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Remembering Jeffrey Tate, former Principal Conductor of The Royal Opera

The English conductor has died after a long and illustrious career.

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

3 June 2017 at 9.17am | 3 Comments

English conductor Jeffrey Tate (1943–2017) has died. He was a much-respected conductor at Covent Garden and around the world.

Tate trained as a medical doctor before studying on the répétiteur course at the London Opera Centre 1970–71. He began his career with the music staff at the Royal Opera House, his work including performing the continuo in Così fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro and the piano in Wozzeck.

Tate’s early engagements as a conductor included assisting Pierre Boulez on Der Ring des Nibelungen at Bayreuth Festival 1976–80, and in the first performance of the three-act Lulu in Paris, 1979.

Tate made his Royal Opera conducting debut in 1982 with La clemenza di Tito, the cast including Yvonne Kenny and Yvonne Minton. He returned in 1985 to conduct a new production of Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Jean-Louis Martinoty and with the cast including Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and James King.

The following year, in 1986, he was appointed Principal Conductor of The Royal Opera, a position he held until 1991. During this period he conducted new productions of Manon, directed by Rudolf Noelte and starring Julia Migenes and Neil Shicoff; of Così fan tutte, directed by Johannes Schaaf with a cast including Andreas Schmidt and Susanne Mentzer; Idomeneo, directed by Schaaf and starring Philip Langridge and Ann Murray; and of Capriccio, directed by John Cox and starring Kiri Te Kanawa.

In his time as Principal Conductor Tate conducted prestigious revivals of Lohengrin with Paul Frey, Cheryl Studer and Gabriele Schnaut, Der Rosenkavalier with Murray, Lucia Popp and Lillian Watson, Arabella with Te Kanawa and Marie McLaughlin and Les Contes d’Hoffmann with Alfredo Kraus.

Tate was Principal Guest Conductor of The Royal Opera 1991–4. During this period he conducted Le nozze di Figaro with Thomas Allen, McLaughlin and Felicity Lott; Les Contes d’Hoffmann with Jerry Hadley; Fidelio in 1992 and 1993, with casts led by Gabriela Beňačková and Josephine Barstow; and Carmen with Denyce Graves and Shicoff.

He made his final appearance with The Royal Opera in 2011, conducting a revival of Der fliegende Holländer with Anja Kampe and Egils Siliņš .

Despite suffering from a spinal deformation that obliged him to sit while conducting, Tate was a vibrant figure in classical music-making, not just at the Royal Opera House but internationally.

In addition to his posts with The Royal Opera he held positions with English Chamber Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Orchestre National de France, RAI National Orchestra, Turin, Minnesota Orchestra Summer Festival and Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, in addition to close performing relationships with numerous other orchestras and opera companies.

Antonio Pappano, Music Director of The Royal Opera, has paid the following tribute:

'Though I didn't know Jeffrey well, I have admired him from afar for many years. His legendary status as the head vocal coach of the Chereau/Boulez Centenary Ring at Bayreuth caught my attention, and spurred me on to be the best coach I could be.

'He was a true a musician's musician and his career was not a flash in the pan, but something built over many years. As well as his connection to the Royal Opera House, he also had a long-standing relationship with my orchestra in Rome (the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia), which connects me to him in a very special way. Addio, Maestro.'

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

3 June 2017 at 9.17am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Jeffrey Tate, obituary

This article has 3 comments

  1. Jeremy Fielding responded on 3 June 2017 at 11:25am Reply

    I always judge a conductor by their powers to make you hear a familiar score with new ears - and he was one of those rare musicians. I fell in love with Strauss' Arabella thanks to hearing him conduct it live, an opera I'd previously struggled to find a bond with. Such fond memories of many glorious performances he gave us; thank you, maestro.

  2. Ian Rumfitt responded on 4 June 2017 at 10:11pm Reply

    This tribute arouses mixed feelings. Those of us who were regulars at Covent Garden in the 80s and early 90s will long treasure memories of many marvellously musical evenings under Jeffrey Tate's direction. But why were there so few chances to hear him at the house over the past twenty years? (The article suggests that his only engagement since 1994 was the Dutchman in 2011.) He did indeed like to work in Germany and Italy. But in my judgement it reflects poorly on the management of the Royal Opera House that it failed to retain the allegiance of a man who had strong claim to be counted as the preeminent British operatic conductor of his generation.

  3. Tom Sutcliffe responded on 30 August 2017 at 7:21pm Reply

    Jeffrey Tate's engagement on the Bayreuth centenary Ring (with Boulez and Patrice Chereau) was not as a conductor at all. He was chief repetiteur, a role he also took at the Paris Opera when the same team in 1979 undertook the premiere of Cerha's completed version of Alban Berg's Lulu there. At that stage I do not think Jeffrey ever expected to be a conductor himself. The transition came about at the Met - when he unexpectedly in 1979 got his chance to show what he could do. It is a classic route which of course was also followed by (for example) Antonio Pappano in Frankfurt working in Michael Gielen's musical team there a few years later.

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