Julius Rudel, New York City Opera Impresario, Dies at 93

AUDIO: Julius Rudel on WQXR's Great Artists in 1984

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 02:00 PM

Julius Rudel, conductor Julius Rudel, conductor (Greg Hark)

The conductor Julius Rudel, who ran New York City Opera during its golden age, from 1957 to 1979, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 93 and died of natural causes, according to his spokeswoman, Lisa Jaehnig.

Rudel was born in Vienna in 1921 and emigrated as a teenager to the United States. He conducted more than 150 operas in the greatest opera houses in the world. But he was best identified for his 37-year association with City Opera, which began when, as a recent graduate of the Mannes College of Music, he joined the new company's music staff in 1944. He worked his way up to principal conductor and general director in 1957.

Under Rudel's leadership, City Opera came to be nationally respected for its performances of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini. He hired key singers -- notably Beverly Sills -- and managed its artistic transition from City Center to Lincoln Center in 1966. In recent years, Rudel was a forceful critic of City Opera's management and its board, before the company went bankrupt in October 2013.

Along with Bel Canto works, the Vienna-born Rudel was particularly known for his advocacy for Baroque repertoire. In a 1984 interview with Bob Sherman on WQXR, Rudel discussed his decision to mount Handel's Julius Caesar at New York City Opera, a time when the Baroque composer's operas were barely known to the public (listen above).

"At that time everybody thought, 'why do Handel in an opera house? It's boring,'" Rudel said. "People tried to dissuade me. But with Julius Caesar, at least you have something to grab the unsuspecting opera lover with the title."

Rudel added that the Met's then-general manager Rudolph Bing had just commissioned Samuel Barber to write Anthony and Cleopatra. "Mr. Bing was very angry with me because he thought I was trying to show him up with a similar subject," he recalled. "Of course, I had no such intention." He added, "I didn't realize that this was the beginning of a whole revival of Handel's operas, which has taken wing since then."

Rudel was the first music director of the Kennedy Center in Washington and of the Wolf Trap Festival. He held directorships of the Cincinnati May Festival, the Caramoor Festival and the Buffalo Philharmonic. He led 250 performances at the Met as well appearances at the Paris Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Vienna State Opera.

The University of Rochester Press published Rudel’s memoir, First and Lasting Impressions: Julius Rudel Looks Back on a Life in Music, last year.

He leaves behind three children, seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Listen to the full interview above and read Fred Plotkin's Aug. 2013 appreciation.

Julius Rudel appeared on The Vocal Scene with George Jellinek in 2001. Listen to the full show:


Below: Rudel conducts an excerpt from Otello in 1994 (YouTube).



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Comments [7]

marilyn rey from Cambria Heights, NY

I am not a musician, therefore I have no qualifications to judge Mr Rudel as an artist. However, I spent many an evening in the "cheap-seats" at both the City Center theatre and the, then, State Theatre at Lincoln Center. From up there, I learned to respect and admire Mr Rudel as a conductor and as a manager of an opera company. He always protected his people from the pit. That characteristic is the mark of a great leader in any field of endeavor. He earned the loyalty of his people for things he did that were obvious to all and probably for things that none of us will ever know about. He put on operas that were amazing, awesome, and needed. I felt that, under his direction, the NYC Opera's mission was to keep the Metropolitan Opera honest by staging works that they ignored and by providing "traditional" productions when they went overboard with "modern-style" productions. I'm sure that, shortly after he checked into Heaven. among the first people to greet him was Mr G.F. Handel who probably said something like, "Thanks, buddy, you did well."

Jul. 03 2014 11:53 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

MAESTRO JULIUS RUDEL in his 93 years has made major strides in widening the scope of opera's acceptance of baroque opera as viable, exciting musical fare and ingratiated us with his introduction of modern composers' current operas, all at popular low ticket costs. My own mentor MAESTRO LASZLO HALASZ, his predecessor and original general manager and principal conductor of the NEW YORK CITY OPERA, likewise was instrumental in getting minorities and women into the opera's orchestra. We who have worked under Maestro Rudel's leadership and knew him personally miss his warmth and generosity and savvy in dealing with people and issues. R.I.P. Maestro RUDEL !!!

Jun. 28 2014 01:17 PM

@ Peter
"... and without the Lincoln commercials ..."

No, no, no, Peter. Lincoln *supports* the station (though why I need to know about the sky roof is beyond me -- it has nothing whatsoever to do with classical music). Oh, wait. That sounded suspiciously like a commercial.

Never mind.


Jun. 28 2014 01:52 AM
The Truth

@Peter - WQXR doesn't see itself as a destination for serious music lovers. It's for people who dabble and like their music as a "lifestyle" accoutrement. The website I find is much better - the material here doesn't talk down to you and tries to engage in serious discussion. But I can't listen to the station for more than 10 minutes without reaching for one of my CDs.

Jun. 27 2014 07:09 AM
Lou Gerbino from Easton,CT

I agree with Mr. O'Malley's remarks. WQXR could take a lesson on programming from Julius Rudel. He led the New York (if not world) premieres of more than 1 opera by Alberto Ginastera.WQXR virtually ignores whole segments of the "classical" repertory. I cannot understand this. There has been no explanation of which I am aware,despite the fact that similar complaints appear regularly in listener comments.It's the on-air staff that saves this station!

Jun. 27 2014 06:34 AM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

I see that WQXR, which bills itself as "New York's classical music station", managed to get in one aria (sung by Beverly Sills) conducted by Mr. Rudel, squeezing it in along with all the usual stuff that we hear every day ad nauseam ("Russian Easter Festival Overture"; "Capriccio Italienne"; "Capriccio Espagnole"; etc.). Meanwhile, New York's more adventurous classical music station (well, part-time), WKCR, managed to get in Act III, scene 2 of "Manon" with Sills, Gedda, and Bacquier, conducted by Rudel, without all the silly promotional spots about New Yorkers on the go, and without the Lincoln commercials and other junk that keeps this station at the low level it has reached. We need a shake-up!

Jun. 26 2014 10:27 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

This certainly represents a sad moment for the New York Opera community,coming as it does following the demise of Rudel's beloved NYCO,and on the heels of the vandalism at the MET.There should be,at the very least, a memorial concert put together by NYCO artists.A resurrection of NYCO,even if temporary, would be a fitting tribute to this much-admired Maestro.

Jun. 26 2014 02:53 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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