Sir Charles Mackerras would have been 90 years old in 2015, which marks the 67th anniversary of his debut as a conductor and the 64th of his first recording, which immediately brought him international recognition as a very brilliant young artist. Following the huge success at Sadlers Wells Theatre in March 1951 of his new ballet Pineapple Poll, ingeniously put together in brilliant arrangements of themes from Sullivan operas, on the 7th and 8th of June that year he set down the score with the Sadlers Wells Orchestra in Abbey Road Studio No 1 for an initial release of twelve “78” disc sides (reissued the following year as one of the very first two EMI Columbia LPs). Quite apart from the appeal of the music, the disc quickly became highly admired for the sparkle, colour and highly disciplined agility of the playing – and this from an orchestra that was not then distinguished as a top quality ensemble like England’s Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras of the time. It was already a very sure sign of the special conducting talent to come, and yet only a small glimpse of the huge scale panorama that would evolve.
Just some highlights from the history of Sir Charles Mackerras’s enormously varied life and career are his revolutionising the Sadlers Wells Opera in the 1970s, taking it into its new era as the English National Opera and creating a new school of outstanding English singers as well as a first class orchestra; his famous championship of the music of Janacek, virtually single-handedly bringing the composer an unprecedented international renown and popularity through his award winning performances and recordings; his early pioneering of period instrument performance, researching composers’ original manuscripts and giving vivid and sometimes radical performances that have led many other musicians to rethink their interpretations; and his vast international operatic experience in the world’s most famous theatres, both as an acclaimed interpreter of a huge range of music and also as an artist who has probably accompanied more top international singers of the last 50 years than any other conductor. These are just some of the highlight topics that are covered in this documentary, in which there is revealing commentary from, as well as Charles himself and family members, distinguished opera singers and also players from Orchestras such as the Philharmonia and English National Opera.