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Claudio Abbado: A look back at the conductor's Covent Garden performances

The Italian's Covent Garden highlights included performances of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera and Simon Boccanegra.

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

20 January 2014 at 12.51pm | 4 Comments

Claudio Abbado first appeared in the pit at Covent Garden in 1968. Aged 35, he made a huge impression as a conductor in the finest Italian tradition. He was offered the post of musical director of The Royal Opera when Colin Davis retired in 1987. However Abbado had already filled a similar position at La Scala and preferred to concentrate on performances in the concert hall.

Abbado’s first Covent Garden performances in 1968 visit saw him conduct a revival of the famous Visconti production of Don Carlo with a cast led by Carlo Cossutta, Gwyneth Jones and Shirley Verrett. He returned in 1974 for a fine new production of Un ballo in maschera which had an exceptional cast, with Plácido Domingo, Piero Cappuccilli and Katia Ricciarelli in the principal roles.

In 1976 La Scala did an exchange with The Royal Opera and Abbado led the Italian company for a triumphant season at Covent Garden. He conducted all the performances, which included Verdi’s RequiemLa Cenerentola (with Teresa Berganza in the title role) and the incomparable Giorgio Strehler production of Simon Boccanegra.

In 1983 he conducted an exciting new production – Boris Godunov, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky with Robert Lloyd in the title role. A decade later Abbado returned for a revival of the bewitching Václav Kašlík and Josef Svoboda production of Pelléas et Mélisande with Frederica von Stade and François Le Roux.

The diversity of Abbado’s interests and repertory was typical of a maestro who strove for a fresh interpretation of the traditional repertoire: as was evidenced when he was music director of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic.

One critic wrote after his Royal Opera performances of Un ballo in maschera: ‘Abbado digs into the guts of the score.’ It was that intensity and musical scholarship that Abbado brought to all his evenings at Covent Garden. His love for the music and ability to coax the orchestra to magnificent playing made his appearances in the House special.

We asked you for your memories of seeing Claudio Abbado perform: 

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

20 January 2014 at 12.51pm

This article has been categorised Music, Opera and tagged Claudio Abbado, conductor, obituary

This article has 4 comments

  1. Tom Brown responded on 20 January 2014 at 4:56pm Reply

    Claudio Abbado conducted the first opera I saw at Covent Garden - as a teenager with a Youth & Music ticket I was so fortunate to have witnessed the 74-5 Ballo in Maschera, and though I knew little of Verdi at the time, the refinement of the opening phrases of the prelude as well as the explosion of passion in Gustavo's aria before the final scene, of course unforgettably also with Placido Domingo, were at once etched on my young memory! Of course, it was a shame we saw him so infrequently, but how fortunate that Covent Garden managed to coax him in for those few great performances.

  2. Charles Edwards responded on 20 January 2014 at 6:52pm Reply

    I was lucky enough to buy an upper slips seat to see 'Boris Godunov' with Claudio Abbado conducting when I was a student. The whole performance left me in tears. I count it amongst the most honest, searching and heart-rending examples of music-making I have every heard. What is also so fortunate is that he left us recordings which, even when made in the studio, have such a sense of theatre. Truly inspiring!

  3. Mark responded on 20 January 2014 at 9:07pm Reply

    Claudio Abbado conducted the first operatic performance I heard live - Parsifal at the Edinburgh Festival with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. Perhaps not a natural 'first' opera, but the performance was very special indeed. Subsequent unforgettable Abbado performances include Zauberflote in Edinburgh, Fidelio in Lucerne and Mahler at the Proms and in Lucerne. Those who heard him perform live were very lucky. We should all be be grateful for the large variety of excellent recordings that will live on.

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