Otmar Suitner was archetypical of the type of Central European conductor who comes up through the ranks (i.e., opera house, theater, or if an instrumentalist, house orchestra) and worked his way up to leadership by dint of musicality. Some move on to what is essentially international "stardom," such as the case with Karajan or Klemperer. Others settle into a localized niche, but extend their reputation past national boundaries via recording prowess, often through a varied series of ensembles. In this manner, Suitner's star ascended, the dawn of the digital era being a boon to his recognition even though he ceased conducting in the 1990s due to illness.
Otmar Suitner was born in the picturesque backdrop of the Tyrol. His father was a native and his mother was Italian, who most likely nourished his affinity for opera. In his teens, Suitner began piano studies under Weidlich at the Innsbruck Conservatory and continued the same under Ledwinka at the Salzburg Mozarteum from 1940-1942, also studying conducting with Clemens Krauss at that institution. Upon completion of studies, the young man became Kapellmeister at the Innsbruck Theatre and moved through a number of both opera and orchestra positions, including Remscheid (1952), Ludwigshaven (1957), the Rhineland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra (1957) the Dresden State Opera (1960-1964), and the Berlin State Opera (1964-1971, continuing 1973-1990). He became a fixture at Bayreuth, working closely with Wieland Wagner on the 1965 Der fliegende Holländer and the Ring cycle for 1966 and 1967. In opera, he distinguished himself in Mozart, Wagner, and Strauss, bringing to those composers a litheness and protean energy not usually associated with the Austro-German school of interpretation. His predilection for lightness can be divined from his arrangement of Der Rosenkavalier for small orchestra performance. No complacent traditionalist, Suitner was also a fervent advocate of Dessau, conducting the premieres of that composer's operas Puntila (1966), Einstein (1973), and Leonce und Lena (1979). In 1969, he became a guest conductor with the San Francisco Opera Company and in the following decade was a frequent podium visitor in Japan, receiving honorary conductorship of the Tokyo NHK Symphony Orchestra in 1973.
The Japanese connection was to stand Suitner in good stead with the emergence of digital recording in the early 1980s. His set of the Beethoven symphonies with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra for Denon was one of the very first sets of the nine to appear. Soon, Suitner was one of the digital pioneers and joined the ranks of conductors who had built a cult by dint of quality recordings, much like Rosbaud, Kegel, Wand, and others. Unfortunately, illness stayed Suitner's hand in the early 1990s and he made a premature retirement from performing and recording. Nonetheless, he retained his devotees and his 80th birthday saw the issue of an 11-CD set on the Edel label representative of his operatic and symphonic artistry.