This celebrated conductor has been praised for his sophisticated, clear, and compelling approach to a wide range of lyric and dramatic styles and composers. Abbado was born into a family of Italian musicians extending back more than three generations. He undertook his conducting studies with Franco Ferrara at La Fenice, Venice, and also at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He was the only student in the history of the academy to be asked to conduct the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia. At the age of 23, he directed his first opera, Simon Boccanegra. During the next six years, he appeared at La Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera, La Fenice, Zurich Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and in the opera houses of Florence, Rome, and Bologna. Since then, Abbado has premiered many contemporary operas and led opera revivals.
From 1991 - 1998, Abbado was the chief conductor of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester (Radio Orchestra of Munich), and in 1991 he made his North American debut conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Lincoln Center in New York City. In 1994, his debut at the Metropolitan Opera was an immediate sensation. He went on to lead many American orchestras, including the Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, Houston Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony in 1999, conducting Bloch's Schelomo and Rossini's Stabat Mater. He has also appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Paris Opéra Bastille, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, and has made guest appearances with the Orchestre National de France, Hamburg NDR Symphony Orchestra, Bamberger Symphonikern, Dresden Sächsischen Staatskapelle, the Budapest Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Orchestra, Göthenburg Symphony, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and others.
In the 2001-2002 season, Abbado conducted a new production of Verdi's Attila, debuted with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and had engagements with the Minnesota Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Houston Symphony, Seattle Symphony, and the Hamburg NDR Symphony Orchestra. Abbado's recording of Tancredi received the 1997 Deutscher Schallplattenpreis (German Record Prize) as Best Opera Production of the Year.