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George London

…George London had it ALL! He was as impressive on stage as he was the wonderful colleague and friend in his private life. This is why he will have the place of honor in my heart.”
BIRGIT NILSSON

Notable quotes

George London was a rarity in the world of opera. He had a  commanding physical presence together with a beautiful voice  which he used with an accomplished technique. He was a great artist and my good friend."
ROBERTA PETERS
I have never forgotten how George accepted my performance of Donna Anna with himself as the Don in Vancouver in 1958. His belief in my ability gave a huge boost to my confidence, something he did for so many young singers during his spectacular career."
JOAN SUTHERLAND
Long before our first meeting I had heard, of course, what a  formidable singing actor George London was. That meeting  occurred backstage, after I had sung in a competition. What I  discovered that day, and on subsequent occasions, was a man of rare understanding, compassion and wisdom, all of which he imparted to people he came in contact with."
CATHERINE MALFITANO

George London’s career

One of the most compelling American vocal artists, George London (1920- 1985), was born in Montreal. When he was 15, the family moved to Los Angeles, where he received his early musical education. After scattered appearances in opera and operetta on both coasts, he was signed by Arthur Judson at Columbia Artists Management. He became the baritone member of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947 with soprano Frances Yeend and tenor Mario Lanza and they concertized nationwide.

Realizing the need for a dramatic breakthrough, London went to Europe in 1949 to gain the needed stage experience. Fortune smiled on him immediately because, after a highly successful audition with Karl Böhm, he was instantly engaged by the Vienna State Opera. His debut as Amonasro made London an overnight sensation. His star stature was further enhanced by similar successes in Figaro at Edinburgh in 1950 and in Parsifal at Bayreuth during the 1951 Festival, providing the natural culmination for the career of an American singer. That fall he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera.

Reaching the top with remarkable speed, London retained his enviable position among the world’s most acclaimed singers for the next two decades. Notable among his 22 Metropolitan roles, in addition to those already mentioned, were Don Giovanni, Scarpia, the four villains in Les Contes d’Hoffman and the Flying Dutchman. He sang many of these same roles in Vienna, where he remained a local favorite to the end of his career. Other international engagements followed in Buenos Aires, La Scala, Salzburg, and Paris. In 1960, he became the first American to sing Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Theater, a characterization that lives on in a memorable recording.

Among the many “first” milestones in London’s career, we recall his appearances in the Met’s first Arabella (Richard Strauss) and The Last Savage (Menotti). He was the first American to sing Mozart in Salzburg and the Dutchman in Bayreuth. Wotan (Die Walkure) is perpetuated on records, as is his classical interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Song and Dances of Death.
George London’s singing career was cut short by illness. He subsequently became Artistic Director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1968-1971) and Director of the National Opera Institute (1971-1980) as well as heading the Washington Opera (1975-1980) before succumbing to a heart ailment.

The wide-ranging, warm bass-baritone voice that emerges from George London’s recordings was enhanced on stage by a strikingly handsome appearance and an uncommon acting ability. He left an unforgettable impression as a captivating Don Giovanni, a haunting Boris Godunov, a properly brooding Eugene Onegin, a mysterious Dutchman, a tortured Golaud and Amfortas, a suavely malevolent Scarpia, and a dashing Escamillo.

by George Jellinek

Note on the author:
George Jellinek was the beloved host of WQXR’s The Vocal Scene and long time interviewer with the George London Foundation recital series before his passing in 2010.

Discography

Download a PDF version of George London’s discography here.