George London (bass-baritone)
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In the summer of 1945 Antal Doráti invited his long time friend, the Hungarian bass Mihály Székely, to sing at the first concert of the newly reorganized Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Because of travel difficulties Székely was unable to arrive in time, so Doráti called upon young George London as a substitute.
After performing widely with tenor Mario Lanza and soprano Frances Yeend as part of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947-48, London was engaged by the Vienna State Opera, where he scored his first major success in 1949.
He was among the most famous exponents of his five signature roles: Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, Wotan, Scarpia and Amfortas. He never recorded any role in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, although recital performances of Hans Sachs' monologues exist on record.
In 1951 he sang at Bayreuth as Amfortas in Parsifal, and reappeared frequently in the 1950s and early 1960s as Amfortas and in the title role of The Flying Dutchman. He made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1951 as Amonasro in Aida, and sang over 270 performances, both baritone and bass-baritone roles, in such operas as The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Arabella, Tosca, Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, Carmen, Otello, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, The Tales of Hoffmann, Pelléas et Mélisande, and Faust. In 1964, he created the role of Abdul in the American premiere of Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Last Savage. He was the first American to sing the title role of Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War in 1960.
He frequently performed in English: Broadway show tunes and "negro spirituals". Recordings of both are available.
During his Met career, in 1956, he appeared on Ed Sullivan's television program in an abridged version of Act II of Tosca, opposite Maria Callas, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. A kinescope of that performance was preserved. Another black-and-white videotape of him in the same role, opposite Renata Tebaldi in a complete performance, is sometimes available. It was made late in his career and the paralysis of half his face is clearly visible.
Having already sung the Rheingold Wotan and the Siegfried Wanderer roles at the Met in New York in December 1961 and January 1962, he was ready to sing his first complete Ring Cycle. This was to be the now legendary new production mounted by Wieland Wagner at the Cologne Opera in West Germany in May 1962. Wieland Wagner was ready to try out new singers and production ideas in advance of his new Bayreuth Festival production which was scheduled for the summer of 1965 with London as Wotan and the Wanderer.
The Cologne Ring proved to be a great success (a private recording of Das Rheingold from this cycle exists to verify this) but London's vocal health began to deteriorate rapidly during the 1963-64 season; subsequently the problem was diagnosed as a paralysed vocal cord. This problem increased to such an extent that shortly after singing Wotan in Die Walküre at the Met in March 1965, he cancelled his upcoming appearances at the Bayreuth Festival that summer to rest and hopefully recover his voice. However, his vocal decline continued to such an extent that by March 1966 he sang in what would be his last appearance at the Metropolitan Opera: the role of Amfortas in Parsifal. By 1967 his career was over at the age of 46.
George London Foundation
In 1971, London established the George London Foundation for Singers, Inc., which gives grants to young opera singers early in their careers. $80,000 is given each year to the winners of an annual competition.
His voice was large, dark and resonant. Although it was also rather thickly-textured, London at his best commanded a wide range of dynamics, from delicate ppps to resounding fortes. His musicianship won him acclaim on three continents. London was also a fine actor with a robust stage presence; he was tall, powerfully built and striking.
The immense talent of George London was celebrated twice before his death. In the Carnegie Hall Concert of 1981, introduced by Beverly Sills performances were given by a long list of colleagues. In Vienna, 1984, the world's greatest singers of that era assembled to honor this great artist.
In 1977, a massive heart attack with brain damage left him half paralyzed. After the first heart attack, his health inexorably declined. A few years later, he managed to survive a second heart attack. On March 24, 1985, he died in Armonk, New York, after a third heart attack.
- Liner notes by Allan Altman, Compact Disc "George London in Concert", VAI Audio, Catalog Number VAIA 1030
- George London Foundation: official website
- London, Nora. George London: Of Gods and Demons. Fort Worth: Baskerville, 2005 (ISBN 1-880909-74-X)