John Francis Mauceri was born on September 12, 1945 in New York City. He began piano studies with his Sicilian grandfather Baldassare Mauceri who was a composer, instrumental teacher, and conductor of hotel orchestras (Waldorf Astoria, The Hotel McAlpin as well as in Atlantic City). His childhood hours were shared equally with piano playing and producing puppet plays. His constant source of inspiration, however, was television which, in the early 1950s presented a vast and eclectic world of art and entertainment. It was a porthole through which the young boy experienced his first concerts, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, interviews with Albert Einstein, Carl Sandburg and Wanda Landowska on "Life Begins at Eighty," his first operas (Madame Butterfly and Amahl and the Night Visitor on the NBC Opera), Salvador Dalì, Judy Garland, Duke Ellington, Glenn Gould, Shakespeare and Broadway, mixed in with baseball, puppet shows, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and vaudeville comedians. At ten, in response to seeing the film of The King and I, he produced the musical play in his backyard with all his friends.
In junior high school Mr. Mauceri became a Broadway aficionado and wrote theater criticism for the high school newspaper. He won a design award for the production of William Vincent Wallace's Maritana, and began composing. At this time he was given a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera and for the next fifteen years was able to attend some of the great historic performances in both the old as well as new Metropolitan Opera houses. Because of his proximity to both Broadway as well as the Metropolitan Opera House, the young Mauceri attended the original productions of West Side Story, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Gypsy while also experiencing the opera house debuts of Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Leopold Stokowski, and Joan Sutherland as well as Maria Callas' return in Tosca, Birgit Nilsson's first Ring cycle, Aida, Fidelio, and Turandot, Strauss and Mozart conducted by Karl Böhm, Leonard Bernstein's Falstaff, Ernest Ansermet's Pélléas et Mélisande, Georg Solti's Tristan und Isolde, and Karajan's Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. He attended both the closing night at the old opera house as well as the opening of the new one at Lincoln Center. He painted a series of portraits of famous opera singers, many of which he sent to the singers themselves. He received grateful thanks from the ailing Kirsten Flagstad, as well as Birgit Nilsson, who hung the painting of her as Isolde in her house in Sweden. Nilsson became frequent correspondent with the teenage Mauceri, who composed a song cycle for her. Nilsson's kindness and encouragement was an incalculable influence on him.
At East Meadow High School on Long Island, N.Y. he developed an interest in science and mathematics, and planned to become a doctor. His achievements in high school were prodigious: editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper, president of the student council, vice-president of the National Honor Society, and treasurer of the Thespian Society. He lectured the high school German Club on Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (which he fully designed on a puppet stage) and Strauss' Elektra, as well as the history of French opera for the French Department. At graduation, he was awarded many honors including the French Department Award, the Journalism Award, and the Citizenship Award.
Attending Yale College, Mr. Mauceri chose Music Theory and Composition as his major, studying with Howard Boatwright, Donald Martino, Lawrence Moss, Mel Powell, William Waite, Beekman C. Cannon, and Robert Bailey. Mr. Mauceri continued his piano studies (Morton Estrin and Donald Currier), received a voice scholarship, and began private conducting studies with Gustav Meier. His compositions included a Mass in English, which was sung at the Yale Catholic Chapel at high mass every Sunday for three years. Mr. Mauceri's interest in literature led to founding and editing a literary magazine at his residential college. Yale's broad educational spectrum also allowed him to study 20th century architecture with Vincent Scully, religion (Pelekin and Kuttner), and psychology (Logan and Childe). In addition, he continued French (Henri Peyre), and started Italian and German studies.
During the summer of 1966, Mr. Mauceri was awarded a Robert C. Bates Traveling Fellowship, and, as a result, was able to attend now-historic performances at the Glyndebourne Festival (Dido and Aeneas with Janet Baker), the English Opera Group, who were performing Benjamin Britten's new opera, The Burning Fiery Furnace, the Munich Festival (Falstaff with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elektra with Inge Borkh); the Bayreuth Festival (the last presentation of Wieland Wagner's Ring cycle as well as his Parsifal and the historic Tristan und Isolde which was being recorded by Deutsche Grammophon). It was during this trip that Mauceri became friends with Richard Wagner's granddaughter, Friedelind Wagner, who, like Birgit Nilsson, was one of his "guardian angels." In Paris, Mauceri was able to see Jean Cocteau's production of Pélléas et Mélisande at the Opéra Comique. Returning to Yale for his senior year, he composed music for Brecht's Mann ist Mann, conducted his first symphony concerts and, with special permission from Benjamin Britten, produced and conducted Curlew River both at Yale's Catholic chapel and at the Catholic chapel for the United Nations (New York premiere).
Graduating cum laude in 1967 and winning the Wrexham Prize for highest musical achievement, Mr. Mauceri also received the Francis Vernan Prize for composition.