London (real name, Burnstein), George

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London (real name, Burnstein), George

London (real name, Burnstein), George, esteemed Canadian-born American bass-baritone; b. Montreal, May 5,1919; d. Armonk, N.Y., March 23,1985. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1935; there he took lessons in operatic interpretation with Richard Lert; also studied voice with Hugo Strelitzer and Nathan Stewart. He made his public debut in the opera Gainsborough’s Duchess by Albert Coates in a concert performance in Los Angeles on April 20, 1941. He appeared as Dr. Grenvil in La Traviata on Aug. 5,1941, at the Hollywood Bowl, and then sang with the San Francisco Opera on Oct. 24, 1943, in the role of Monterone in Rigoletto. He took further vocal lessons with Enrico Rosati and Paola Novikova in N.Y.; then, anticipating a serious professional career, he changed his name from the supposedly plebeian and ethnically confining Burnstein to a resounding and patrician London. In 1947 he toured the U.S. and Europe as a member of the Bel Canto Trio with Frances Yeend, soprano, and Mario Lanza, tenor. His European operatic debut took place as Amonasro at the Vienna State Opera on Sept. 3, 1949. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. in the same role on Nov. 13, 1951; this was also the role he sang at his last Metropolitan appearance on March 10,1966. From 1951 to 1964 he also sang at the Bayreuth Festivals. On Sept. 16, 1960, he became the first American to sing Boris Godunov (in Russian) at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. In 1967 he was stricken with a partial paralysis of the larynx, but recovered sufficiently to be able to perform administrative duties. From 1968 to 1971 he was artistic administrator of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; was also executive director of the National Opera Inst. from 1971 to 1977. He was general director of the Opera Soc. of Washington, D.C., from 1975 to 1977, when he suffered a cardiac arrest that precluded any further public activities. For several years before his death, he suffered from a grave neurological disease. Among his best roles were Wotan, Don Giovanni, Scarpia, Escamillo, and Boris Godunov.


N. London, Aria for G. (N.Y., 1987).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire