Opera

Conductor Julius Rudel, 1921-2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
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June 26, 2014


Conductor Julius Rudel, known for a remarkably rich tenure with the New York City Opera, passed away in New York today at the age of 93.

 

 

"What lifted the musical performance out of the routine was the marvelously old-school Viennese - but surprisingly brisk - conducting of Julius Rudel, who worked a similar magic in the pit to that which Taymor supplied on stage."

 - The Times (of London), in a review of Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute

 

While it's impossible to encapsulate a career - much less a life - in one sentence, the quote above is a prism of what Julius Rudel meant to the art of music-making. His was an approach that "lifted" music from across boundaries of time, and even status. A musical omnivore, Rudel brought to life everything from the core of operatic repertoire to previously unknown works by Handel to Kurt Weill's potent mix of opera and theater.

Julius Rudel

Julius Rudel

(photos by Greg Hark)

His life was grounded in an "old-school Viennese" approach to music. As a teenager he regularly spent time in the upper-most galleries of the Vienna State Opera, absorbing all the spirit, passion, and drama that pinnacle of opera had to offer. But "old-school" Vienna was a dark and conflicted place in Rudel's youth, and in 1938, he left for the United States. In 1943 he joined the newly formed New York City Opera as working as a répétiteur for director Laszlo Halasz.

That was the beginning of a relationship with NYCO that spanned three-and-a-half decades, culminating in a 22-year tenure as General Director and Principal Conductor, a position he took after his friend and mentor Erich Leinsdorf took the company to the financial brink. During those years, Rudel conducted 19 world premieres and 12 commissions, and, in 1966, he inaugurated the company's home at Lincoln Center.

Beyond those achievements, Rudel established NYCO's signature approach as a company that proudly walked the fine lines of populism, new works, and standard repertoire experienced through unconventional productions. While the company suffered financially in the several years before it finally folded last year, Rudel's tenure continues to be an inspiration to those who see the future of classical music as a matter of breaking down barriers and taking artistic risks.

Rudel also conducted regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera, and led some 165 operas at other companies around the world, including Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera, the Washington National Opera, the Paris Opera, the German Opera of Berlin, and many others. At the request of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, he was the first artistic director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

He was the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic for six years and was a guest conductor at the Symphony Orchestras of Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Montreal, and St. Louis. Rudel also conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Swiss Romande, the Israel Philharmonic, the Scottish National Orchestra, and many others.

In Boston he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in April of 1968 in a program that included the first BSO performances of Mozart's Symphony No. 32, the U.S. premiere of Ginastera's Estudios sinfónicos, Op. 35, the Symphony No. 1 by Sibelius, and Wagner's Rienzi Overture. He also appeared at Symphony Hall in March of 1991 for a gala performance for the Boston Opera Association, with members of the BSO and featuring soprano June Anderson and tenor Alfredo Kraus.

Rudel's conducting career continued well into his 90's, and in 2013 his memories and thoughts were captured in First and Lasting Impressions: Julius Rudel Looks Back on a Life in Music, co-written with Rebecca Paller.

 

Handel's Almira at the Boston Early Music Festival

Monday, September 9, 2013
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Verdi's 'Nabucco,' From La Scala

Friday, March 29, 2013
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Host Lisa Simeone presents a performance of Nabucco from La Scala, in Milan Sunday night at 6:30pm on Classical New England.


A scene from Verdi's 'Nabucco'
(Courtesy of World of Opera)
WHO'S WHO

 

Leo Nucci (baritone) .............................. Nabucco

Liudmyla Monastyrska (soprano ) .......... Abigaille

Alexander Antonanko (tenor) .................. Ismaele

Veronica Simeoni (mezzo-soprano) ........ Fenena

Vitaly Kovalyov (bass) ........................... Zaccaria

Ernesto Panariello (bass) ...... High Priest of Baal

Tatyana Ryaguzova (soprano) .................... Anna

Giuseppe Veneziano (tenor) .................... Abdallo

La Scala Orchestra and Chorus

Nicola Luisotti, conductor

 

 

If we can believe Giuseppe Verdi, if it weren't for one chance encounter early in his career, he might never have written a single great opera -- and his country might have lost a unique, musical moment of national inspiration.

Verdi's second opera, King for a Day, premiered in 1840 at Milan's historic opera house, La Scala. The piece was a dismal failure, and it came at a time when the composer's emotional health was already fragile. His wife had died earlier that year, and the couple had recently lost both of their children. Following the failed opera, and in the throes of depression, Verdi decided to give up music altogether.

Then, the composer later reported, he unexpectedly ran into La Scala's impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli, on the streets of Milan. Merelli had a new libretto on his hands -- called Nabucco -- and he talked a reluctant Verdi into looking at it.

Verdi, as the story goes, took the libretto home and put it aside, finally reading it late one night when he had trouble sleeping. He happened to open the pages to the words of a now-famous chorus: "Va, pensiero, sull' ali dorate " -- "Go, thoughts, on wings of gold."  Drawn in by those words, he agreed to compose the opera, which became his first unqualified hit.

It's a great story -- though Verdi did have a tendency to exaggerate tales of his early career. He once recalled the busy years after Nabucco somewhat bitterly as his "years in the galley," and while he certainly composed feverishly during that period, he was hardly working for slave wages.

In fact, the tremendous success of Nabucco propelled Verdi to a series of triumphs that made him one of the most famous men in Europe.  The now-familiar chorus "Va, pensiero" also includes the words "my country, so beautiful and lost," and in some circles it became a sort of unofficial anthem -- inspiration for the "Risorgimento," the Italian movement for unity and independence.

In the process, Verdi became a true Italian hero. And, if his remarkable creative life began with Nabucco, we might say it ended with it as well. When Verdi died in 1901, the immense crowd that gathered for his funeral procession joined a massed choir to sing that same chorus -- a melody that helped launch one of music's most celebrated careers.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a performance of Nabucco from La Scala, in Milan, the same theater where the opera premiered in 1842.  The stars are baritone Leo Nucci in the title role, and soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska in the emotionally complex role of Abigaille. The production is led by conductor Nicola Luisotti.

 

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Carnegie Hall (photo by Jeff Goldberg-Esto, courtesy of Carnegie Hall)

Join two stars of the opera stage for an informal evening of French songs, as Carnegie Hall is transformed into a Parisian salon.

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