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John Barbirolli (Sir)

John Barbirolli (Sir)

(1899 - 1970)


Sir John Barbirolli, was an English conductor and cellist.

Born in London, of Italian and French parentage, he grew up in a musical family.

Barbirolli was the first of the family to become a conductor. After working as a cellist in his first years, Barbirolli's early conducting career was principally as conductor of the British National Opera Company and Covent Garden's touring company.

He made his operatic début conducting Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" at Newcastle, followed by performances of "Aida" and "Madama Butterfly". He conducted the British National Opera Company frequently over the next two years, but made his Royal Opera House debut début at Covent Garden in 1928 with "Madama Butterfly."

In 1929, after financial problems had forced the British National Opera Company to disband, the Covent Garden management decided to set up a touring company to fill the gap, and appointed Barbirolli as its musical director and conductor.

The operas in the company's first provincial tour included "Die Meistersinger", "Lohengrin", "La bohème", "Madama Butterfly", "The Barber of Seville", "Tosca", "Falstaff", "Faust", "Cavalleria Rusticana", "I Pagliacci", "Il Trovatore", and the first performances (in English) of "Turandot".

In later tours with the company Barbirolli had the chance to conduct more of the German opera repertory, including "Der Rosenkavalier", "Tristan and Isolde", and "Die Walküre".

Early in his career he was chosen to be Arturo Toscanini's successor as music director of the New York Philharmonic which he served for 7 years. On returning to Britain in 1943 at the start of the war he had a near escape by changing planes at the actor Leslie Howard's request. Howards plane was shot down but Barbirolli arrived safely.

He much enjoyed his time with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester often declining other invitations to take up positions elsewhere. On request from David Webster, Barbirolli conducted six operas for The Royal Opera in 1953 -Turandot, Aida, Orfeo ed Euridice, Tristan und Isolde, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, but he returned to Halle.

Once Halle was on its feet in 1958, after building the orchestra up and touring continually, conducting up to 75 concerts a year, he arranged a less daunting schedule thereby allowing him to take up other guest conducting engagements. Work followed with the Vienna Staatsoper, the Opera House in Rome where he conducted Aida in 1969

In 1960 he had accepted an invitation to succeed Leopold Stokowski as chief conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in Texas. It was a post he was to hold for seven years.

In 1961 he also began a regular association with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which lasted for the rest of his life.

He was also regularly engaged with other orchestras such as The London Symphony Orchestra, The Philharmonia, The Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic.

With these orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra he recorded many works. One of the most notable opera recordings that he did, was with EMI - the much praised "Madama Butterfly" with Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi. It remains in the catalogues today and has never been out of production.

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