Conductor and composer Michael Costa was born Michele Andrea Agniello Costa in Naples on 4 February 1808, the son of Pasquale Costa. The family was of Jewish descent. He studied at the Real Collegio di Musica with Niccolò Zingarelli and took singing lessons with Girolamo Crescentini. Having established a name for himself in Naples, he was sent to England by Zingarelli in 1829 to conduct his Cantico d’Isaiah Profeta for the Birmingham festival.
The performance never took place, but he stayed in Britain and settled at no. 59 Eccleston Square, Belgravia. He was appointed maestro al piano at the King’s Theatre under Laporte’s management. His ballet Kenilworth was produced here with considerable success in 1831, and in the following year he succeeded Nicholas Bochsa as Director of Music under the management of Irish flute player (and balloonist) Thomas Monck Mason.
The ballet Une heure à Naples was his principal work of 1832, and in 1833 he wrote a similar work Sir Huon for Marie Taglioni. In the same year he became director of the Italian opera at the King’s Theatre. In 1846 Costa moved to Covent Garden to found the Royal Italian Opera, and in the same year he was appointed conductor of the Philharmonic Society.
In September 1848 he was elected conductor of the Sacred Harmonic Society, a post he held until the society’s dissolution in 1882. He remained at Covent Garden until he quarrelled with the manager, Frederick Gye, in 1868. He is above all remembered as a conductor. Until the practise introduced by Spohr, the direction of the orchestra had been from a piano or by the first violin. It took some time before conducting became a separate task. Costa was instrumental in raising the status of the conductor. Meyerbeer admired him and Verdi called him one of the greatest conductors in Europe. Shortly before the 1883 Handel festival he suffered a stroke. He died in Hove in April 1884.