A Vienna Opera chorusmaster has died, at 92

A Vienna Opera chorusmaster has died, at 92


norman lebrecht

May 07, 2020

Chordirektor Professor Norbert Balatsch died yesterday. A singer in the company from 1952, he was head of chorus from 1968 to 1983, returning as late as 2006 to help out with Schoenberg’s impossible Moses und Aron.

From 1972 to 1999 Norbert was chorus chief at the Bayreuth Festival.





  • A.L. says:

    A formidable choral director. RIP.

  • erich says:

    The Bayreuth chorus was the best in the world whilst he was in charge. Ruhe in Frieden.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Balatsch was one of several continentals (including the East German Heinz Mende) who in succession to Wilhelm Pitz was also responsible for training what was then called the New Philharmonia Chorus.

    • Christopher Hollis says:

      It was Horst Neumann (succeeding Heinz Mende in 1984) who was from the DDR; Mende was Bavarian. And the return to the original name of Philharmonia Chorus took place during Balatsch’s time, in 1977.
      I still sing Die Schöpfung the way Balatsch trained us for the 1978 recording with Frühbeck de Burgos.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Judging from way the choruses Vienna State Opera and the Bayreuth Festival during his days, Ballatsch delivered, big time. It was my great privilege to have heard both choruses live many times back then. RIP

  • I had the privilege of singing under Balatsch for 3 years in the Bayreuth Festspiel. He was the most inspiring conductor I have worked with, and I take his lead in my own choir in Cambridge. My best memories were in Bayreuth under him. I will never forget the most fantastic sounds that were produced when we were singing Parsifal one morning in the chorus rehearsal room. It was a piece of heaven !
    A group of us celebrated his 90th Birthday 2 years ago in Vienna. What an honour !

    • Petros Linardos says:

      What a privilege to carry on the legacy of Norbert Ballatsch!

      Did you by any chance sing in the 1999 Parsifal? I will never forget that chorus either, as a lucky listener.

    • Edgar says:

      I imagine Norbert Balatsch rehearsing Parsifal with the heavenly choirs.

      Up to us to keep and pass on his legacy here on earth …

  • Arnaldo says:

    He also led the Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia here in Roma. I have loving memories of him in 90s and 00s. RIP maestro!

    • stanley cohen says:

      Indeed and as a quid pro quo my chorus sang for Sinopoli, Mahler 8 in Rome with Norbert’s Rome Chorus and Norbert got to conduct a concert in London with our chorus back in December 1985. It was all arranged by the Phil’s brilliant concert manager, my late friend and singing partner, Charles Spencer.
      God rest their souls.

  • Igor Kennaway says:

    I knew Norbert from his time as chorus master of the New Philharmonia Chorus in London which I joined for their foreign tours while a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Years later, when I was working in Germany conducting at various opera houses, he invited me to visit him in Bayreuth, and at the end of a lovely afternoon, he asked me to join him the next year (1987) as his assistant. There were three of us working with him. For the 1989 Bayreuth tour of Japan he asked me to be his Deputy and the same happened when Bayreuth toured to Taormina in 1991. For the chance to work at Bayreuth I will always be grateful to him as well as his recommendation for me to conduct the Virtuosi di Santa Cecilia at the Mozart Festival in Rovereto. He also encouraged me to accept the invitation I had to become Daniel Barenboim’s Assistant for the 1990 Ring cycle in Bayreuth, which was generous of him since it meant I would no longer be working with him. To work on the entire Wagner operatic repertoire at Bayreuth was an amazing learning experience and the Bayreuth connection led to many other professional opportunities. I owe him a great debt of gratitude. RIP Norbert.

  • Nina says:

    Thank you very much for your tribute to Norbert Balatsch. He was simply wonderful. Up until his death, important theatres still tried to lure him out of retirement for various productions. In his latest years, he always replied, “I’m so happy at home with my garden…..” He will be remembered by many, with appreciation and gratitude.

  • Antwerp Smerle says:

    Whatever one may feel about many other aspects of the Bayreuth Festival, such as the sometimes puzzling choices of director, I feel confident that few audience members since 1951 would disagree with the assertion that the choral singing there has been consistently superb. Balatsch was one of only three chorus masters, all of whom were/are unsurpassable. Wilhelm Pitz was in charge from 1951 until 1971, and since 2000 Eberhard Friedrich has maintained the tradition magnificently. Anyone lucky enough to have experienced the choral scenes in Jan Philipp Gloger‘s Holländer (2012 – 2018) will know exactly what I mean.