From Budapest to Berlin, Ferenc Fricsay’s Operatic Milestones

By David Salazar

Hungarian conductor Ferenc Friscsay, born on August 9, 1914, will always be remembered for having his recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony appear on Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

But the maestro did so much more throughout his career, particularly in the realm of opera. Throughout his career, he had some major milestone moments with some of the world’s greatest European houses. Let’s have a look.

La Traviata in Budapest

Fricsay’s belated arrival at the Budapest State Opera was met with great success, the conductor, leading a performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” He would have a four-year association with the organization and was also heavily influenced by his relationship with Otto Klemperer.

Salzburg Festival

While his earliest opera experiences were with the Budapest Opera and the Vienna Volksoper, it was at Salzburg that he made a splash, conducting two world premieres. The first was Gottfried von Einem’s “Danton’s Tod,” in 1947 and the latter was Frank Martin’s “Zaubertrank.” These showcases thrust him into the international spotlight, earning him notable positions with major orchestras around the world. He would later conduct Carl Orff’s “Antigonae” at the Festival in 1949.

Dark Times in Vienna

This isn’t exactly a milestone, but it is essential to note that Fricsay’s time at the Vienna State Opera, where he conducted over 40 performances, was torture for the Maestro. He rarely got to rehearse operas and subjected to constant cast and instrumentalist changes.

Berlin Revival

After “Zaubertrank,” he was called to Berlin to where he was lauded for a “Don Carlo” performance that featured the operatic debut of 23-year-old Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Rodrigo. Later in 1948, he was made the general music director of the West Berlin Opera House and he was able to bring in a plethora of major artists including Erna Berger, Lisa Otto, Marianna Radev, Anny Schlemm, Rita Streich, Sieglinde Wagner, Peter Anders, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Josef Greindl, Helmut Krebs, Walther Ludwig, Josef Metternich, Ernst Haefliger, Oralia Dominguez, Pilar Lorengar, Donald Grobe and Ivan Sardi to be fixtures with the company.

But perhaps his greatest moment in the city took place in 1961 when he opened the revived Deutsche Oper Berlin with a performance of “Don Giovanni.” He noted that it was the climax of his artistic life and the event was recorded and available to this day.

There were other momentous occasions for the maestro in his artistic career, including a tour of Verdi’s “Requiem” in Israel as well as his work to plug holes in the repertory at Munich, among others. And of course, one cannot overlook his numerous recordings throughout his career, mainly for Deutsche Grammophon.



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