Herman Geiger-Torel

Herman Geiger-Torel (b Hermann Geiger). Opera director and administrator, teacher, b Frankfurt-am-Main, 13 Jul 1907, d Toronto, 6 Oct 1976; honorary LLD (Prince of Wales, PEI) 1967. His mother was the pianist and composer Rosy Geiger-Kullmann (1886-1964).

Geiger-Torel, Herman

Herman Geiger-Torel (b Hermann Geiger). Opera director and administrator, teacher, b Frankfurt-am-Main, 13 Jul 1907, d Toronto, 6 Oct 1976; honorary LLD (Prince of Wales, PEI) 1967. His mother was the pianist and composer Rosy Geiger-Kullmann (1886-1964). After private lessons in Frankfurt he entered the Hoch Cons to study opera directing with Lothar Wallerstein. Though concurrently at Goethe U, he soon gave up academic studies in favour of a career in the theatre.

Geiger became an instructor at the conservatory and served 1928-30 as assistant stage director of the Frankfurt Opera and in 1930 as Wallerstein's assistant at the Salzburg Festival. Posts as stage director followed in Aussig, Czechoslovakia, 1930-1, Bremerhaven, Germany, 1931-2, and Troppau, Czechoslovakia, 1934-7. In 1934, when a contract with a German opera house was cancelled because he was Jewish, Geiger began a long association with Latin America by staging six operas (including La Traviata and Manon Lescaut with Claudia Muzio) for Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. During a season (1937-8) with the Société du Cinéma du Panthéon in Paris he added Torel to his surname. Geiger-Torel returned in 1938 to Teatro Colón to direct a production of Siegfried with the tenor Max Lorenz and the baritone Herbert Janssen, conducted by Erich Kleiber, and also that year anglicized his given name. He remained in Buenos Aires as stage director and actor with the Free German Theatre until he moved in 1943 to Montevideo, Uruguay, as chief stage director for opera at the SODRE (the national opera). In 1945 he became chief stage director of the Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro. Though he settled in Canada in 1948, he continued to visit Latin America until 1954, directing opera in Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Uruguay.

In 1947 Geiger-Torel was invited by Nicholas Goldschmidt (a former colleague in Troppau) to visit the recently established Royal Cons Opera School (University of Toronto Opera Division) as a guest teacher. He was first in Toronto from January to April 1948, then returned in October as stage director for the school. Though never head of the school, he was a major influence in its development. In 1949 he conceived 'Opera Backstage,' a touring party (singers Mary Morrison, Patricia Snell, Joanne Ivey, Ernest Adams, and Andrew MacMillan; pianist-conductor George Crum; promoter-manager Walter Homburger) which took operatic excerpts to western Canada, predating the COC touring company by several years. When in 1950 the Opera Festival Association of Toronto began as a professional outgrowth of the school he became principal stage director. In 1956 he became artistic director and in 1959 general director, prior to the 1960 official renaming of the company as the Canadian Opera Association (Toronto) (COC). Geiger-Torel retained the general directorship until his retirement in 1976, and continued as general director emeritus until his death later that year. He also preserved his ties with the opera school at the RCMT and later at the University of Toronto.

Geiger-Torel combined musicality with a thorough understanding of the stage, whether dealing with action or with technology. Though an adherent, for practical purposes, of the traditional repertoire, he produced with the COC the Canadian operas Deirdre, Louis Riel, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, and Heloise and Abelard. In his years with the COC he staged more than 30 operas, many in several productions, and 1953-9 he directed 13 operas for CBC TV. He was artistic adviser 1948-56 for the CBC Opera Company (radio). Outside Toronto he staged productions for the Montreal Festivals, Théâtre lyrique de Nouvelle-France, the Guelph Spring Festival, the Manitoba Opera (Winnipeg), the Southern Alberta Opera (Calgary Opera), the Edmonton Opera, the Vancouver International Festival, and the Vancouver Opera. In the USA he directed at the New York City Opera and in Portland, Ore, and Cincinnati. As teacher, director, and administrator he was profoundly influential in Canada, where few associated with opera did not experience at some time his wit, temper, kindness, and fierce capacity for work. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1969 and received the National Award in Music from the University of Alberta in 1970. 'Wagner and Valedictory,' a complete taped performance of Geiger-Torel's last COC production of Die Walküre, with spoken tributes to Geiger-Torel during the intermission, was broadcast in his memory by the CBC 14 Nov 1976. The rehearsal room of the University of Toronto Opera Division has been named the Geiger-Torel Room in his honour, and his annotated scores are in the university's Edward Johnson Music Library.


Further Reading

  • 'Opera's happy rebel,' Maclean's, 11 Oct 1958

    Mercer, Ruby. 'A visit with Herman Geiger-Torel,' OpCan, Sep 1967

    'I still think opera's a bit funny, but I love it,' Weekend, 15 Dec 1973

    Ashley, Audrey M. 'Who is the man behind all those operas?' Ottawa Citizen, 27 Sep 1975

    Peglar, Kenneth. 'Herman Geiger-Torel,' Remembered Moments of the Canadian Opera Company 1950-1975 (Toronto 1976)

    Littler, William. 'Geiger-Torel: he could always get the show on,' Toronto Star, 9 Oct 1976

    'Herman Geiger-Torel,' COC News, vol 4, Dec 1986

    COC Archives