent star tenors: Rolando Villazon, Marcelo Alvarez, to name but a few. He was recipient of countless honors and awards, the most recent of which was the Abendzeitung's Star of the Year, which he was awarded on 31 January 2005 at an official ceremony in Munich.

In addition to his commitment to good music, Viotti was also a family man who found happiness and contentment in his stable homelife. With his family, he lived in an old castle in Lorraine/France. His beautiful wife Marie Laurence, a former violinist, and his four children, daughters Marina and Milena, and the two sons Lorenzo and Allesandro, eagerly awaited the arrival of the conductor whenever his hectic schedule in Munich left him enough time to get home. Or, when their schedule allowed, they came to be with him in Munich or to accompany him on his worldwide travels.

Marcello Viotti on his 50th birthday, with his family. Photo © Bayerischer Rundfunk / Georg Thum
Marcello Viotti on his 50th birthday, with his family. Photo © Bayerischer Rundfunk / Georg Thum

In Munich, Viotti and his wife could sometimes be seen dining at his favorite restaurant, Bei Grazia (Grace's) where the extremely health-conscious conductor usually ate fish and vegetables, but hated anything with pepper. 'They were such a lovely family,' remembers the restaurant owner, Grazia Franco-Stiller. 'His wife was French, I believe, and it always struck me how much they still seemed to be in love even though they had been together for ages. When his family was not with him, he still came to my restaurant almost every night for dinner. I knew all his favorite meals and often cooked a special order for him. Frequently we sat down for a chat. He was so charming, knew everyone in the restaurant by name. Also, he was not in the least arrogant. We have a women's table here -- they get together here once a week, on Mondays, for a meal. One day these women told me that they wanted to meet him. He said: "No problem. Let's find a date when they have time and I have time and then I will eat with them." And he did. That was what he was like: approachable, kind, and very nice. Marcello Viotti was an exceptional musician but he was also an exceptional person. Our restaurant was his home away from home for him.'

It was there that Viotti dined on Tuesday 8 February, the evening before he had a stroke during rehearsals for Massenet's Manon. He decided not to eat desert and go home early because he felt a bit under the weather, thinking that he may have caught the flu. 'He had been feeling unwell since Monday,' remembers Grazia Franco-Stiller, who was also a friend of the conductor and used to converse in Italian with him. 'So he asked me to bring him some tea with rum, saying he was going to go home and go to bed. On Tuesday, when he came in at around 8pm, I asked him whether he felt a bit better and he replied that he had some difficulty breathing but put it down to the flu. Then, that Wednesday, just hours before it happened, he came by at 11am to pick up his washing that my sister always did for him. He said he still had the remains of what appeared to be the flu but that he was feeling a lot better already. I still can't believe that only hours later he suffered a stroke. I thought it must be a misinformation and so I kept calling his cell phone, but there was no response. I think it must have come from stress because I can tell you for sure that he watched what he ate. He ate at my restaurant almost every night when he was in Munich and he always ate healthily, except that he was partial to rabbit and chicken livers, which was the only time he weakened and had second orders. He didn't smoke, usually had only one glass wine with his meals. He wasn't overweight either, so there were none of the usual risk factors that are normally associated with a stroke.'

Marcello Viotti had big plans this year: in Salzburg, he was going to conduct La Traviata with Anna Netrebko during the summer festival. In March, he would have conducted one of his favorite operas, Parsifal, in Venice, and he was about to start rehearsals in Berlin for Cavalleria/Bajazzo with José Cura. His funeral is set for next week, Wednesday 23 February 2005, at his birth town of Vallorbe. There will also be a memorial service in Munich, the date of which has not yet been decided.

Copyright © 20 February 2005 Tess Crebbin, Germany


Marcello Viotti, born 29 June 1954, died 16 February 2005

'I am very much affected by the sudden death of my beloved colleague. All over the world we are confronted with tightening of budgets for arts and culture. That is all very frightening, but the death of someone is the most painful thing that can happen.' - Mariss Jansons, conductor

'Marcello was an idealist and a fighter who put his body and soul into his music.' - Diana Damrau, opera singer

'The Salzburg Festival mourns the death of an exceptional musician and a wonderful human being.' - Peter Ruzicka, director of the Salzburg Festival

'His passion brought spiritual music to life.' - Cardinal Freidrich Wetter, Archbishop



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