February 20, 2018

Julius Rudel Memoir and New York City Opera

“First and Lasting Impressions”, the new memoir by Julius Rudel, is a wonderful read for anyone interested in the Maestro and in the NYC Opera. More than a memoir of NYC Opera, the book contains a lot of biographical material regarding Rudel’s early life, moving to America, and his international conducting activities after leaving NYC Opera.

For those interested in the wonderful things accomplished under Rudel’s leadership, this is the book to read. I was amazed myself (as a former member of the staff there) to read that prior to my arrival, Rudel had done some successful seasons consisting solely of new American Operas. Of course many of the most interesting behind-the-scenes details are detailed in the book.

So many of the great singers blossomed under Rudel’s reign: Sills, Carreras, Domingo, and Neblett just to name a few; he describes the golden days of the company, and the influence it’s policies and philosophy had upon other opera companies in America: the concept of an ensemble company (rather than a “star house”), the attention to new American operas (many commissioned by Rudel), and the Herculean energy Maestro Rudel had to make this all happen. (He was director of several other prominent organizations during the 70s while he was general director of NYC Opera, handling administration and conducting duties.) It’s an amazing story, and I myself am very saddened to see the difficult times this company is now going through.

Working with him on the music staff was an amazing experience. With all the stress that came with the job, he was always fair, and although prone to some justified anger (and in retrospect, he was always right in his criticisms), I have warm memories of working with this man, who was both kind and a strong leader. (With all of his duties, he was able to find time to show interest in my own music, and was responsible with Gunther Schuller for my receiving my first important opera commission).

Looking back at my time there in the 70s, I marvel: what a wonderful time it was! I had the chance to work with great singers, directors, and conductors – including Maestro Rudel, whose performances were often masterful and always musical and tasteful. How could I ever forget the wonderful new productions of Ginestera’s BEATRICE CENCI, Hoiby’s SUMMER AND SMOKE, Korngold’s DIE TOTE STADT, as well as Floyd’s SUSANNAH, and Menotti’s THE CONSUL, (not to mention the ongoing fine performances of standard repertoire)? As a composer/pianist, it was thrilling for me to work on so many operas – particularly the newer pieces, often with the composers present. I only wish that I was mature enough as a person fresh out of school to realize how great and unusual all of this activity was.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in opera and this wonderful conductor.