Death of an epic opera designer, 94

Death of an epic opera designer, 94


norman lebrecht

December 15, 2018

David Pountney has shared the sad news that Ralph Koltai died this morning.

A Hitler refugee, Koltai reached England in 1939 and, after war service, became a pioneer of modernism in British theatre.

Aside from much work at the National Theatre, he designed more than 100 operas, including The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany for Sadlers Wells Opera under the guidance of Lotte Lenya,and Reginald Goodall’s Ring Cycle (1970-1981) for the English National Opera.

A list of his designs can be found here.  

Name the opera?


  • Just sayin' says:


  • Peter Cz. says:


  • Nick2 says:

    This is very sad news. Ralph was a brilliant designer. Of his many productions I have seen, one of the most stunning was the Elegy for Young Lovers by Scottish Opera and produced by Henze himself at the Edinburgh Festival around 1970. His use of scaffolding and thick plastic squares may sound basic but was stunningly effective in creating the mountain especially with his own atmospheric lighting. Apart from his designs, those who had the joy of knowing him will miss his often pawky sense of humour.

    It’s unfortunate that his website linked above only lists very few of his productions. Nor does it make mention to the many major designers who studied with him – including John Napier and Maria Bjornson.

    • Chris says:

      Nick I was lucky enough to have played in those productions in Edinburgh (King’s Theatre) starring John Shirley-Quirk (among others).