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August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954

August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954

Georg Solti was scheduled to make his U.S. debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 14, 1953. However, his visa was denied only a few days before, pending clarification of charges that his name was on the membership roster of the Soviet Friendship Association, affiliated with the Communist Party. On July 13, he appeared in Munich to sort out the details (the information that had been obtained was not a list of members of the Communist Party but simply a mailing list of people in cultural life) and his visa was granted. However, there was not time enough to travel to the United States for his Ravinia engagement. He made his U.S. debut a few months later at the San Francisco Opera on September 25, 1953, leading Strauss’s Elektra.

Solti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following summer at the Ravinia Festival, leading four concerts on August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954. The first concert consisted of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A major with Paul Tortelier, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony. “Mr. Solti finally has arrived, and last evening led a concert worth anyone’s patience and everyone’s presence,” wrote Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “[Solti] led far and away the finest concert heard here in two summer seasons—a thrilling concert in actual fact.”

Ravinia Festival program book cover for June 29 through August 15, 1954

Ravinia Festival program book cover for June 29 through August 15, 1954

“These performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ravinia were an absolute joy. I still remember the performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony during our first concert—the most wonderful musical experience of my professional life up to that time,” wrote Solti in his Memoirs. “I had no doubt that this was the finest ensemble I had ever conducted.”

On August 5, Solti conducted Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra, Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, Paganini’s First Violin Concerto with Ruggiero Ricci, and Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. The August 7 program began with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture followed by Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello with Ricci and Tortelier, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. For the final concert on August 8, Solti led Mozart’s Symphony no. 40, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Jacob Lateiner (replacing an indisposed Alexander Uninsky), Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and Strauss’s Don Juan.

This article also appears here and previously appeared here.

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“Eventually, I got my U.S. visa, but it came so late that I had to cancel my Ravinia engagement. However, my American debut took place . . . when I conducted the San Francisco Opera. At that time, the opera orchestra drew on players from the San Francisco Symphony, which from 1936 until 1952 had been directed by Pierre Monteux, one of the most brilliant conductors of the first half of the twentieth century. I met him later in Frankfurt, when he conducted one of the museum’s concerts.

“In San Francisco, I was delighted to work with an orchestra that played at a much higher standard than that of Munich or Frankfurt. My repertoire consisted of Elektra, Die Walküre, and Tristan . . . the San Francisco performances went well, and so did the performances that I gave with the orchestra when we went on tour to Los Angeles.”*

The casts:

September 25 and 30, 1953 – War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
October 20, 1953 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
STRAUSS Elektra
Klytemnestra Margarete Klose mezzo-soprano (U.S. opera debut)
Aegisthus Ludwig Suthaus tenor (U.S. opera debut)
Elektra Inge Borkh soprano (U.S. opera debut)
Chrysothemis Ellen Faull soprano
Orestes Paul Schöffler baritone
Guardian of Orestes Desire Ligeti bass
The Confidant Eloise Farrell soprano
The Trainbearer Ruth Roehr soprano
A Young Servant Cesare Curzi tenor
An Old Servant Jan Gbur bass
The Overseer of the Servants Yvonne Chauveau soprano
First Maidservant Margaret Roggero contralto
Second Maidservant June Wilkins soprano
Third Maidservant Janice Moudry mezzo-soprano
Fourth Maidservant Lois Hartzell soprano
Fifth Maidservant Beverly Sills soprano
Carlo Piccinato, stage director
Kurt Herbert Adler, chorus director
Harry Horner, set designer
Julius Dobe, set painter

October 2 and 7, 1953 – War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
October 23, 1953 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
WAGNER Tristan und Isolde
Tristan Ludwig Suthaus tenor
Isolde Gertrude Grob-Prandl soprano (U.S. opera debut)
Brangäne Margarete Klose mezzo-soprano
King Mark Dezső Ernster bass (October 2 and 23)
King Mark Desire Ligeti bass (October 7)
Kurwenal Paul Schöffler baritone
Melot George Cehanovsky baritone
Shepherd Lawrence Mason tenor
Steersman Jan Gbur bass
A Sailor’s Voice Cesare Curzi tenor
Carlo Piccinato, stage director
Kurt Herbert Adler, chorus director
Armando Agnini, set designer
Julius Dobe, set painter

October 13 and 18, 1953 – War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
November 1, 1953 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
WAGNER Die Walküre
Brünnhilde Gertrude Grob-Prandl soprano
Sieglinde Inge Borkh soprano
Fricka Margarete Klose mezzo-soprano
Siegmund Ludwig Suthaus tenor
Wotan Paul Schöffler baritone
Hunding Dezső Ernster bass
Helmwige Ellen Faull soprano
Gerhilde Beverly Sills soprano
Ortlinde Yvonne Chauveau soprano
Siegrune Janice Moudry mezzo-soprano
Rossweisse Margaret Roggero contralto
Waltraute Eloise Farrell soprano
Grimgerde Donna Petersen mezzo-soprano
Schwertleite June Wilkins contralto
Carlo Piccinato, stage director
Armando Agnini, set design
Julius Dobe, set painter

*Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti. Also, thanks to Kirsten Tanaka (head librarian and archivist at the Performing Arts Library, Museum of Performance & Design) and the San Francisco Opera’s online performance archive.

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Chicago Sun-Times - July 12, 1953

“In 1953, I made my first visits to the United States. Interestingly enough, given the turn my career eventually took, my North American debut was originally scheduled to take place at the Ravinia Festival . . . with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But my U.S. visa application was turned down. The American consul in Frankfurt kindly explained that my visa had been denied because I was listed as belonging to the Soviet Friendship Association, a Communist organization. I couldn’t understand how this could be, as I had never belonged to any political group.

“Fortunately, I knew a Dr. Müller, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and he telephoned the police in Munich to authorize them to show me the document. This document turned out to be a list, prepared by this Communist organization, of prominent non-Communists in cultural life who were to have propaganda material sent to them. With that information in hand, I went back to Frankfurt and explained to the American consul that the list they had seized was not a list of members of the Communist party, but merely a mailing list of people in cultural life. . . . Indeed, in the late 1940s, representatives of the U.S. military government in Bavaria had informed me that if I wanted to maintain my position in Munich, I would have to give up my Hungarian citizenship; by then, Hungary had become a Soviet satellite state. I was not sad about renouncing my original nationality, but being stateless for the next few years presented endless bureaucratic complications. In the end, the West German government kindly offered me German citizenship, which I gratefully accepted, and I remained a German national for nearly twenty years.

“Eventually, I got my U.S. visa, but it came so late that I had to cancel my Ravinia engagement. However, my American debut took place . . . when I conducted the San Francisco Opera.”*

The advance program advertisement in the Ravinia Festival program book during the first week of July 1953

The program that would have been Solti's U.S. debut on July 14, 1953

Programs for that week’s concerts were revised. Otto Klemperer, who had conducted the previous week, stayed over for the July 14 and 16 concerts (ironically, according to the advertisement: “one critic, after Solti’s appearance with the Vienna Philharmonic, called him ‘a young Klemperer'”). Pierre Monteux, scheduled for the following week, arrived early to lead the July 18 and 19 performances.

*Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti.

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