Despite his Italian name, Mario Bernardi was a native-born Canadian and one of his country's leading conductors. His family sent him back to the Old Country to study music as a child, though, and this was through the entirety of World War II. He studied piano, organ, and composition at the Manzato Conservatory in Treviso (1938 - 1945) and the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory in Venice (1945). Young Bernardi returned to Canada after the war to complete his studies in piano and conducting at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (1948 - 1951). He began his career as a church organist and concert pianist, working part-time as an opera coach and conductor at the Royal Conservatory's opera school. His debut as an opera conductor came in the 1956 - 1957 season with the Canadian Opera Company's Hänsel und Gretel. In 1959, he polished off his conducting studies with Erich Leinsdorf at the Salzburg Mozarteum and eased into a career as a full-time conductor, initially in opera. He joined the conducting staff of London's Sadler's Wells Opera in the 1963 - 1964 season and in 1966, became the company's music director. He didn't make his U.S. debut until 1967, with a San Francisco Opera production of La bohème. Bernardi left Sadler's Wells in 1969 to become the founding music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, where he honed the group into a highly proficient orchestra and ran a summer opera festival through it from 1971 until he left in 1982. It was in 1982 that he became principal conductor of the CBC Vancouver Orchestra and in 1984, he took on the Calgary Philharmonic, which he directed until 1994. During this period, he guest-conducted nearly every professional orchestra in Canada and many in the United States, and frequently appeared in the opera houses of Montreal, Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, Santa Fe, and New York. Bernardi's departure from Calgary was not exactly a retirement; among other things, he led Canada's National Youth Orchestra on a coast-to-coast tour during the 1997 - 1998 season.
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