George London

George London (b Burnstein). Bass-baritone, stage director, b Montreal 30 May 1920, of Russian-Jewish-US parents living in Montreal, d Armonk, near New York, 24 Mar 1985. He was registered at birth as a US citizen and moved with his parents to California when he was 15.

London, George

George London (b Burnstein). Bass-baritone, stage director, b Montreal 30 May 1920, of Russian-Jewish-US parents living in Montreal, d Armonk, near New York, 24 Mar 1985. He was registered at birth as a US citizen and moved with his parents to California when he was 15. After varied experience, amateur and professional, he went abroad in 1947 for study with Enrico Rosati. He returned to tour 1947-8 in Canada and the USA with the Columbia Bel Canto Trio (the other members of which were Frances Yeend and Mario Lanza). He made his European debut 3 Sep 1949 as Amonasro in Aida at the Vienna State Opera. His success was immediate, and he soon was heard in most of the important musical centres, including Edinburgh (1950), Bayreuth (1951), Salzburg (1952), and Milan (La Scala, 1952), and on 23 Sep 1960 he was the first North American to sing the title role in Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Opera, Moscow.

London's Metropolitan Opera debut, 13 Nov 1951, as Amonasro, was followed by 17 consecutive seasons there in such diverse roles as Boris Godunov, Don Giovanni, Scarpia in Tosca, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Amfortas in Parsifal, Eugene Onegin, and Méphistophélès in Faust. He appeared with the Metropolitan Opera in Toronto as Scarpia in Tosca (1953, 1957) and as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro (1957) and in Montreal as Scarpia in 1953 and also with the MSO in 1964. During these years, too, his dark voice and penetrating interpretations were much admired on the recital platform.

London was Don Giovanni in the memorable performances at the first Vancouver International Festival in 1958 and he also sang in that festival's presentation of the Verdi Requiem. In 1967, for CBC TV in Montreal, he sang the Father in scenes from Charpentier's Louise, with the soprano Constance Lambert.

In 1971 the retired singer made his debut as a stage director, producing The Magic Flute for New York's Juilliard School. Subsequently, he was appointed executive director of the National Opera Institute, Washington, DC, and general director of the University of Southern California's Opera Theater until in 1977 a heart attack forced him to retire. A benefit and gala was held at the Kennedy Center in his honour 4 Nov 1981, featuring a panoply of operatic stars such as Nicolai Gedda, Beverly Sills, and Joan Sutherland.

Beginning in 1949, London recorded copiously for various labels, notably English Decca (London), Columbia, and Philips. His long discography of recitals and major roles in complete operas includes three versions (Knappertsbusch conductor, 1951, 6-Decca LXT 2651-2657; Krauss conductor, 1953, 4-Laudis LCD4-4006 (CD); and Knappertsbusch conductor, 1962, 5-Philips PHS 5950/Philips 416-390-2 (CD)) of Parsifal, recorded during performances at Bayreuth. His performance as Wotan in the 1958 recording of Das Rheingold (Solti conductor, 3-Lon OSA 1309/414-101-2 (CD)) and as Mandryka in Strauss' Arabella (Solti conductor, 1957, Lon OSA 1404) are still regarded as exemplary.


Further Reading

  • Kraus, Gottfried. 'George London - Beispiel eines denkenden Sängers,' fono forum, vol 9, 4 Apr 1964

    Hiller, Carl. 'Schöne Stimmen von damals: George London,' Opernwelt, vol 26, Jun 1985

    London, Nora. Aria for George (New York 1987)