Death of a great opera director, 86

Death of a great opera director, 86


norman lebrecht

November 03, 2019

The Salzburger Nachrichten has informed us of the death of Johannes Schaaf, one of the go-to directors of the second half of the 20th century. A fixture at Salzburg, Munich and Covent Garden, his Mozart productions with Georg Solti were broadly traditional and extremely musical with a few modern quirks.

He opened the new Israel Opera in Tel Aviv with an outstandingly Russian Boris Godunov.



  • Another Hasbeen says:

    RIP Herr Schaaf. A fine director and a fascinating colleague. However his four Mozart productions atCovent Garden were with Haitink and Tate, not Solti.

    • CHNina says:

      True, but he did collaborate with Solti in Salzburg, for Zauberflöte and Entführung (also for a Strauss Capriccio). In Vienna, he directed Idomeneo and Cosi for Harnoncourt. We should not forget that he also directed many films (“Momo” is perhaps the best-known) and drama productions, and in younger years was a successful actor.

      A very interesting and amiable colleague.

      • Peter Schünemann says:

        At Salzburg Opera Festival Johannes Schaaf collaborated with Sir Georg Solti only for Zauberflöte in 1991; for the revival in 1993 this production was conducted by Bernard Haitink. All other Salzburg productions were conducted by Horst Stein (Capriccio 1985-87, 1990 and Entführung aus dem Serail 1987-89, 1991).

        Out of all Schaaf productions, which I have seen, three will stay forever in my memory : Yevgeny Onegin (Bremen 1983), Le nozze di Figaro (London 1987, Hamburg 1990) and Boris Godunov (München 1991).

        Tatyana in his Bremen production was soprano Stella Kleindienst, who became in 1984 his wife and passed away in January 2019. The Munich Boris was memorable for the first collaboration with Valery Gergiev, who invited Schaaf to direct at the Mariinsky Don Giovanni and Wagner’s Ring. The Giovanni production can still be seen at the Mariinsky, while the production on the Ring was finished after Rheingold. Valery Gergiev will dedicate the next Giovanni performance at the Mariinsky “to the memory of its creator”.

        R. I. P., Johannes Schaaf. I owe you much…..

  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    RIP indeed. His 1987 Covent *Figaro* with Haitink was especially satisfying for its close interweaving of words and music. One example among many: in the second number of the first act (the second duet between Susanne and Figaro), Claudio Desderi found himself looking up at a pair of antlers directly above his head just at the moment of the solo horn call. The sort of thing one hopes for from a director but very rarely finds.

  • Naun says:

    Here’s the Act 1 finale from his 1992 Covent Garden Don Giovanni. It’s still among the most gripping opera productions I’ve ever seen, and the sense of mounting threat in this scene is something I remember to this day.