Principal Conductor of the Hamburg State Opera – 1966

11 Principal Conductor of the Hamburg State Opera – 1966

Dove sono – from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Carol Vaness was accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, in 1995. When he had introduced his reading of the opera at Sadlers Wells 30 years earlier, he was already greatly in demand at major international opera houses, and in 1966 he took his family out to live with him in Hamburg where he began a full-time appointment as Principal Conductor of the State Opera – the first Englishman, which he now was of course, to hold such a position in Germany. The language was no problem, as he was brilliantly fluent in at least six European dialects – but he did have to deal with another kind of problem. Up to now he had been meticulously demanding and very detailed in his rehearsals – but in Hamburg, for the productions that were already in repertoire, that could not be the case: they were usually put on with NO rehearsal, as Sir Charles’s daughter, Catherine, remembers.




One of the most acclaimed successes of Sir Charles Mackerras’ tenure in Hamburg was his vibrant conducting in this comic opera Zar und Zimmerman by Lortzing. Zar und Zimmerman translates Tsar and Carpenter. Tsar Peter the Great disguises himself as a labourer in a Dutch shipyard to learn how to build better ships for his navy. In this scene he encourages all the carpenters to enjoy their work: “Fellows, grip your axes and stir your brawny arms – may the heat in your blood rise with every blow. When the blow of the axe drones through the wood, a carpenter’s heart is filled with happiness”.


The disguised Tsar Peter’s first act aria from Lortzing’s opera Zar und Zimmerman. Raymond Wolansky was the Tsar, the Hamburg State Opera Chorus were the carpenters, and they and the Hamburg State Opera Orchestra were conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras in that recording made in 1969. And on that occasion, being a recording, Sir Charles was certainly given time to rehearse and perfect his results. The crystal clear sharpness of attack and sparkling rhythmic energy of the chorus and orchestra there were just some of the stamps of a Mackerras performance that were by now making him one of the world’s most sought after conductors.   The following year he began a 7 year tenure as Music Director of Sadler’s Wells Opera where his influence and achievement brought the company a new international kudos, as we’ll be hearing in the second part of this tribute “Sir Charles Mackerras, Master Conductor – a Profile”, which we’ll bring to you on the WFMT Radio Network.

End of Part One

Posted in Documentary.