Though he was a composer of some distinction, Fernando Previtali is best remembered as a brilliant conductor of the classic Italian operas, especially those of Verdi, and for his advocacy of contemporary orchestral music, particularly of works by Busoni, Ghedini, and Dallapiccola. But Previtali's tastes extended into the realm of mainstream instrumental music as well, taking in a vast range of works by Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and many others. His own musical compositions are virtually forgotten today, though some had attracted attention in their day, including the 1945 ballet Allucinazioni. Though Previtali has been dead for more than two decades, many of his recordings are still widely available on a range of labels, including RCA, Gala, Opera d'Oro, Fonit, and Urania.
Previtali was born in Adria, Italy, on February 16, 1907. At the Turin Conservatory he studied organ, cello (under Pietro Grossi) and composition (under Franco Alfano). He launched his career as a cellist, playing in the Turin-based Teatro Regio Orchestra.
In 1928 he relocated to Florence where he worked with conductor Vittorio Gui and became instrumental in the founding of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra. He was appointed deputy conductor of that ensemble and served in that capacity until 1936, the year he became resident conductor of the Rome Radio Symphony Orchestra. But for a year-long hiatus in 1944, he held the post at the RRSO until 1953. During his Rome years, Previtali premiered several important operas, including the 1939 Re Hassan by Ghedini and Dallapiccola's one-act masterpiece Volo di notte, from 1940.
Previtali accepted the appointment as conductor at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in 1953 and held the post seven years. During his tenure there, he made many successful European and American tours with the ensemble. From 1960-1967 he was principal conductor of the Buenos Aires Teatro Colon Orchestra.
Previtali served as principal conductor at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples starting in 1972. Throughout much of his career he held master classes in conducting, particularly at the Academy of Santa Cecilia and at La Scala. Most of his available recordings were made in the latter half of his career and include Verdi's Luisa Miller (with Carreras and Ricciarelli) on Opera d'Oro, Verdi's Il Trovatore (from 1957, with del Monaco and Gencer) on a Hardy Classics DVD, and the Mozart Piano Concertos No. 17 and No. 23, with Robert Casadesus on Archipel.