Pandemic news: Famed opera director dies of Covid

The Australian-born opera director Elijah Moshinsky, a fixture at Covent Garden and other international houses in the last quarter of the 20th century, died in London on Thursday of Covid-19.

He had just celebrated his 75th birthday.

Hired as a staff producer at Covent Garden by John Tooley in 1975, Elijah excelled across a range of repertoire, achieving something of an apotheosis in a Verdi Otello conducted by Carlos Kleiber. The opera became his calling card at the Met and elsewhere, but he did not confine himself to established works. At English National Opera he staged the UK premiere of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre and at Chicago he revived Barber’s Anthony and Cleopatra.

He lived in for many years Blackheath, south London, with his wife, Ruth, and two sons. After the divorce, he lived alone in Hither Green.

UPDATE: Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera, said: ‘I adored working with Elijah as he was always looking for the maximum collaboration, especially from the conductor to turn opera into something vital and true, never giving up on even the smallest details of character and how to achieve this with his singers. His knowledge of Verdi’s world was uncanny, he was a disciple. My last contact with him we were talking about Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, though I was preparing it with a different producer. He was possessed by this story and his knowledge was total. I gained so much understanding from him and I will be forever grateful. I miss him.’

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  • Elijah directed a series of stunning theatrical productions at Covent Garden in the 1970s & ’80s that were regularly revived, popular with audiences and graced by a wide range of international artists. He didn’t consider himself an auteur: he was inspired by and faithful to the composers’ scores – even when setting Verdi’s Stiffelio in an updated era. His Lohengrin was in repertoire for thirty years in WC2, with Peter Grimes, Simon Boccanegra and Otello doing similar long service. He will be greatly missed. https://www.roh.org.uk/news/remembering-elijah-moshinsky

    • 30 years! Wow! I saw it several times, but I didn’t realise that it had that long a run. It was a splendid production and deserved its tenure.

  • Wow…when I think of all those wonderful Moshinsky productions at the Met, two stick out for me–both Samson– the Handel (not just for Vickers) and the Saint-Saëns (the incomparable Olga Borodina). Both superb and original. Mr. Moshinsky’s Samson et Dalila beats the hell out of the current disaster.

    RIP and thanks for many great nights of opera. Truly a man of the theater.

  • Moshinsky was actually born into the Russian, Jewish expat Community in Shanghai, and moved to Australia as a small boy. There was quite a large community of Russian Jews in Northern China who escaped two revolutions and ended up in Australia, USA or Israel.

    • German/Austrian Jews as well
      Dr.Max Mayer was my GP in Islington in the 60s
      He escaped through Shanghai
      A lovely man and a great doctor

    • Harbin in north east China was the most important city for the White Russian refugees fleeing the Russian Revolution. Even today the main streets are marked in three languages – Chinese, English and Russian. In the square in the city centre is a decommissioned Russian onion domed Cathedral. For a time the city was even called St. Petersburg of the East. Many young Russian Jewish children attended the First Harbin Music Academy whose dean at the time was Vladimir Davydovich Trachtenberg who had studied under Leopold Auer. Harbin quickly formed a symphony orchestra of 60 musicians, all Russian exiles.

      By the early 1930s, most of the Russian community had to relocate again when the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Most moved south and settled in the French Concession in Shanghai. When the communists succeeded in taking over the country in 1949 Mao promised the businessmen of Shanghai that they would be allowed to continue their capitalist ways. In 1951 he reneged on that promise. That led to many including Elijah Moshinsky’s family having to uproot themselves yet again.

  • Saw a dress rehearsal of his ROH Otello in 1987(?), conducted by Kleiber, with Domingo, Ricciarelli and Justino Diaz. Have never forgotten it.

  • This is very sad news. I had the good fortune to see three performances of the Kleiber-Moshinsky Otello. The musical intensity of those evenings has never been surpassed in my experience, but I doubt if that intensity could not have been achieved without EM’s spare, unflinching staging.

    If I recall aright, EM got his break at Covent Garden when his Oxford supervisor, Isaiah Berlin, who was on the opera board, invited John Tooley to one of his student productions. EM’s loss to the intellectual history of Russia was definitely opera’s gain.

    Requiescat.

  • Attended the Otello performances in Coventry Garden in January 1990- wonderful production and Carlos Kleiber amazing. Certainly one of the greatest moments in my life! RIP

  • So sad to learn of this. In the early 1970’s his production of AS YOU LIKE IT was performed in Washington DC by the Oxford & Cambridge Shakespeare group. This was in the small Trapier Theater on the campus of St. Albans prep school.

    In different scenes, Moshinsky had the actors in poses suggesting Old Master paintings. Over all it was a serious presentation of a Shakespeare comedy, with only a few laughs to keep it from becoming sombre, and still memorable many years after.

  • Sad and unexpected. He was an important figure in the evolution of opera direction. He sometimes spoke of encouraging singers toward an approach derived from the Stanislavski and Strasberg methods. The best of his many Met productions of the ’90s and ’00s were Ariadne auf Naxos and the Queen of Spades, and both have had long lives. Also, his Simon Boccanegra for the Royal Opera House was marvelously economical and intelligent, much better than the overblown picture-book production the Met has.

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