George London

30.05.1920 - 24.03.1985


George London (May 30, 1920 – March 24, 1985, born as George Burnstein) was a Montreal-born concert and operatic bass-baritone. Son of a Russian Jewish family he grew up in Los Angeles.

After extensive concertizing with tenor Mario Lanza and soprano Frances Yeend as part of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947-48, London was engaged by the Vienna State Opera, with whom he scored his first major success in 1949.

In 1950 he sang the role of Pater Profundis in Mahler's Eight Symphony, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

In 1951 he sang at Bayreuth as Amfortas in Parsifal, and reappeared frequently in the 1950's and 60's as Amfortas, the title role of The Flying Dutchman, and Wotan in Der Ring des Nibelungen. He made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1951 as Amonasro in Aida, and sang over 270 performances, both baritone and bass-baritone roles, in such operas as Le Nozze di Figaro, The Magic Flute, Arabella, Tosca, Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, Carmen, Parsifal, Tannhauser, The Tales of Hoffman, Pelleas et Melisande, and Faust. In 1964, he created the role of Abdul in Menotti's "The Last Savage." He was the first American to sing the title role of Boris Godunov at The Bolshoi_Theatre in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War.

He frequently performed in English: Broadway show tunes and "negro spirituals". Recordings of both are available.

During his Met career, in 1956, he appeared on Ed Sullivan's television program in an abridged version of Act II of Tosca, opposite Maria Callas, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. A kinescope of that performance was preserved.

He recorded many of his roles for RCA Victor, Columbia Records, and Decca.

In 1958, London performed the leading role of Wotan, in the groundbreaking recording of Richard Wagner's opera Das Rheingold, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, and produced by John Culshaw for Decca.

A paralyzed vocal cord ended his singing career prematurely in 1967. In 1971, London established the George London Foundation for Singers, which gives grants to young opera singers early in their careers. $80,000 is given each year to the winners of an annual competition.

In 1975, he directed the first Ring Cycle produced by Seattle Opera, creating its "Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival."

From 1975 until 1977 he was general director of the Washington Opera (later the Washington National Opera).

His voice was dark and powerful, with penetrating high resonances, and his musicianship and acting won him acclaim on three continents. He was tall and devilishly handsome. He died in Armonk, New York after a long illness (a violent heart attack with brain consequences in 1977 left him half paralyzed until his death, which came after a third strong heart attack). 

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