William Yannuzzi, 76, music director for opera company

April 11, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

William Anthony Yannuzzi, the Baltimore Opera Company's music director emeritus, who helped students develop their voices and talents for nearly 50 years, died of pneumonia complications yesterday at Maryland General Hospital. The Westview resident was 76.

Colleagues said Mr. Yannuzzi, who had recently completed his work on a coming production of La Boheme, collapsed at his opera company office Wednesday in downtown Baltimore.

"He was an extraordinary musician and teacher who was absolutely devoted to the opera company," said Michael Harrison, the company's director. "When you sat down with him with an opera score, you learned so many new things. He was invaluable. He had so much musical knowledge."

Over the past five decades, Mr. Yannuzzi accompanied and coached numerous singers, often young students who he thought had exhibited talent.

"I met Bill when I auditioned for Rosa Ponselle in 1965," James Morris, a Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone, recalled yesterday during a break in rehearsals at Lincoln Center in New York. "He taught me my entire repertoire and possessed an incredible musical knowledge, He was a complete original, a one-of-a-kind musician. There is a void in the opera world today."

Born in Baltimore and raised near the Inner Harbor, Mr. Yannuzzi was a graduate of the old St. Joseph's Parochial School on Lee Street and graduated from Mount St. Joseph's High School in 1947.

During the Korean War, he worked in Army intelligence and learned Russian, a language that assisted him when he coached students in Russian operas. He also spoke fluent Italian, French, Spanish and German.

He earned a bachelor's degree at the Johns Hopkins University in 1957 and a master's degree in 1958. He taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music from 1977 to 1987.

"Bill had a prodigious knowledge and insatiable curiosity about opera, and indeed my last sight of him was toting a huge pile of opera scores back to the Peabody music library, presumably after having studied every note of them," said Roger Brunyate, director of Peabody's opera theater.

"He was a man of strong opinions, and not shy about declaring them, but though our students may sometimes have been taken aback by his passion, they certainly benefited from his commitment to their art," he said.

A biography Mr. Yannuzzi supplied to the opera company several years ago said he showed an affinity for opera and all kinds of vocal music at an early age.

As a young man, his musical abilities were recognized by the legendary soprano Rosa Ponselle, who brought him into what was then the Baltimore Civic Opera as an accompanist and assistant conductor.

Mr. Yannuzzi also worked closely with Ms. Ponselle in her studio at Villa Pace in Baltimore County until her retirement from teaching. After she died in 1981, he staged a memorial performance of Rossini's Stabat Mater at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in her memory.

He remained on the opera company's staff as music director. For many years he translated opera libretti. His translations were projected above the stage at the Lyric Opera House so that audiences could follow the singing.

He was named music director emeritus in 2002.

He also judged many vocal competitions and was a mentor to his students.

Mr. Yannuzzi was remembered yesterday as a witty storyteller. Friends said he liked to sit down to a good meal with friends and discuss his favorite subject, opera.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, 5422 Old Frederick Road.

Survivors include two brothers, Martin Yannuzzi and Carl Yannuzzi, both of Baltimore; and numerous nieces and nephews.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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