George London (May 30, 1920 – March 24, 1985), born George Burnstein, was a Canadian concert and operatic bass-baritone.
George London was born to a Russian Jewish family in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and grew up in Los Angeles, California, United States.
In the summer of 1945 Antal Doráti invited his longtime friend, the Hungarian bass Mihály Székely, to sing at the first concert of the newly reorganized Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Because of travel difficulties Székely was unable to arrive in time, so Doráti called upon young George London as a substitute.
After performing widely with tenor Mario Lanza and soprano Frances Yeend as part of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947–48, London was engaged by the Vienna State Opera, where he scored his first major success in 1949.
In 1950 he sang the role of Pater Profundis in Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
He was among the most famous exponents of his five signature roles: Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, Wotan, Scarpia and Amfortas. He never recorded any role in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, although recital performances of Hans Sachs’ monologues exist on record.
In 1951 he sang at Bayreuth as Amfortas in Parsifal, and reappeared frequently in the 1950s and early 1960s as Amfortas and in the title role of The Flying Dutchman. He made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1951 as Amonasro in Aida, and sang over 270 performances, both baritone and bass-baritone roles, in such operas as The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Arabella, Tosca, Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, Carmen, Otello, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, The Tales of Hoffmann, Pelléas et Mélisande, and Faust. In 1964, he created the role of Abdul in the American premiere of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Last Savage. He was the first American to sing the title role of Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War in 1960.
He frequently performed in English: Broadway show tunes and negro spirituals. Recordings of both are available.
He recorded many of his roles for RCA Victor, Columbia Records, and Decca. He recorded Verdi’s Requiem with Richard Tucker and Lucine Amara, under Eugene Ormandy. A recording of a live concert with piano accompaniment is also available from VAI, which includes Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, as well as several Schubert Lieder and a variety of songs in English.
During his Met career, in 1956, he appeared on Ed Sullivan’s television program in an abridged version of Act II of Tosca, opposite Maria Callas, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. A kinescope of that performance was preserved. Another black-and-white videotape of him in the same role, opposite Renata Tebaldi in a complete performance, is sometimes available. In 1958, London performed the leading role of Wotan, in the groundbreaking recording of Richard Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, and produced by John Culshaw for Decca.
Having already sung the Rheingold Wotan and the Siegfried Wanderer roles at the Met in New York in December 1961 and January 1962, he was ready to sing his first complete Ring Cycle. This was to be the now legendary new production mounted by Wieland Wagner at the Cologne Opera in West Germany in May 1962. Wieland Wagner was ready to try out new singers and production ideas in advance of his new Bayreuth Festival production which was scheduled for the summer of 1965 with London as Wotan and the Wanderer.
The Cologne Ring proved to be a great success (a private recording of Das Rheingold from this cycle exists to verify this) but London’s vocal health began to deteriorate rapidly during the 1963–64 season; subsequently the problem was diagnosed as a paralysed vocal cord. This problem increased so much that shortly after singing Wotan in Die Walküre at the Met in March 1965, he canceled his upcoming appearances at the Bayreuth Festival to rest and ideally recover his voice. However, his vocal decline continued so severely that by March 1966, he performed his last appearance at the Metropolitan Opera: the role of Amfortas in Parsifal. London subsequently received injections of Teflon in his paralyzed vocal cord – then the state-of-the-art treatment for this condition – which filled it out and therefore restored his voice to some extent. But he decided the improvement did not let him achieve again his self-imposed highest standards. He therefore ended his singing career in 1967, at 46.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and George London in “Le Nozze di Figaro”