AboutConductorBernstein at the Opera

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Overview

In addition to composing two operas (Trouble in Tahiti; A Quiet Place) and an operetta (Candide), Leonard Bernstein conducted opera internationally and to great acclaim. In 1939, a young Bernstein led a revival of The Cradle will Rock by Marc Blitzstein at Harvard in which he narrated from the piano just as the composer had done in the 1937 premiere. In 1946, Bernstein conducted the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes at Tanglewood. In 1953, Bernstein was the first American to conduct at La Scala, in a production of Cherubini's Medea with soprano Maria Callas. Bernstein and Callas returned two years later for a production of Bellini's La sonnambula, which was recorded live. During his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein debuted in 1964 at The Metropolitan Opera, leading a ten-production run of Verdi's Falstaff. Two years later, in 1966, he conducted Luchino Visconti's production of Falstaff in his debut at the Vienna State Opera; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sang the role of Falstaff. His success at the Vienna State Opera led to his first subscription concert with the Vienna Philharmonic later that year. Bernstein also recorded Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with the Bavarian Radio Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon in 1981 with a cast including Hildegard Behrens, Bernd Weikl, Hans Sotin, Heinz Zednik, and Heribert Steinbach.

Bernstein also brought opera to American households through programs he wrote and narrated for Omnibus and the Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. In the last of Bernstein's Omnibus programs, the Maestro wrote and narrated an episode in 1958 called "What Makes Opera Grand?" which delved into the inner-workings of operatic language by using an acting and a singing cast to present examples from Puccini's La Boheme. In 1988, he recorded the same opera for Deutsche Grammophon with Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. In addition to Omnibus, Bernstein also brought opera to American households through his Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, leading performances of Copland's The Second Hurricane in 1960 and Beethoven's Fidelio in 1970.

Recordings

Fidelio
Beethoven, Ludwig van: Fidelio
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra | Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone (Don Fernando); Hans Sotin, bass (Don Pizarro); René Kollo, tenor (Florestan); Gundula Janowitz, soprano (Leonore); Manfred Jungwirth, bass (Rocco); Lucia Popp, soprano (Marzelline); Vienna State Opera Chorus, Dir. Norbert Balatsch
Deutsche Grammophon | February 21, 1978 | Recorded in Vienna at the Musikverein
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La Sonnambula
Bellini, Vincenzo: La sonnambula
La Scala Orchestra | Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Maria Callas, soprano (Amina); Giuseppe Modesti, tenor (Rodolfo); Gabriella Carturan, mezzo-Soprano (Teresa); Cesare Valletti, bass (Elvino); La Scala Chorus, Dir. Norberto Mola
EMI Classics | May 03, 1955 | Recorded in Milan at La Scala
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A Quiet Place
Bernstein, Leonard: A Quiet Place
Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra | Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Chester Ludgin, bass (Old Sam); Beverly Morgan, soprano (Dede); John Brandstetter, baritone (Junior); Peter Kazaras, tenor (François); Jean Kraft, mezzo-soprano (Susie); Theodor Uppman, baritone (Bill); Clarity James, contralto (Mrs. Doc); John Kuether,; vocal ensemble, Dir. Donald St. Pierre
Deutsche Grammophon | April 18, 1986 | Recorded in Vienna at the Staatsoper
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Candide
Bernstein, Leonard: Candide
London Symphony Orchestra | Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Jerry Hadley, tenor (Candide); June Anderson, soprano (Cunegonde); Adolph Green, singer (Dr. Pangloss/Martin); Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano (Old Lady); Nicolai Gedda, tenor (Governor/Vanderdendur/Ragotski); Della Jones, mezzo-soprano (Paquette); Kurt Ol; London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Dir. Simon Joly
Deutsche Grammophon | December 18, 1989 | Recorded in London at Abbey Road Studio
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Trouble in Tahiti
Bernstein, Leonard: Trouble in Tahiti
New York Philharmonic | Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Nancy Williams, mezzo-soprano (Dinah); Julian Patrick, baritone (Sam); Antonia Butler (Trio); Michael Clarke (Trio); Mark Brown (Trio)
Sony | August 15, 1973 | Recorded in London at London Weekend Television Studios
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Carmen
Bizet, Georges: Carmen
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-Soprano (Carmen); James McCracken, baritone (Don José); Tom Krause, baritone (Escamillo); Adriana MalIsrael Philharmonic Orchestrante, soprano (Micaëla); Manhattan Opera Chorus
Deutsche Grammophon | October 13, 1972 | Recorded in New York City at Manhattan Center
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Medea
Cherubini, Luigi: Medea
La Scala Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Maria Callas, soprano (Medea); Fedora Barbieri, mezzo-soprano (Neris); Maria Luisa Nache, soprano (Glance); Gino Penno, tenor (Giasone); Guiseppe Modesti, bass (Creonte); Angela Vercelli, soprano (Prima an cella); Maria Amadini, mezzo-soprano (Seconda en cella); La Scala Chorus, Dir. Vittore Veneziani
Private Recording Melodram | December 10, 1953 | Recorded live in Milan at La Scala
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La Boheme
Puccini, Giacomo: La Bohème
St. Cecilia Academy Orchestra Rome
Angelina Réaux, soprano (Mimi); Barbara Daniels, soprano (Musetta); Jerry Hadley, tenor (Rodolfo); Thomas Hampson, baritone (Marcello); James Busterud, baritone (Schaunard); Paul Plishka, bass (Colline); Don Bernardini, tenor (Parpignol); St. Cecilia Academy Chorus, Dir. Norbert Balatsch; Children's Chorus
Deutsche Grammophon | June 07, 1987 | Recorded in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia
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Der Rosenkavalier
Strauss, Richard: Der Rosenkavalier
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano; Gwyneth Jones, soprano; Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Placido Domingo, tenor; Walter Berry, bass-baritone; Vienna State Opera Chorus
Sony | April 10, 1971 | Recorded in Vienna
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Falstaff
Verdi, Giuseppe: Falstaff
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone (Falstaff); Rolando Panerai, baritone (Ford); Juan Oncina, tenor (Fenton); Ilva Ligabue, soprano (Mrs. Ford); Regina Resnik, mezzo-soprano (Mrs. Quickly); Graziella Sciutti, soprano (Ännchen); Vienna State Opera Chorus, Dir. Roberto Benaglio
Sony | Recorded in Vienna at Sofiensaal
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Tristan & Isolde
Wagner, Richard: Tristan & Isolde
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Peter Hofmann, tenor (Tristan); Hildegard Behrens, soprano (Isolde); Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano (Brangäne); Hans Sotin, bass (König Marke); Heribert Steinbach, bass-baritone (Melot); Bernd Weikl, baritone (Kurwenal); Thomas Moser, tenor (Seemann); Hein; Bavarian Radio Chorus
Philips | November 14, 1981 | Recorded in Munich at Herkulessaal
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Peter Grimes curtain call with Leonard Bernstein in white, 1946, Tanglewood Image Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives

First rehearsal with Maria Callas for La Scala's production of Cherubini's "Medea", November 1953. Image Library of Congress Digital Archives

Poster from Leonard Bernstein conducting Medea at La Scala Image

Leonard Bernstein conducting the last act of Rigoletto at the annual concert for the American Fund for Israeli Institutions, Jan 12, 1956. Image Library of Congress Digital Archives

Leonard Bernstein rehearsing Beethoven's Fidelio with the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic, December 3, 1971. Image Library of Congress Digital Archives

Bernstein rehearsing his opera A Quiet Place in Houston, photo dated 3/7/83. Image Library of Congress Digital Archives