Julian Hope: Opera director noted for his work at Glyndebourne and with the Welsh National Opera
Thursday 22 October 2009
Julian Hope was an opera director who also worked in television and film production. He was erudite, talented and self-effacing, with a wiry wit, and was, at times, elusive. He seldom missed new productions of operas and was an avid theatre and concertgoer. There was little he did not know about any of the arts, but opera was his first love .
He viewed his Scottish paternal ancestry with a certain detachment, and very rarely referred to the title of 2nd Baron (Lord) Glendevon, inherited from his father, a Conservative minister in the government of Harold Macmillan. He was educated at Eton and Christchurch College, Oxford, where as a freshman he produced The Marriage of Figaro with the young Jane Glover as conducter. It was a triumph, described in the national press as "the best student show seen for decades", and was followed by Cavalli's La Rosinda, also conducted by Glover, who was to become a lifelong friend.
At the age of only 23 he joined the Welsh National Opera as a resident producer, excelling at verismo works such as Puccini's Manon Lescaut. He also worked as an associate producer for the Glyndebourne Festival during the late 1970s and early '80s, acting as assistant director to Jean-Pierre Ponnelle on his celebrated production of Verdi's Falstaff and assisting him in 1981 at San Francisco Opera, where they staged Bizet's Carmen with a cast that included Placido Domingo. He is remembered from those days as a sensitive mentor to many young singers. Brian Dickie, currently director of the Chicago Opera, describes him as "an outstanding assistant director and a talented director of his own shows."
As a freelance producer he enjoyed a number of successes with semi-staged productions, often at the Barbican, which included a little known work of Rimsky-Korsakov's Milada, and Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale with Gary Oldman as the soldier. There was also a memorable performance of Mendelsohn's setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream with a cast of actors which included Peter Eyre and Phoebe Nichols.
Hope was always a consummate film-buff and moved with ease into the role of music co-ordinator (amounting to music finder) for the film Princess Caraboo, directed by Michael Austin in 1994, and, more recently for Onegin in 1999, directed by Martha Fiennes with her brother Ralph in the title role. Hope appears in one scene as a whiskered guitarist. He recently directed the play Violet for Jessica Douglas-Home, performed on numerous occasions in different locations in the United Kingdom and earlier this year at an arts festival in Romania. It tells the story of Violet Gordon Woodhouse, the harpsichord player.
The critical success of the recent film The Painted Veil gave him considerable satisfaction, as did the brand new opera of The Letter, which made its debut last July in Santa Fe.
Hope's maternal grandfather was William Somerset Maugham, a fact of which he was proud, and in recent years he became a literary executor of the estate, involved in the performing rights negotiations.
His generosity of spirit and erudition was well known and on hearing that I was writing a book about a heroine of the Italian Renaissance, Julian found an obscure Spanish film about the Borgias, in which she was the heroine, and had a screening and a supper party at his Bayswater flat for me.
His sharp and analytical mind was undimmed until the last hours of his life, when his younger brother Jonathan was struggling with a crossword clue, "tall gangly person", 13 letters, seated at the end of his hospital bed. Julian's faint voice came up from the many pillows with the right answer, "spindleshanks" .
Julian Hope led an immensely civilised life, his time divided between his two apartments, in London and Paris. He was a bibliophile and polymath, and only last year wrote and directed a short play called Moika about Pushkin's last day on earth. It was performed to an invited audience last year, with actors Louis Waymouth and Matthew Sturgis as Pushkin and his butler and will, it is hoped, appear to wider audiences in the future.
To quote Christopher Simon Sykes in his eulogy at Hopes' funeral service, "[Julian] was the rarest of companions, what Baudelaire would have called a flaneur, a man who strolled through life with history, art and literature as his guide." Several people who knew him have remarked that no party was complete without Hope's urbane presence. He was much loved by a large circle of friends.
Julian Hohn Somerset Hope, opera director and producer: born 6 March 1950; died London 29 September 2009.
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