GEORGE LONDON AT HIS BEST

Dispensing the kind of vocalism that is scarcely heard these days, the Canadian-born bass-baritone George London is featured in a CD of operatic excerpts from German radio broadcasts from the 1950’s.

London proves as comfortable in the French of Jacques Offenbach’sScintille diamant from Les contes d’Hoffmann capped with a thrilling high F sharp, as he is in the Russian of Borodin’s Prince Igor, whose aria Ni sna ne otdykha – demonstrates George London’s limitless capacity for spinning a seamless line, never seaming to take a breath. Likewise, he is in his singing element as a thundering Amonasro in Aida, though less so as a villainous-sounding Onegin, singing in German, especially heavy-handed when paired to the feather-light Tatyana of soprano Valerie Bak.

George London made his professional debut at the age of 21. By his early thirties he was starring in major Wagnerian roles at Bayreuth: Amfortas in Parsifal, Wolfram in Tannhäuser, and the title role of The Flying Dutchman. Ten years later he was lauded as Wotan in Die Walküre and as The Wanderer in Siegfried.

Then came the 1950’s and 1960’s at the MET, during which London sang over 270 performances in both baritone and bass roles: both Figaro and Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Scarpia in Tosca, the title roles in Don Giovanni and in Boris Godunov, Iago in Otello, the four villains in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Mephistopheles in Faust

By the mid-1960’s London began to experience vocal difficulties that were attributed to a damaged vocal cord, arguably the result of singing too frequently a much-too-heavy repertoire. He ended his singing career in 1967, at the age of 46.

The Orfeo CD George London – Grosse Sänger unseres Jahrhunderts is a mixed bag of excerpts both well chosen: the arias from Les contes d’Hoffmann, Prince Igor and Die Walküre, and some arbitrarily selected fillers, like the trio from Les contes d’Hoffmann sung not in the original French, but in German, and the tedious exchange between Father and Daughter from Die Walküre. Added to those lianilities and compounded by the absence of translations  and liner notes, the Orfeo release fails to satisfy those in search of a completely fulfilling experience.

What makes listening to an hour and a half of operatic music sung in German, French, Italian and Russian is pure and simple, the presence of George London, one of the greatest bass-baritones of the 20th century.

Rafael de Acha (c) 2022

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