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Bass/Baritone

George London, Canadian-American Bass-Baritone

By November 22, 2023No Comments

This was a great voice. He had also a strikingly effective stage presence and was regarded as one of the best operatic actors of his time. His voice was resonant, had legato and had an immense range. We don’t get singers like London often. Please enjoy the selections below.

Puccini, Tosca, “Te Deum”

SCARPIA
(a Spoletta che sbuca di dietro la colonna)
Tre sbirri, una carrozza…Presto, seguila
dovunque vada, non visto. Provvedi!

SPOLETTA
Sta bene. Il convegno?

SCARPIA
Palazzo Farnese!
(Spoletta parte rapidamente con tre sbirri.)
Va, Tosca!
Nel tuo cor s’annida Scarpia!…
Va, Tosca! È Scarpia che scioglie a volo
il falco della tua gelosia.
Quanta promessa nel tuo pronto sospetto!
Nel tuo cor s’annida Scarpia!…
Va, Tosca!
(Scarpia s’inchina e prega al passaggio del
Cardinale.)

CORO
Adjutorum nostrum in nomine Domini
qui fecit coelum et terram.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum
et hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.

SCARPIA
A doppia mira tendo il voler,
né il capo del ribelle è la più preziosa…
Ah, di quegli occhi vittoriosi veder la fiamma
Illanguidir con spasimo d’amor fra le mie braccia
illanguidir d’amor…
l’uno al capestro,
l’altra fra le mie braccia…

CORO
Te Deum laudamus:
Te Dominum confitemur!
(Il canto sacro dal fondo della chiesa scuote
Scarpia, come svegliandolo da un sogno. Si
rimette, fa il segno della croce guardandosi
intorno, e dice:)

SCARPIA
Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio!…
(S’inginocchia e prega devotamente.)

CORO, SCARPIA
Te aeternum
Patrem omnis terra veneratur!

Puccini, Tosca, “Te Deum”

SCARPIA
(to Spoletta, who emerges from behind the column)
Three men and a carriage…Quick, follow
wherever she goes! And take care!

SPOLETTA
Yes, Sir. And where do we meet?

SCARPIA
Farnese Palace!
(Spoletta hurries out with three policemen.)
Go, Tosca!
Now Scarpia digs a nest within your heart!
Go, Tosca! Scarpia now sets loose
the soaring falcon of your jealousy!
How great a promise in your quick suspicions!
Now Scarpia digs a nest within your heart!
Go, Tosca!
(Scarpia kneels and prays as the cardinal passes.)

CHORUS
Our helpers in the name of the Lord
who made heaven and earth.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
and this now and forever.

SCARPIA
My will takes aim now at a double target,
nor is the rebel’s head the bigger prize…
Ah, to see the flame of those imperious eyes
grow faint and languid with passion…
For him, the rope,
and for her, my arms…

CORO
We praise you Lord:
We confess you Lord!
(The sacred chant from the back of the church
startles Scarpia, as though awakening him from a
dream. He collects himself, makes the Sign of the
Cross.)

SCARPIA
Tosca, you make me forget God!
(He kneels and prays devoutly.)

CORO, SCARPIA
You are eternal
Let all the earth honor the Father!

Wagner, Das Rheingold, Wotan, “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne”

Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge
In prächtiger Glut
Prangt glänzend die Burg
In des Morgens Scheine mutig
Erschimmernd, lag sie herrenlos
Hehr verlockend vor mir

Von Morgen bis Abend
In Müh’ und Angst
Nicht wonnig ward
Sie gewonnen!
Es naht die Nacht:
Vor ihrem Neid
Biete sie Bergung nun

So grüss’ ich die Burg
Sicher vor Bang’ und Grau’n!

Folge mir, Frau:
In Walhall
Wohne mit mir!

Wagner, Das Rheingold, Wotan, “Golden at the eve”

Golden at eve the sunlight beams;
in glorious light glow the castle glowed.
In the morning’s radiance, bravely it glistened,
lying lordless there, proudly luring my feet.

From morning till evening,
in care and fear,
Unhappily, I worked to win it!
The night is nigh:
from all its ills shelter
it offers now.

So I greet the home,
safe from dismay and dread!
(He turns solemnly to Fricka.)
Follow me, my wife! In Valhalla dwell now with me.

Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro, Count Almaviva, “Vedrò mentre io sospiro”

IL CONTE
Hai già vinta la causa! Cosa sento!
In qual laccio io cadea? Perfidi! Io voglio…
Di tal modo punirvi… A piacer mio
la sentenza sarà… Ma s’ei pagasse
la vecchia pretendente?
Pagarla! In qual maniera! E poi v’è Antonio,
che a un incognito Figaro ricusa
di dare una nipote in matrimonio.
Coltivando l’orgoglio
di questo mentecatto…
Tutto giova a un raggiro… il colpo è fatto.

Vedrò mentre io sospiro,
felice un servo mio!
E un ben ch’invan desio,
ei posseder dovrà?
Vedrò per man d’amore
unita a un vile oggetto
chi in me destò un affetto
che per me poi non ha?
Ah no, lasciarti in pace,
non vo’ questo contento,
tu non nascesti, audace,
per dare a me tormento,
e forse ancor per ridere
di mia infelicità.
Già la speranza sola
delle vendette mie
quest’anima consola,
e giubilar mi fa.

Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro, Count Almaviva, “Must I see a serf of mine”

COUNT
We’ve won our case! What do I hear!
I’ve fallen into a trap!
The traitors!
I’ll punish them so! The sentence
Will be at my pleasure … But supposing
He has paid off the claims of the old woman?
Paid her? How? … and then there’s Antonio
Who’ll refuse to give his niece in marriage
To a Figaro, of whom nothing is known.
If I play on the pride
Of that half-wit …
Everything favours my plan …
The dice is cast.

Must I see a serf of mine made happy
While I am left to sigh,
And him possess a treasure
Which I desire in vain?
Must I see her,
Who has roused in me a passion
She does not feel for me,
United by the hand of rlove to a base stave?
Ah no, I will not give you
The satisfaction of this contentment!
You were not born, bold fellow,
To cause me torment
And indeed to laugh
At my discomfiture.
Now only the hope
Of taking vengeance
Eases my mind
And make me rejoice.

George London
May 30, 1920 – March 24, 1985

London was one of the most admired singers of his generation, with a flexible voice of dignity and power. Whether essaying the suave, seductive Don Giovanni, the regal Boris Godunov, the haunted Flying Dutchman or the villainous Scarpia, Mr. London’s interpretations were always authoritatively and richly sung.

London sang regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and also appeared at Milan’s La Scala and the Glyndebourne and Bayreuth festivals. He was the first American singer to portray Boris Godunov at the Metropolitan and, in 1960, became the first non-Russian to do so at the Bolshoi Opera.

Although he was born in Montreal, on May 30, 1920, George London was an American citizen, the son of Russian immigrants who had become naturalized before moving to the Canadian city for business reasons. The family moved to Los Angeles when London was 15, and there, while singing in the Hollywood High School glee club, he first realized that his newly changed voice was unusual – although he said later that it was ”deep, woolly and unmanageable.” Still, he joined the school’s chorus and opera group, and earned money singing in nightclubs, synagogues, churches and for movie soundtracks.

In 1941, Mr. London was chosen by the conductor and composer Albert Coates to sing in the premiere of his opera ”Gainsborough.” Six years later, he, the soprano Frances Yeend and the tenor Mario Lanza toured extensively as the Bel Canto Trio. His international career began in 1949, when he sang the role of Amonasro, Aida’s father, in Vienna. His Metropolitan Opera debut took place in 1951.

When Mr. London sang his first ”Boris” in a pruned edition of Mussorgsky’s original version at the Metropolitan in March 1953, critical praise was rapturous. ”So fine a bass voice, handled with such art, so great a gift for drama and so subtle a care for diction have not been met up with by this observer since Chaliapin,” wrote Virgil Thomson. From 1953 until his forced retirement, Mr. London was heard all over the world. One of his greatest triumphs came in 1964, when he undertook Wotan in Wagner’s complete ”Ring des Nibelungen,” in a Cologne production supervised by Wieland Wagner. He sang Mandryka in the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Strauss’s ”Arabella” (1956) and the title role in Gian Carlo Menotti’s ”Last Savage” (1964) in the same house.

After a paralyzed vocal cord ended his singing career in 1967, London concentrated on administration. He was appointed artistic administrator of the nascent Kennedy Center in Washington, where he served from 1968 until 1971. From 1971 to 1975, he was the executive director of the National Opera Institute. In 1975, he accepted the position of general director of the Opera Society of Washington, a position he held until 1977, when he suffered a severe heart attack that forced his permanent retirement.