Born: May 17, 1902 in Trieste
Dead: Aug 9, 1971 in Athens, Greece
Country: Italy/United States
Regarded as a useful house conductor during his many years at the Metropolitan Opera, Fausto Cleva died before he saw his reputation grow to the more generous assessment that prevailed decades later. Always known as a singer's maestro, Cleva was also a conscientious interpreter of bracing urgency, a shrewd mentor, and an individual of integrity. Cleva's studies began at the conservatory in his native Trieste and continued in Milan. Shortly after he had made his debut at Milan's Teatro Carcano in 1920 conducting La traviata, Cleva traveled to America, almost immediately beginning his long association with the Metropolitan Opera. Serving as an assistant conductor from 1920 to 1925, and again from 1938 to 1940 (he served two stints as chorus master, as well, from 1935 to 1938 and in 1940 and 1941), he waited until February 14, 1942, to be assigned a performance of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Although reviews were laudatory, further opportunities seemed too doubtful to keep him in New York. Cleva departed to attend to other engagements, most notably at the Cincinnati Summer Opera, where he served as music director from 1934 to 1963. Other major American companies welcomed him as well. He conducted in Chicago (where he led performances from 1942 until the demise of the Chicago Opera in 1946, receiving especially good reviews for his leadership of the 1944 opening-night Carmen) and in San Francisco, strengthening that conducting roster beginning with a 1942 La traviata with Bidu Sayao. His position in the Italian wing of the San Francisco Opera substantially grew in the early '50s until his return to the Metropolitan as a full-fledged conductor expanded to keep him largely in New York. Cleva's November 13 direction of the Aida that opened the 1951 - 1952 Metropolitan season was regarded as the most sharply realized to have been heard in years, strongly cast with Milanov, del Monaco, and London. Concentrating on the Italian repertory with frequent excursions into the French, Cleva amassed a total of 677 Metropolitan Opera performances before his death while leading an Athens outdoor performance of Gluck's Orfeo et Euridice in 1971. Among Cleva's too-few recordings, a sumptuously cast Luisa Miller is a worthy memento of an underrated conductor.
-Erik Eriksson (All Music Guide)