Obituary: Patrick Libby

Elizabeth Forbes
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:02

Patrick Charles Libby, opera director: born 15 March 1942; died London 29 November 1993.

PATRICK LIBBY learnt his craft as an opera director at the Glyndebourne festival, where he worked for five years in the early Seventies, first as assistant, then as associate producer with such masters of the art as John Cox and Peter Hall.

Libby restaged Franco Enriquez's production of Don Giovanni for Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1970 and Peter Hall's production of Cavalli's La Calisto for GTO in 1972 and for the main festival in 1974. Meanwhile, for Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera) at the Coliseum he had redirected Frank Hauser's production of Monteverdi's Orfeo on the larger stage. Libby first directed at the Wexford Festival in 1970, when he staged a double bill of Donizetti's Giovedi grasso and Rossini's L'inganno felice; he returned in 1973 for another Donizetti comic opera, L'ajo nell'imbarazzo, which was particularly enjoyable and whose superb set was designed by Adam Pollock. Libby's final association with Wexford was in 1976 when he directed Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor.

From the beginning of his career Libby frequently worked wth students: he staged the British premiere of Faure's Penelope, at the Royal Academy of Music in 1970, returning the following year for a Magic Flute in modern dress, enormously popular with the students, less so with the critics; and in 1974 for Cavalli's Erismena. For the Camden Festival he directed the British premieres of Haydn's La fedelta premiata (1971) and of Donizetti's Castello di Kenilworth, returning for an amusing production of Offenbach's Grand Duchess of Gerolstein (1978). Among his most admired stagings was Berg's Wozzeck at Covent Garden in 1973, using Caspar Neher's sets that dated from 1952. Libby also re-staged Wozzeck for the Metropolitan, New York, with great success, though his redirection of Cosi fan tutte for the Met was less well liked. In San Francisco he was in charge of a revival of Il trovatore in which Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti sang Leonora and Manrico respectively.

Together with Adam Pollock, with whom he had worked at Wexford, Libby was co-founder in 1974 of Musica nel Chiostro in the cloister of Pollock's 17th-century house, a former monastery, at Batignano in Tuscany. Libby's productions included Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Cavalli's Ormindo, Handel's Tamerlano, Haydn's Lo speziale, Mozart's La finta semplice and Rameau's Platee. In 1978 Tamerlano and Lo speziale were given at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, and proved extremely enjoyable despite the less glamorous setting. Musica nel Chiostro also performed Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Il ballo delle ingrate at the National Gallery, during a loan exhibition of 17th-century Venetian painting.

Libby was appointed director of productions for ENO North (now Opera North), which opened in 1978 with a spectacular staging of Samson et Dalila; the chorus was particularly well handled. For the company Libby also directed Hansel and Gretel, Rigoletto, an admirable production of Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet, The Marriage of Figaro and Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. He also staged a witty Barber of Seville in 1980 for ENO, many times revived. Having directed the premiere of Stephen Oliver's The Garden at Batignano in 1977, Libby staged two more Oliver first performances: Britannia Preserv'd (1984), commissioned by the RIBA, at Hampton Court; and Exposition of a Picture (1986), the meeting between Puccini's artists, Marcello and Cavaradossi, in London during 1850, at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Libby continued to work with the various music colleges; he taught at the London Opera Studio and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. For the Guildhall he directed a superb production of Nicholas Maw's The Rising of the Moon, as well as Cavalli's L'Ormindo and two interesting double bills, comprising Delius' Margot la Rouge with Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and Vaughan Williams's Riders to the Sea paired with Gianni Schicci. He also staged a fine Carmen for British Youth Opera in 1992 and an even finer La Boheme for the same company this summer.

(Photograph omitted)

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