Destined at birth for a career in music, Fiora Contino started music lessons while still very young. She found great inspiration from her father, Ferruccio Corradetti who was for many years principal baritone at leading opera houses throughout Europe and South America and a personal friend and colleague of such luminaries as Toscanini, Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo. Throughout her childhood she was continually exposed to a wealth of music and surrounded by exceptional musicians.
She completed an undergraduate degree at Oberlin College in piano performance. Two years of study with Nadia Boulanger preceded her work at Indiana University where she earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate in opera conducting within two years. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated her unique ability to fashion a successful academic career while developing superior professional credentials.
Today, her knowledge of repertoire and material found within different genres is comprehensive. Her interests are wide ranging from chant to grand opera; from early Baroque orchestral music to the music of Beethoven and Berlioz; from Mahler and Prokofiev to Stravinsky and Xenakis; from choral music of the Renaissance to the major choral works of J.S. Bach, Brahms, and Verdi; from the operas of Monteverdi to those of Puccini.
Dr. Contino has conducted some of the nation’s finest orchestras from Alaska to New York City’s Lincoln Center. She conducted many staged opera performances at the Ambler Festival with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
For the performance of Madama Butterfly in which Dorothy Kirsten sang the title role, James Felton of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote
. . . last night’s production at the festival was magnificent, moving and of the very first order.
. . . Fiora Contino towered over everything as the conductor and music director. She held everything together, including members of the Pittsburgh Symphony in the pit and the humming chorus stationed in the wings, with a baton that was sharp and in clear control of a magnificently coordinated performance. Her presence would do honor to any opera house in the world.
She combined her professional conducting career with a love of teaching at the university level. She chaired the Choral Department at Indiana University, and in collaboration with Julius Herford established the graduate program in choral conducting which had a strong component of orchestral direction. She was a principal conductor of the IU opera and symphonic program. She interrupted her tenure there to conduct the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra for six months at the invitation of Leonard Slatkin. She later accepted a position as the director of opera and choral activities at the Peabody Conservatory and also conducted the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra during her tenure. She was Director of the Choral Institute at the celebrated Aspen Music Festival for twelve seasons and later headed the Music Department at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Contino was artistic director and conductor of Opera Illinois for twenty years elevating the organization to one of the most successful regional opera companies in the nation. She was invited to conduct the concert performance for the centennial celebration of Mascagni’s Iris at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in 1998 and returned in successive seasons.
The New York Times hailed Grattacielo’s production of Iris.
Tonight the Teatro Grattacielo gave a concert performance of Mascagni’s Iris in Alice Tully Hall in New York. The singing varied from fine to variable, but the heroine of the evening was the conductor, Fiora Contino.
Tempi were spacious rather than propulsive (generally not my taste, but fine here and never a problem for the singers). What stunned was that the transitions between tempi were so carefully calibrated as to be seamless, and there was never an impression of slowness or sluggishness. The orchestra played with the sound she gave it, a warm, bottom-heavy balance that we associate more with some European orchestras than with the characteristic American brilliance.
Maestra— the Legacy
This is a book that tells the story of a woman, Fiora Contino, who came out of an illustrious operatic family to achieve musical and theatrical wonders on the stages of Central U.S.A.
Knowledgeable opera lovers will admire the wealth of detail provided by Joan Whittemore—in days gone by we would have called it the inside story—as to the way Madame Contino built an ordinary regional opera company in Peoria, Illinois into the celebrated Opera Illinois. Brava, Joan. Brava, Fiora.
former music critic and cultural reporter former
Time Magazine, the New York Herald Tribune,
the New York World Journal Tribune,
and the Associated Press
Joan Whittemore, CSJ