Obituary: Albert Rosen

Elizabeth Forbes
Tuesday 27 May 1997 23:02

Albert Rosen, a naturalised Irish citizen, was for many years chief conductor of the Radio Telefis Eireann Symphony Orchestra in Dublin, which later became the National Symphony Orchestra.

He was also chief conductor of the Smetana Theatre in Prague and of the West Australian Orchestra in Adelaide and Perth. He conducted the Welsh National, Scottish and English National Operas; the San Francisco, Vancouver and San Diego Operas, and the Dublin Grand Opera Society.

But for most British opera lovers it was his 30-year connection with the Wexford Festival that constituted his chief claim to fame. At Wexford between 1965 and 1994 he directed the RTE SO in around 20 different works by composers as diverse as Rossini, Donizetti and Giordano; Smetana, Dvorak and Janacek; Cornelius, Marschner and Humperdinck.

Albert Rosen was born in Vienna of Czech/Austrian parentage. He studied first at the Prague Conservatory, then at the Vienna Academy of Music, where he studied composition with Joseph Marx and conducting with Hans Swarowsky. In 1965, he was appointed chief conductor of the Smetana Theatre in Prague, where he conducted repertory works such as Carmen, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Il Trovatore, as well as Lohengrin, Don Carlos, Prokofiev's The Gambler and operas by Martinu and Janacek. 1965 was also the year that he first conducted at Wexford, making his debut with Massenet's Don Quichotte, and he followed that in 1966 with Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, and in 1967 with Rossini's Otello.

Rosen became chief conductor of the RTE SO in 1969. Throughout the 1970s, he returned with the orchestra to Wexford, conducting Janacek's Katya Kabanova, The Gambler, Cornelius's Der Barbier von Bagdad, Britten's The Turn of the Screw and Smetana's The Two Widows (which he later conducted for Scottish Opera). Though he obviously felt a particular sympathy for works by Czech composers, Rosen's wide musical interests allowed him to obtain a triumph with The Turn of the Screw, not the kind of opera normally appreciated by the Wexford audience, who at that time preferred Italian and French works.

During the next decade Rosen's Wexford repertory widened still further, to include Alfano's Sakuntala, Marschner's Hans Heiling and Der Templer und die Judin, Catalani's La Wally, Humperdinck's Konigskinder and Giordano's La cena delle beffe. During the same period he also conducted Smetana's The Kiss and Dvorak's The Devil and Kate at Wexford, as well as Dvorak's The Jacobin for Welsh National Opera, Smetana's The Bartered Bride for Scottish Opera, and Katya Kabanova and Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve for English National Opera. The last-named work, a real novelty, was particularly enjoyable.

In 1990 the RTE SO was enlarged and split into two, becoming the National Symphony Orchestra and the RTE Concert Orchestra. Rosen continued to give many concerts with the NSO, as he had done with the RTE SO, tackling huge works such as Messiaen's Turangalila and Mahler's Eighth Symphony, as well as the normal repertory. In 1992, the orchestra toured Germany, visiting 10 different cities. With the DGOS, then at a low ebb financially, he scored a tremendous success with Die Fledermaus, which he conducted with that elusive rubato that only the Viennese-born seem to be able to achieve. He also conducted several operas in Prague, including Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. He even found time to visit North America, conducting Jenufa in San Francisco, Salome in Vancouver and Dvorak's Rusalka in San Diego (1995).

Rosen's last visits to Wexford included operas by Mascagni and Leoncavallo - not however Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, but lesser-known works: Il piccolo Marat by the former in 1992 and La Boheme by the latter in 1994. Leoncavallo's Boheme, a good opera inevitably overshadowed by Puccini's version, was one of the finest performances conducted by Albert Rosen in all his years at Wexford. Rosen returned to Dublin this month to conduct a concert, which in the event he had to cancel.

Albert Rosen, conductor: born Vienna 14 February 1924; died Dublin 22 May 1997.

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