God bless, Peter Hall

God bless, Peter Hall


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2017

The death has been announced of the great theatre and opera director, Sir Peter Hall. Peter was 86 and had been suffering for several years from dementia.

He was Britain’s greatest theatre engine of the 20th century.

He founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, took over the faltering National Theatre in 1973 and turned it into a powerhouse. When he left in 1988 he started the Peter Hall Company, created the Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames and directed operas each summer at Glyndebourne, where he held the title of artistic director and formed a close partnership with Bernard Haitink. His Ring cycle with Georg Solti at Bayreuth was relatively inauspicious, but Wagner was never really his thing. Peter was a theatre man through and through.

At our last lunch, beside the shell of the Rose Theatre a dozen years ago, he was full of wisdom and inspiration.

No man did more for theatre in my lifetime. And so much for opera.

The stage is packed with his disciples.

Fond memories, Peter.



  • Guus Mostart says:

    One of the greatest and most influential people of the theatre is no more. I will always treasure our close collaboration during nine years in Glyndebourne and Bayreuth. May he rest in peace.

  • Robin Worth says:

    The revival of his wonderful Midsummer Night’s Dream at Glyndebourne was a reminder of what they (and we) lost when there was a falling out over the Peter Sellars Magic Flute

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    He will be missed. remember when he stood on the coffee table and took on the Arts Council?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Why was his wonderful Bayreuth Ring the only recent one not to have been filmed? Any connection with Peter Hall’s “concept” or with Solti’s withdrawal after the first summer?

    • Jon says:

      I’m not sure that the cycles by Alfred Kirchner (1994 – 98), Jurgen Flimm (2000-04) or Tancred Dorst (2006-10) were filmed in their entirety either. Of those, I have only seen filmed versions of Kirchner’s Gotterdammerung and Dorst’s Walkure.

      Perhaps you could confirm when the others were filmed?

      • Petros Linardos says:

        You are probably right, I spoke my mind too fast. Nevertheless, the ring before (Boulez-Chereau) and after (Barenboim-Kupfer) have been available on DVD in their entirety. The Soti/Schneider – Hall ring is the naturalistic ring from Bayreuth in many decades. I attended Siegfried at Bayreuth in 1986 and cherish the memory. Would have been so nice to have an alternative to the wonderful Levine-Schenk MET ring on DVD.

  • Olassus says:

    Fond memories indeed. A class act.

  • Richard Craig says:

    A sad day indeed for. the arts, he was a titan of the theatre and the opera house


    His Mozart/Da Ponte productions above all fuelled my love of opera, and are still to me the definite word on those greatest of all operas. Every single work of his I saw, on both opera and theatre stage, was was insightful, sensitive and full of imaginative detail which set him apart from his peers. A titan and a hero indeed.

  • Nick says:

    His legacy as a director of opera and theatre will remain for a long, long time. But he was and will remain a very controversial character for his manipulations behind the stage. He took over the NT in very controversial circumstances. Olivier wanted another – Michael Blakemore, I believe – and was convinced Hall would be a near disaster. Yet the Board did not take Olivier’s advice. Hall then proceeded to dismantle the original idea for an NT – an ensemble of actors who would work together almost as a repertory company.

    Lest it be thought that Olivier’s ensemble company was not successful, I recall some wonderful productions from Olivier’s time and the great actors he attracted to the ensemble. Zeffirelli’s Much Ado About Nothing and John Dexter’s Royal Hunt of the Sun stand out with Robert Stevens and Maggie Smith. Then actors were paid a maximum of £65 per week. Hall did not want a company. He wanted stars and so he persuaded the Board that the maximum wage had to soar to a stellar £400.

    Worse, in my view, he persuaded the Board that when NT productions transferred to the West End or Broadway, the directors should receive royalties. Before then the NT had always received the royalties. Yet when No Man’s Land transferred he received the 4% he would have received in the commercial theatre, but only after the show’s production costs had been recouped. He thus benefitted from all the production work he and the company had done largely at taxpayers expense at the NT.

    Worse was the transfer of Amadeus to Broadway. For that he negotiated for himself a royalty of 4% rising to 5% of the weekly gross plus 5% of the profits. That earned him £720,000 on top of his NT salary. In today’s money, that is over £5 million! And the amount he negotiated as royalty for the NT? Zero! The only royalty the NT received was thanks to Peter Schaffer. Shaffer was immensely grateful to the NT and so he donated one of his own percentage points as author to the NT. For Peter Hall to enrich himself at the expense of the NT to such an extent and therefore of the average theatre goer was a disgrace in my view.

    It’s hard reading the sub-text in Hall’s Diaries with the constant emphasis he puts on his own need to improve his financial position. Unlike Olivier who devoted himself almost full time to running the NT, Hall took a day off each week to host the TV programme Aquarius. He also took up the Glyndebourne Director of Productions job. Whilst that gave the world some excellent opera productions – yes, I believe Midsummer Night’s Dream was a crowning glory – (and some duds), how was it that he could be released from such a large part of his commitment to the NT? When Olivier was released to do the occasional film – a career that could have earned him millions had he been prepared to take more time off from the NT – he took himself off salary. My understanding is Hall remained on salary!

    Perhaps his greatest achievement is not in opera, but in his vision for creating the Royal Shakespeare Company and the cunning, guile and political skills he used with his political masters to ensure it survived.

  • Heifetz63 says:

    Bayreuth-Ring: He and Solti refused Simon Estes as Wotan, because Estes is of African-American descent. Sad.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Please substantiate that allegation. I knew both Solti and Peter Hall. Neither was racially prejudiced.

      • Jon says:

        Simon Estes had been hired to sing Wotan in the Hall/Solti Ring by Wolfgang Wagner, but was dropped by Peter Hall and Solti. Estes claimed publicly that he had been rejected because he was black, but Hall and Solti both said it was because they had been dissatisfied with his audition.

        Peter Hall had been reportedly troubled by the idea of a black Wotan if the rest of the gods had been white, but felt it might work if some of the other gods were also black. However, the fact that neither he nor Solti had been convinced by Estes audition relieved him of this decision. This is all documented in Stephen Fay’s book:

        “Hall might indeed have been troubled by the idea of a black Wotan surrounded by a large family of white singers … He did not object in principle to a black Wotan, as long as there were black singers among his daughters, but he felt Estes’ audition had relieved him of the need to make such a choice.”