Who was George London?
"I would urge every young singer to acquaint himself, better to immerse himself, in all of the arts. The cultivated and versatile human can be sensed in the work of every distinguished artist... It is the attention to such details which will make the difference between talented singers and compelling artists."
- George London
One of the most compelling American vocal artists,
George London (1920-1985), was born in Montreal. When he was 15, the family moved to Los Angeles, where he received his early musical education. After scattered appearances in opera and operetta on both coasts, he was signed by Arthur Judson at Columbia Artists Management. He became the baritone member of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947 with soprano Frances Yeend and tenor Mario Lanza and they concertized nationwide.
London went to Europe in 1949 to gain the needed stage experience. After a highly successful audition with Karl Böhm, he was instantly engaged by the Vienna State Opera. His debut as Amonasro made London an overnight sensation. His star stature was further enhanced by similar success in Parsifal at Bayreuth during the 1951 Festival, providing the natural culmination for the career of an American singer. That fall he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera.
Reaching the top with remarkable speed, London retained his enviable position among the world's most acclaimed singers in the twentieth century. Notable among his 22 Metropolitan roles, in addition to those already mentioned, were Don Giovanni, Scarpia, the four villains in Les Contes d'Hoffmann and the Flying Dutchman. He sang many of these same roles in Vienna, where he remained a local favorite to the end of his career. In 1960, he became the first American to sing Mozart in Salzburg and the Dutchman in Bayreuth.
George London's singing career was cut short by illness. He subsequently became Artistic Director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1968-1971) and Director of the National Opera Institute (1971-1980) as well as heading the Washington Opera (1975-1980) before succumbing to a heart ailment.
The wide-ranging, warm bass-baritone voice that emerges from George London was enhanced on stage by a strikingly handsome appearance and an uncommon acting ability. He left an unforgettable impression as a captivating Don Giovanni, a haunting Boris Godunov, a properly brooding Eugene Onegin, a mysterious Dutchman, a tortured Golaud and Amfortas, a suavely malevolent Scarpia, and a dashing Escamillo.
by George Jellinek
George Jellinek was the beloved host of WQXR's The Vocal Scene and long time interviewer with the George London Foundation recital series before his passing in 2010.