Opera Scotland

Anthony Besch Suggest updates

Born London, 5 February 1924.

Died London, 23 December 2002.

English director.

Anthony Besch gained his early experience as a director with the amateur Oxford University Opera Club, where he directed the English stage premiere of Mozart’s Idomeneo in 1947. From 1951-1955 he worked at Glyndebourne as assistant to Carl Ebert. In that first year Ebert directed the British professional premiere of the same opera. He first worked in Scotland in 1953, directing the Glasgow Grand stagings of Le roi d'Ys and Carmen. In 1954 Besch directed Welsh National Opera in another rarity, Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers. He took part in early revivals of Handel operas, and an important staging for the Handel Opera Society in London was Alcina with Joan Sutherland in 1957.

He joined Sadler’s Wells Opera as staff producer, with the job of keeping old productions in shape in London and on tour, before he started to direct his own work. During the late 1950s, Scottish audiences saw the result of this in touring productions such as Carmen and Madam Butterfly.

In the 1960s and ‘70s most of his work was done with Sadler’s Wells and the New Opera Company, in London, and with Scottish Opera. He was particularly admired for his productions of Mozart, Rossini and Britten. He directed the premieres of a number of operas including The Abbot of Drimock (Musgrave 1959), Punch and Judy (Birtwistle 1968), Time Off? Not a Ghost of a Chance (Lutyens 1972), and The Catiline Conspiracy (Hamilton 1974).

He first worked with Scottish Opera in 1963, directing Otello and L’Heure Espagnole. The Verdi production was revived regularly until 1977. There were a total of fifteen stagings for the company, continuing with Faust in 1964. Albert Herring followed in 1966, then Così fan tutte (1967), The Marriage of Figaro (1968), The Turn of the Screw (1970), Der Rosenkavalier (1971), The Coronation of Poppea (1973), The Merry Widow (1973), The Catiline Conspiracy (1974), Alceste (1974), Ariadne on Naxos (1975), The Rape of Lucretia (1976) and Tosca (1980). The three Britten pieces were taken on numerous  foreign tours. Most of his productions remained in the repertoire for several seasons, and he usually returned to supervise the revivals. His final visit was to redirect Tosca in 2000, still on the lookout for fresh detail to introduce.

For SWO/ENO he directed Count Ory, Tannhäuser, The Thieving Magpie, The Queen of Spades, Ariadne on Naxos, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. New Opera Company productions of King Roger, The Nose and Julietta were also seen at the Coliseum. Several of these productions also visited Scotland on tour. He directed some Gilbert and Sullivan, including The Gondoliers and The Mikado with D’Oyly Carte and The Yeomen of the Guard at the Tower of London. For Opera North he produced The Tales of Hoffmann and Johnny Strikes Up (Krenek, British premiere). For the Park Lane Group at the Camden Festival he directed a Poulenc double bill of La Voix Humaine and Les Mamelles de Tirésias. His only production for the Royal Opera was La clemenza di Tito, but the company took this on its visit to La Scala Milan in 1976.

Productions for the Wexford Festival include Rossini's Otello, La jolie fille de Perth, Oberon and La Rondine. He directed La Favorita in Buenos Aires, Aïda in San Francisco, Rigoletto in St Louis, Carmen in San Diego, and Il barbiere di Siviglia in Houston, as well as Otello in Pretoria and both Le Comte Ory and Death in Venice in Brussels. Productions in Australia included Così fan tutte, Die Fledermaus and The Rake’s Progress.

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