Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Charles Mackerras

Sir Charles Mackerras has died, age 84, according to a report from Australia. Hilariously, the obituary calls him "a noted authority on Mozart and the operas of Gilbert & Sullivan."

Mozart, indeed; among his recordings is a superb Idomeneo, with Barbara Frittoli, Ian Bostridge, LHL, and Anthony Rolfe Johnson. But the composer with whom I most closely associate him isn't Sir Arthur Sullivan, it's Leoš Janáček. Mackerras was as responsible as anyone for Janáček's entrance in the standard repertory, between his editions, recordings, performances, and advocacy. 

I was lucky enough to hear Mackerras a few times at San Francisco Opera, in Vec Makropoulos (my first Janáček, and yes, it made quite an impression), in Rusalka, the Rosenkavalier I walked out of in sheer annoyance (we arrived on time for the imagined 2 p.m. curtain and had to stand through act I) and in the splendid Semele of a decade ago. I heard two performances of the Handel, one with Mackerras and the other with William Lacey. At this distance in time and without notes, I can't give you the specifics, but the two demonstrated nicely the difference between the great and the good.

Rest in peace, Sir Charles. You were one of the greats.


doug said...

What a gifted conductor. Thank goodness for recorded sound and, therefore, his talent and impact living on.

Civic Center said...

I was a supernumerary in the opening night production of "I Vespri Siciliani" which Mackerras conducted at the San Francisco Opera, and even though the production by one of the Alden twins was fairly ridiculous, the music-making itself was extraordinary.

His Janacek was definitive but so was his Mozart and so was his Britten. His recording of "Gloriana" with Josephine Barstow is just awesome.

Mackerras was one of the greats and I give Lotfi Mansouri some credit for bringing him here as "principal guest conductor" or whatever they were calling him during the 1990s. He was god.

Michael Walsh said...

I feel fortunate to have heard him live, and I will be getting more of his recordings.

Thank you, Sir Charles.

Henry Holland said...

I only heard him conduct once, an SFO Butterfly with an average cast, but what conducting!

SFMike is right, his Gloriana recording is fabulous, it's a shame that he and Britten had a falling out over some snide comments Sir Charles made about Britten's interest in young lads. His conducting of Billy Budd on the recently released BBC studio performance DVD is just incredible. He *gets it*.