Michael Halliwell reviews 'Charles Mackerras' edited by Nigel Simeone and John Tyrrell

Michael Halliwell reviews 'Charles Mackerras' edited by Nigel Simeone and John Tyrrell

Charles Mackerras

edited by Nigel Simeone and John Tyrrell

Boydell Press, £25 hb, 336 pp, 9781843839668

Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell studied music and literature at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and at the London Opera Centre.


Ask any opera singer from the last fifty or more years who their favourite conductor is, and a substantial number would plumb for Charles Mackerras if they had enjoyed the privilege of working with him. There were always more flamboyant conductors – Karajan, Bernstein, Abbado, and others spring to mind – and certainly many enjoyed more immediate name recognition from the general public than Mackerras did. But there is no doubt that Mackerras was one of the greatest of all opera conductors, with an enormous repertoire aided by his longevity and unlimited capacity for hard work. While the range of Mackerras's musical activities was wide, ranging through oratorio and the great symphonic repertoire, it is fair to say that the bulk of his music-making was in opera, with his favourite work – if someone of his protean energy and lengthy career could have only one – Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

Editors Nigel Simeone and John Tyrrell have brought together a wide range of material, including interviews with many of the most important musicians of the last sixty years, in this very welcome and comprehensive book. They provide a detailed account of Mackerras's life and career, complemented by contributions from performers and scholars who had a close association with Mackerras, creating a multi-hued portrait of this great musician. The book is richly endowed with photographs and documents from the life and career, as well as a discography and a detailed list of performances.

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Published in December 2015, no. 377

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