Callas's favourite conductor, Georges Prêtre, dies, aged 92

Georges Prêtre at Paris's Opéra Bastille in 2007
Georges Prêtre at Paris's Opéra Bastille in 2007 AFP

The French conductor Georges Pretre, the favourite maestro of legendary opera singer Maria Callas and composer Francis Poulenc, has died at the age of 92. He continued to perform into old age, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in Paris in 2013.


The Vienna Philharmonic, where he regularly conducted, said on its Facebook page

Georges Prêtre: a life in dates
  • 14 August 1924: Born in Waziers, norther France;
  • 1939: Goes to Douai Conservatoire;
  • 1944: Goes to Paris Conservatoire, wins first prize for trumpet, studies with conductor André Cluytens and composer Olivier Messiaen;
  • 1946: Starts career as conductor at Marseille Opera House;
  • 1948: Moves to Lille Opera House;
  • 1947: Marries mezzo-soprano Suzanne Lefort;
  • 1949: Divorces Suzanne Lefort;
  • 1950: Marries soprano Gina Marny with whom he has a daughter, Isabelle, and a son, Jean-Reynaud;
  • 1951: Moves to Capitole de Toulouse Opera House;
  • 1956: Moves to Paris’s Opéra Comique;
  • 1959: Conducts premier of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, moves to Paris’s Opéra Garnier;
  • 1960: Debut appearance at Lo,don’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, later performing the Met in New York and La Scala, Milan;
  • 1962: Becomes associate chief conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra;
  • 1970: Becomes musical director of the Opéra de Paris;
  • 1971: Leaves the Opéra de Paris;
  • 1982: Conducts the La Scala orchestra in Franco Zeferelli’s film versions of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci;
  • 1986: Becomes principal conductor of Vienna Symphony Orchestra;
  • 1999: Gives series of concerts to mark the centenary of Poulenc’s birth;
  • 2008: Conducts Vienna New Year’s concert;
  • 2010: Conducts Vienna New Year’s concert;
  • 4 January 2017: Dies, aged 92, in Navès, south-west France.

that it was mourning a man it described as a "charming and dear honorary member with whom we have performed for 50 years".

Born in northern France in 1924, Prêtre studied at the Paris Conservatoire.

He went on to pursue much of his career outside his homeland, from Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera of New York to La Scala Milan and London's Royal Philharmonic.

The son of a cobbler, Prêtre said he first caught the music "bug" at the age of seven and a half when he heard the overture of an opera.

The favourite conductor of French composer Francis Poulenc, he gave the first performance of his opera La Voix humaine.

He was also la Diva Callas's favourite and performed with her on several occasions.

But not Herbert von Karajan's.

He fell out with the Austrian conductor but later accepted the blame for the row "because I was never a diplomat".

Prêtre last conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in 2013 at the Theâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, with a repertoire including Ravel, Beethoven and Strauss.

He was a judo black belt and keen horse rider and was interested in all kinds of music, having mingled with the Paris jazz scene after World War II.

Prêtre was awarded France's Légion d'honneur and Austria's Cross of Honour fo Science and the Arts.

Record company Erato issued a box-set of 17 CDs of his work at the end of 2016.

France's public classical radio station France Musique devoted all Thursday's broadcasts to a tribute to him.

Maria Callas performs Massenet's Je ne suis que faiblesse - Adieu notre petite table
Maria Callas performs Massenet's Je ne suis que faiblesse - Adieu notre petite table

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