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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: April 2021

24 - End of the Century: More Bangs than Whimpers

Summary

VIENNA, EVEN WITHOUT Bernstein, continued to be my happiest overseas location. On the bicentenary of Mozart's death, December 7th 1991, I directed a telecast of his Requiem from St Stephen's Cathedral. It was a colossal occasion. The Archbishop of Vienna celebrated the Mass and a Jew, Georg Solti, conducted the music: he was replacing another Jew, the recently departed Leonard Bernstein. In advance the event was surrounded in controversy because the Austrian president would be attending. Kurt Waldheim (whom I had met several times when he was Secretary-General of the United Nations) was still embroiled in accusations that he had committed war crimes while serving in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War; he had even been declared persona non grata in the USA, where the Requiem would be relayed by public service television (PBS). We solved the dilemma by shooting the entry of the dignitaries at a great distance, in a discreet ‘long shot’. But our production had its own problem: the great American soprano Arleen Auger called in sick after the previous day's dress rehearsal and as a precaution the British singer Judith Howarth was flown out from London as a standby: she sat close to the performers throughout the Mass but as often happens on these tense occasions, Auger sang flawlessly. Only two months later, however, she was forced to retire; she died soon afterwards of a brain tumour. I count myself lucky to have had the joy of filming Arleen Auger in Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate a few years earlier for Bavarian TV: she was an artist on a par with Lucia Popp, another fine soprano who died terribly young.

At the end of 1993 I was back in Vienna when Austrian Television invited me to direct the New Year's Day Concert, which that year was to be conducted by Lorin Maazel. Decades earlier, in my Monitor years, I had taken Lorin and his young kids to a puppet show in London. I knew him to be an exceptionally gifted musician, a composer and a brilliant solo violinist in addition to his enormous talents as a conductor.