Sir Georg Solti, KBE (21 October 1912 – 5 September 1997) was a Hungarian-British orchestral and operatic conductor. He holds the record for having received the most Grammy Awards, having personally won 31, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century.
While Kiri Te Kanawa was still preparing for that career-defining debut as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, she made her first Mozart disc under Colin Davis: a collection of sacred music, including the Solemn Vespers, KV 339, with its serene setting of ‘Laudate Dominum’, and Exsultate, jubilate. The Countess became the singer’s calling-card, and she repeated the role immediately in San Francisco and at Glyndebourne. The thwarted Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni followed, again under Davis at Covent Garden, before Kiri took her Countess to the Met in New York in February 1976, and sang her first Fiordiligi in Paris, in a production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. The Paris Opera was also the location of Kiri’s debut as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte in 1977. Her leap into superstardom came when she sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in July 1981…
October 21, 2012 marks Sir Georg Solti's centenary and Decca is celebrating this with several important reissues.
Sir Georg was an exclusive Decca artist for 50 years.
In 1947 he signed his first contract with Decca - as a pianist and that same year he made his first record as a conductor (with the Zurich Tonhalle in Beethovens Egmont Overture). His last public concerts took place just a few weeks before his death in 1997 and were with the Zurich Tonhalle.
Mozart was always an important and regular feature of Solti's career as conductor in the opera house and concert hall as well as in the recording studio and also as a pianist, and at the start of his career he participated in performances of Die Zauberflöte at Salzburg under Toscanini in 1937. Solti conducted Die Zauberflöte himself at Salzburg in 1956 to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart's birth and again in 1991 when he made his second recording of the opera. Solti's first recording of Die Zauberflöte was made in Vienna in 1969 and was his first complete Mozart opera recording.
Mozart's comic opera tells the story of Belmonte, a Spanish Nobleman, who arrives at a Turkish palace in search of his beloved Konstanze who has become part of Pasha Selim's harem. Together Belmonte and Konstanze plan her escape. Filmed at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1988, Georg Solti conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Deon van der Walt and Inga Nielsen star. “Solti's effervescence and warmth inspire a splendid cast, especially Nielsen's unusually desperate, passionate Constanze and antagonists Moll and Watson. Richly comic and brilliant sung.” - BBC Music Magazine
Unlike the late arrival of Mozart's Turkish opera, "Figaro" was much more of a constant in Solti's long career. Apart from being his debut opera, and a work he conducted at Covent Garden in a new staging in 1963-64, he also led editions in Chicago (1957), and with the Paris Opera in the highly visible Giorgio Strehler production that opened Intendant Rolf Liebermann's bold-new-start regime in March 1973; it was initially presented at the Palace of Versailles and in 1976 toured to the US. Frederica von Stade, the most admired Cherubino of the day, who had sung the role for Solti at Versailles, also appears on his subsequent recording. Made in 1981 with an exceptional cast, it won a Grammy award, perhaps unsurprisingly given that its other major assets include Kiri Te Kanawa's creamy-voiced Countess, Lucia Popp's sprightly Susanna, Thomas Allen's authoritative Count and Samuel Ramey's weighty Figaro. Smaller roles - Jane Berbié's Marcellina, Robert Tear's Basilio and Philip Langridge's Curzio among them - are also handled with tremendous care.
Though back in his Budapest years he had coached "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" for performances conducted by no less a figure that Erich Kleiber, and the opera continued to form part of the everyday repertoire in Germany throughout Solti's career, Mozart's Singspiel nevertheless managed to elude him in theatre until he finally conducted it at Covent Garden in November 1987 - again in the company's first performance of the piece. (It is a rather surprising mark of Solti's Mozartian credentials that he gave the Royal Opera no fewer than three major company premieres of his operas.) Two years earlier he had completed his recording of the work in Vienna, with an outstanding cast at his disposal. Edita Gruberova's comprehensively excellent technique and musicality make her an eloquent Konstanze, Kathleen Battle is the vital, pristine Blonde, Gösta Winbergh a winning Belmonte, Heinz Zednik a charming Pedrillo, and Martti Talvela an Osmin of unusual power and menace.
As in the case of "Cosi", Solti recorded "Don Giovanni" twice, the first time in 1978. It was a work he had loved since he heard Bruno Walter conduct it in Salzburg in 1936, with Ezio Pinza in the title role. His 1978 performance is distinguished by the presence of some of the leading Mozartian singers of the day, notably Margaret Price's Donna Anna, Stuart Burrows's Don Ottavio and Lucia Popp's Zerlina. Appreciable quantities, too, are Bernd Weikl's potent Giovanni, Gabriel Bacquier' demotic Leporello and Sylvia Sass's flamboyant Donna Elvira.
"There's plenty of life and vigour in the performance…Lorengar's Fiordiligi is affectingly interpreted and confidently delivered… Berganza sings with supple phrasing and firm tone… Ryland Davies's Ferrando is keen and pleasing in tone, secure in line, a great improvement on Gedda (Davis), and particularly eloquent in eventually breaking down the vulnerable defences of Lorengar's Fiordiligi. "Un' aura amorosa" would yield to tenderer accents, but the two Second Act arias are faultless in delivery. Krause is a seductive and articulate Guglielmo, Bacquier among the most ebullient of Alfonsos, who makes the most of every opportunity—a performance that brings the singer's very individual presence into the home. Some decorations are offered. The recitative is taken in lively fashion with Jeffrey Tate providing nice touches at the harpsichord. I enjoyed hearing Solti's version again more than I expected, not least because it conveys a sense of joy on all sides in actually performing the piece—that counts for much." – Gramophone