Claudio Abbado: 1933-2014
It was August of 1969 and I was on my second trip across the Atlantic in three months and my first visit to Salzburg and the summer festival. I was there for a week - a very full week of operas and concerts. There was opera every night and lieder concerts most afternoons. It was meant to be a feast of music and I wasn't going to miss a morsel. The cast lists were a roll call of many of the big names of the time: Adam, Alva, Zylis-Gara, King, Berry, Bjoner, Evans, Freni, Ludwig, Kraus, Ghiaurov, Stratas, Prey, Janowitz, Gedda et al. And on the podium: Karajan conducting Don Giovanni, Böhm conducting Fidelio, Ozawa, in his operatic debut, murdering Cosi and Claudio Abbado showing us how Il Barbiere di Siviglia was meant to sound.
He had debuted as an operatic conductor at Salzburg the year before with the same production and between him and director/designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle they had created a Barbiere that was, for its time, revolutionary. It was to be the first Rossini opera in a collaboration that shed new light on La Cenerentola and L'Italiana in Algeri. His work on the operas of Rossini culminated in the brilliant revival of Il Viaggio a Rheims at Pesaro in 1984. Previously I had posted that encore to end all encores, a moment of musical joy: Viaggo, Pesaro 1992.
Since his death on Monday much has been written in tribute to Claudio Abbado and many clips have been posted featuring his Mahler, Verdi, Schubert, Stravinsky and Mozart. I thought I would remember him with the first piece of music I ever heard him conduct: the Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia. And from the looks of it this video may have been made around the same time I first saw him.
Unfortunately I missed the chance to see the legendary Boris Godunov at Covent Garden in 1983. I stood out on Bow St one April evening my five pound note discretely held but visible - a sign that you wanted a ticket. Sadly no one was in the mood or seemed to have the need to sell that evening. It was one of the few times I had been disappointed in my attempts to get a last minute seat at the Royal Opera. Though I had many of his recordings and had listen to many of his performances on radio I was not to see him conduct in person until April of 2008. After a period of illness and absence from the opera house he returned to the Teatro Valli in Reggio-Emilia, where his son Daniele was artistic director, to conduct Beethoven's Fidelio. As I wrote at the time it was one of the most exciting evenings I have spent at the opera in many years - I was simply overwhelmed.
He appeared with his Orchestra Mozart during the concert season March 2010 at the Academia Santa Cecilia. The programme was Mendelssohn and Mozart with a Mozart encore. It was a glorious evening - perhaps not as emotional as his Mahler, Beethoven or Verdi but he gave us the "Italian", Violin Concerto K216 and the "Jupiter" as I had never heard them before.
After his bout of cancer and other health problems he seemed to have returned to a full and active schedule with his Mahler Youth Orchestra, Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Orchestra Mozart. My dear friend David records so much of it in his blog post and in the wonderful obituary he wrote for the Guardian.
The man was loved, respected and revered but most of all loved. And I'll let David have the final words: Though we'll hugely miss him, there's nothing to regret: no-one lived a fuller life, one so much longer than illness would have led anyone to expect.
REQUIEM aeternam dona ei, et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace.
January 22 - 1506: The first contingent of 150 Swiss Guards arrives at the Vatican.