Opera sheds no tears for Peter Brook

Opera sheds no tears for Peter Brook


norman lebrecht

July 03, 2022

The British theatre visionary has died aged 97 at his home in Paris, where he had lived since 1974.

The son of Jewish laxative-makers, Brook was made director of productions at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden at the slender age of 22, exposing his inexperience in an explosive Boris Godunov that singers hated.

Bohème and Figaro were more acceptable but he was sacked after a Salome where the title singer, Ljuba Welitsch, refused to take a curtain call in a personal protest against the director. After six performances, jubilant stagehands smashed up his set (see Covent Garden: The Untold Story, 101-5).

He avoided opera ever after, and British theatre from the 1970s, finding a warmer reception in France.

His epic nine-hour production of The Mahabharata stands as his lasting masterpiece.

UPDATE: Some readers have pointed out that I gave Peter Brook short shrift in this post. They are quite right, and I apologise. This brief item was dashed off on a domestic Sunday afternoon. My aim was to report Brook’s death at a great age and to record his early involvement with opera at Covent Garden, which ended unhappily. I did not know Peter Brook and I am not familiar enough with his theatre work to offer a broader assessment. NL



  • V.Lind says:

    His Midsummer Night’s Dream was the most devastatingly good thing I have ever seen on a stage. RIP.

  • a colleague says:

    His vision of Bizet’s Carmen was one of the most magnificent evenings of operatic theater…

    • Tony Britten says:

      Absolutely. And Norman – any Chance you could have been a Little more respectful to one of theatre’s greatest?

  • Ls says:

    Not quite sure why you would say that. Even if Brook stayed away from traditional opera after a certain point, he had numerous major productions and had really thought provoking adaptations like his Carmen and Magic Flute. I also enjoyed his spare Giovanni in Aix.

  • Dietmar says:

    Norman, you have really outdone yourself with this piece! It is quite entertaining in it’s rudeness but possibly sounding a bit antisemitic. Do partake of some of that “Jewish laxative”. It may cleanse your mind!

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    Honestly Trump could take lessons from Norman Lebrecht on headlines.
    What a sad and pathetic post about a true original.

  • AKP says:

    You really are a nasty man Norman

  • M McAlpine says:

    Saw his Anthony and Cleopatra at Stratford and was frankly underwhelmed.

    • V.Lind says:

      Glenda Jackson, Alan Howard, Jonathan Pryce, Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson, Patrick Stewart and David Suchet: God, you’re hard to please.

      • AlbericM says:

        None of the actors you cite owed their career to Peter Brooks. It is possible to like the cast and despise the production. I just attended a Don Giovanni that was a delight aurally and a forgettable mess visually.

  • Fafner says:

    ‘He avoided opera ever after’.

    That would be apart from his touring versions of Carmen, Pelléas and Magic Flute, presumably, as well as the Aix production of Don Giovanni. Still, never let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh, Norman?

  • M.Specter says:

    Norman Lebrecht shed no tears for Peter Brook, that’s for sure. You can feel it in every letter, to put it mildly.

  • olivia nordstadt says:

    funny how sons of british laxative tycoons have been able to make a strong mark on the nation’s cultural life

  • CRogers says:

    Brook was one of the most innovative of directors with progressive ideas in stage and theatre creativity. He was both articulate and debonair about the purpose of theatre. He had an incredible life and career and will be hugely missed. RIP to PB.

  • David McVicar says:

    Norman Lebrecht, this is a posting that you should be ashamed of. Peter Brook was an inspiration to generations of theatre makers, including myself. His theatre and opera work pushed boundaries and set standards. He was an extraordinary visionary and an exceptional artist. He was also a great teacher, as I can attest. May his memory be preserved and honoured. It will be amongst artists.


    in the 1980s-90s, he also directed a version of Pelléas et Mélisande, as well as Don Giovanni at the Aix festival

  • Carlskwell says:

    La tragedie de Carmen and his Peleas version clearly showed a deep understanding and love for opera beyond the “normal” standards. I saw his magical Carmen live 6 times with different singers. So it’s sad.

  • Allardyce Mallon says:

    He did a visionary Don Giovanni in Aix-en-Provence in 1998 that I helped with.

  • Jonathon says:

    ‘He avoided opera ever after’. Really?? Don Giovanni in Aix-en-Provence in 1998 conducted by Abbado and a very young Daniel Harding. Finger on the pulse as ever!

  • Luca says:

    I’m fairly certain I saw his productions of Boris Godunov and Electra at Covent Garden in the I960s.

  • V.Lind says:

    I read a long obituary in The Guardian this morning, and was reminded how much more of his work I had experienced, all on film. The great Scofield Lear, still the best I have ever seen. Marat-Sade — though a subsequent stage performance I saw (not his) was more powerful than the film. I also saw Lord of the Flies many moons ago and have only a little recollection of it, unlike the book, which I read as a teenager and recall strongly.

    But I was surprised to read that he had directed the film of The Beggar’s Opera, with Olivier. I saw it as a schoolgirl, and even then it was an “old” movie, but I have never forgotten it, with its bright colours, tremendous characters and fabulous songs.

    I also remember reading The Empty Space, a go-to book when I was a student deeply involved in theatre. All of us in student theatre discussed him as a towering figure, though we had little opportunity (being across the Atlantic) to see much of his stage work — I still remember how thrilled we were when Dream toured, and how agog we all were at it.

    Not much out of his total oeuvre, but none forgotten and most remembered vividly. That makes him an important figure in my theatrical education.

    For the first time since I have been reading this blog I note NL making an apology for what he acknowledges as perhaps an ill-considered post. I appreciate that, and hope it causes him to think twice in future before dashing off something without taking a second glance.

  • Novagerio says:

    He did Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Abbado in Aix, late 90s.

  • simon says:

    I’ll ignore the blatent mention of “Jüdische Abführmittel”, though it sounds as if NL needs to take some asap. The hastily penned ‘explainer’, no doubt written when he saw the backlash in the comments, still doesn’t cut it IMHO. If you can’t post with respect and reflect a person’s life and work – particularly someone as prominent as Peter Brook, then better not to post at all. This blog is far from the only source of cultural news, thankfully. RIP Peter Brook.

  • Tim says:

    Wow, Norman certainly touched a nerve with the Grey Poupon set with this one.

  • David Stein says:

    The Brook/Welitsch/Dalí Salome at Covent Garden was in 1949. He did Faust in 1953 and Eugen Onegin in 1957, both at the Met. No abandonment of opera after the Salome failure.