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Costa, Sir Michael


COSTA, SIR MICHAEL (born Michele Andrea Agniello Costa ; 1808–1884), conductor and composer. Born in Naples to a family of Spanish descent, Costa studied at the Collegio Reale, Naples, and produced his first two operas for the Conservatory theater: Il delitto punito (1826) and Il sospetto funesto (1827). In 1829, he was sent by Zingarelli to the Birmingham Festival to conduct one of that composer's works (by force of circumstance he had to sing the solo tenor part instead). Subsequently he became répétiteur at the King's Theatre in London, which later became Her Majesty's Theatre (1830), and he was its director and conductor from 1833 to 1846, during which time he was responsible for achieving a new state of excellence in the theater orchestra and ensemble. He was there-after conductor of the Philharmonic Society (1846) and music director of the newly formed Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden (1847–69), which attracted several of the outstanding singers of the age – Grisi, Mario, later Lablache – from Her Majesty's Theatre.

Costa was knighted in 1869 and became the leading festival conductor in Britain, making important annual appearances at the Festivals of Birmingham, Leeds, and Bradford, among others, at which he conducted the first performances of his oratorios Eli (1855) and Naaman (1864). In 1871, he again took on the leadership if Her Majesty's Theatre, where he remained until 1879. Costa's other works include the operas Il Carcere d'Ildegonda (1828; for the Teatro Nuovo, Naples), Malvina (1829; for the Teatro San Carlo, Naples), Malek Adhel (1839; for the Théatre des Italiens, Paris), and Don Carlos (1846; for Her Majesty's); together with symphonies and much vocal music. His reputation as an opera conductor in the middle years of the last century was virtually without equal.

[Max Loppert]

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