Retiring in March 2003 from more than three decades with the Australian Opera, Carlo Felice Cillario stood among the most singer-friendly of conductors.
A presence on many recorded opera recitals, Cillario was a frequent visitor to the studio, as well as a reassuring conductor of opera performances in many parts of Europe, North and South America, and Australia. Moving with his Italian-born parents to Bologna, Italy, in 1923, Cillario brought with him the results of his violin training in Buenos Aires. He studied at the Conservatorium in Bologna, intending to become a soloist. A broken wrist suffered in a soccer game, however, presaged Cillario's entry into conducting. In 1942, he was engaged as a conductor at the opera in Odessa and later led orchestral concerts in Italy and Buenos Aires. Not long into his conducting career, he elected to reserve a major portion of his time for the opera house and was heard in such major venues as Turin, Milan, Florence, Rome, Athens, Berlin, Oslo, and Paris. Cillario was first heard in England at the 1961 Glyndebourne Festival (L'elisir d'amore), returning in 1962 for the same production. His North American opera debut took place with the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1961 when he directed La forza del destino with Farrell, Bergonzi, and Christoff. Later that season, he conducted Rossini's Barber. Cillario retuned in 1962 for La bohème, Tosca, and L'elisir d'amore. In 1963, he led Rossini's Barber again, together with Don Pasquale. In 1964, Cillario conducted a sumptuous production of Donizetti's La Favorita with Cossotto and Kraus and led La cenerentola with Teresa Berganza. Specifically requested by Maria Callas, Cillario made his Covent Garden debut in the well-remembered 1964 Tosca that reunited the soprano with baritone Tito Gobbi. In a season-opening Tosca, Cillario made his San Francisco Opera debut in 1970, returning there for three subsequent years. Leading La Sonnambula, Cillario made his first Metropolitan Opera appearance in October 1972, also conducting Tosca and Il Trovatore that season. Beginning in 1970, Cillario primarily devoted his time to Australia, first as music director for the Elizabethan Opera Trust, and later, as adviser and principal guest conductor with Opera Australia.