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PierLuigi Samaritani was born in Novara, Italy, where he completed his classical studies. He later attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan before going to Paris to study art. In Paris, Samaritani met the celebrated set designer and painter Lila De Nobili who awakened his interest in the theatre, and he enrolled at the Centre Dramatique de la Rue Blanche. At the age of 21 he was invited by director Raymond Rouleau to create sets for Dencker’s play Le Fil Rouge at the Theatre de Mary Bell. After this initial success Samaritani decided to extend his knowledge of theatre technique, working as assistant to Lila De Nobili (at the Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds), again to Lila De Nobili and Fabrizio Clerici (Teatro alla Scala, Milan), Franco Zeffirelli (Opera de Paris; Teatro Romano, Verona), and Giorgio De Chirico (Teatro dell’Opera, Rome). In 1967, Massimo Begianckino, general manager of Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, invited Samaritani to design sets and costumes for Manfred (Schumann/Byron) – the success of that production placed him among the foremost designers of today. The next production that Samaritani designed was I Capricci di Callot at La Scala of Milan in 1968, followed by Semiramide (Rossini) for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Tristan und Isolde (Wagner) at the Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds.
In 1969, Samaritani designed sets and costumes for La Clemenza di Tito at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, The Medium and El Retable de Maese Pedro for the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, Maria di Rohan for Teatro alla Scala; in 1970, he designed La Vestale for Palermo’s Teatro Massimo, Marie Golovin for the Opera de Marseille and the Opera de Paris. In the next four years, he designed Amahl and the Night Visitors and Help, Help the Gobolinks at the Grand Theatre de Geneve, Teatro dell’Opera, Rome, and La Piccola Scala, Milan, Carmen for the Teatro alla Scala, Don Pasquale for the Theater in Gartnerplatz in Munich, Giovanna d’Arco for the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Les Dialogues des Carmelites for the Opera de Paris, Lucia di Lammermoor for Teatro La Fenice, Mose for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Sebastian for the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, La Boheme for the Opera de Paris, La Boheme for the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, Maria di Rohan for Teatro La Fenice, and Don Quichote (Massenet) for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
In 1975, Samaritani designed a new production of Don Pasquale for the Spoleto Festival, where he also made his directorial debut in The Old Maid and the Thief. During the next three years, he designed the sets and costumes for: Trittico and La Falena at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste, Eugene Onegin for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, I Racconti di Hoffmann for the Dallas Civic Theatre, Orfeo e Euridice for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gemma di Vergy for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Otello for the Hamburgische Staatsoper, Luisa Miller for the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Re Cervo for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Eigste for the Teatro La Fenice, Medea in Corinto for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and La Traviata for the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome.
In 1978, Samaritani staged and designed the sets and costumes for Massenet’s Werther for the Teatro Comunale of Florence, a production which was later brought to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In 1978 Samaritani also created the sets and costumes for Cosi fan Tutte for the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich and for Thais for the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. Also in that year, Samaritani was commissioned to design Vivaldi’s L’Incoronazione di Dario in Siena ‑‑ a production which received considerable critical acclaim and was greeted by much public controversy. In 1979, he staged Madama Butterfly at the Teatro Comunale of Florence and was seen at the Festival of the Two Worlds in Charleston in May 1980. Late in 1979, Samaritani designed the new production of Gounod’s Faust for the televised opening night of the Chicago Lyric Opera’s 25th anniversary season. His plans for l980 included the staging of Francesca da Rimini for the Teatro Filarmonico of Verona (he also designed the sets and costumes), and designing the sets and costumes for Lucrezia Borgia at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera. In June 1980 Samaritani staged and designed Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
Samaritani marked his American Ballet Theatre and Metropolitan Opera House debut with his designs for La Bayadère. This was also the first time that he had designed for the ballet. In 1988, Samaritani designed the scenery and costumes for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s production of Swan Lake.