Stories from the Archive

Holocaust Memorial Day

We look at some of the figures from Glyndebourne's history who were affected by the Holocaust.

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day we take a look at several figures from our history who were affected by the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an international day on 27 January to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Main image: the Glyndebourne gardens photographed by Ilse Bing in 1937. You can read more about her below.

Rudolf Bing

Born in 1902 in Vienna, Sir Rudolf studied music and art history at the University of Vienna before relocating to Berlin in 1927. In 1928 he became assistant to Carl Ebert, the newly appointed Intendant of the Hessian State Theatre, Darmstadt. Here, Bing learned his trade as an artistic administrator, before moving on to Städtische Oper Berlin. Bing was forced to leave his position by the Nazis in 1933.

Glyndebourne’s founder, John Christie, found the winning team with conductor Fritz Busch and producer Carl Ebert, the Festival’s first artistic directors. Both refugees from Hitler’s Germany, they brought with them the high European standards of performance which set Glyndebourne apart, and which, over the years, drew on the talents of a wide circle of émigré artists and musicians, including Rudolf Bing.

In 1936 Bing took over as General Manager, a job he held until 1939 when Glyndebourne closed due to the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1944 Bing opened a new Glyndebourne office in London and began planning for the reopening of the Festival after the war. Post-war, Bing and Glyndebourne founder Audrey Mildmay, would conceive the first Edinburgh International Festival, for which he also served as Director.

Rudolf Bing, Glyndebourne Archive.

Peter Gellhorn

Whilst in Germany, Peter Gellhorn’s (1912-2004) promising music career within opera houses and music halls was cut short when the Nazis gained power and banned Jewish musicians from performing. Gellhorn arrived in the UK from Germany in 1935 where he worked as the musical director at Toynbee Hall, London until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was interned on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien, only being released in 1941.

Gellhorn’s first experience of Glyndebourne was in 1936, when he attended a performance of Die Zauberflöte, conducted by Fritz Busch. In 1954, he joined Glyndebourne’s staff, first as a coach, then as chorus master and conductor, where his reputation was soon to become legendary.

Gellhorn would conduct a number of productions at Glyndebourne, including Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze di Figaro in addition to Gluck’s Alceste.

George Christie said of Gellhorn in 2004, ‘A man of great charm and kindness – a man whom I was proud and comforted to have known’.

Peter & Rosemary Gellhorn, 1955, Glyndebourne Archive.

Ilse Bing

Jewish avant-garde photographer Ilse Bing (1898-1998) came to Glyndebourne in 1937 to photograph the productions and gardens, in what is thought to be her only UK visit. Already established as a photographer in both Europe and North America, Bing took a series of images of the productions Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. The photographs are one of the earliest attempts to capture live opera performances, a dramatic shift away from the traditional staged theatre photography of the era.

The 1937 Glyndebourne sessions marked the slow beginning of the end of an era for Bing, as her work was severely affected by the Second World War in Europe. Bing and her husband were interred in a French concentration camp and were finally exiled in New York in 1941. Bing’s New York-era of photography is notably different from both the Frankfurt and Paris-eras and is tinged with loneliness and isolation.

Ilse Bing, 1937, Glyndebourne Archive.

Hans Oppenheim

Hans Oppenheim, born in Germany in 1892, studied in both Berlin and Munich. In 1933, no longer able to work in Germany because of his Jewish parentage, Oppenheim moved to Vienna where he was contracted by Rudolf Bing to work at the theatre in Teplitz in July. Together they listened to singers, arranged to have backdrops painted, props and costumes made before the theatre folded mid-December.

As preparations were being made for the first Glyndebourne Festival in 1934, the conductor, Fritz Busch contacted Bing and asked him to undertake the contracting of European artists. With his close friend Carl Ebert as the Artistic Director, it was only natural that Hans Oppenheim was contracted as Busch’s assistant in preparing the performances.

In 1946 the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia was given at Glyndebourne, before going on tour. Bing worked hard to persuade Britten that Oppenheim was vital to the project: ‘this is very much on chamber music lines and will require more than anything else superb coaching and superlative workmanship, and of all the musicians now available in this country only Hans can do it.’ In May, Bing approached the Dartington Hall Trustees at the request of Benjamin Britten to ask if Oppenheim could be released to take charge of the musical preparation for the new opera. In addition to coaching and rehearsing, he also shared the conducting with Ernest Ansermet, conducting performances in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, Liverpool, Sadlers Wells and Amsterdam.

Oppenheim was director of the Dartington Hall Music Group, 1937-1945, then conductor of the English Opera Group, 1946, and associate conductor of the Glyndebourne Opera at the Edinburgh Festival, 1949, as well as co-founder of the Saltire Music Group in 1950.

Hans Oppenheim, Glyndebourne Archive.

Vera Schwarz

Austrian soprano Vera Schwartz (1888-1964) made her Glyndebourne debut in 1938 as Lady Macbeth in Carl Ebert’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth, the first professional production of the opera in England.

Having Jewish grandparents, Schwarz was forced to leave Germany in 1933. After performing as Lady Macbeth, Schwarz emigrated to the United States where she continued to perform in concerts and teach. She would finally return to Austria in 1948 and taught at Salzburg Mozarteum.

Vera Schwartz, 1938, J.W. Debenham.

Martin Isepp

Martin Isepp (1930-2011) joined the music staff of Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1957. Isepp worked in various capacities at Glyndebourne, including conducting Tour performances of Le nozze di Figaro in 1984 and Don Giovanni in 1986, finally becoming Head of Music Staff in 1978.

Serving simultaneously at Glyndebourne and as head of music studies at the National Opera Studio, London, Isepp also coached many aspiring singers and continued to visit Glyndebourne as guest senior coach after his retirement. He also held key roles as head of opera training at the Juilliard School of Music, New York and head of the academy of singing at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada.

Isepp came to Britain after his family were forced to flee Vienna in 1938, finally settling in Oxford where his father Sebastian Isepp was offered a job at the Ashmolean Museum restoring paintings. Whilst in Oxford, Isepp was given piano lessons by Leonie Gombrich (mother of the art historian Ernst Gombrich) and later completed his education at Lincoln College, Oxford and the Royal College of Music where he studied piano and conducting.

Martin Isepp, 1993, Glyndebourne Archive.

Charles Danson

The Hornbeam tree planted at Glyndebourne to mark the 80th anniversary of the Association of Jewish Refugees was sponsored by the family of singer Eric Danson, who sang at Glyndebourne in the chorus.

Born Karl Erich Danielsohn, he later anglicised his name to Charles Eric Danson in the British Army. In 1936, following the rise of Nazi persecution, Danson fled Berlin for England. He studied at the Royal College of Music, but this was interrupted by the coming of World War Two, when he served in the British Army. After the war, Danson completed his studies and became a professional opera singer. Career highlights included being chosen by composer Ralph Vaughn Williams to sing in his opera Sir John in Love and his work at Glyndebourne.

The Hornbeam tree is planted planted in memory of Mr Danson, his wife Ruth Boronow Danson, and the music-loving Danielsohn-Neufeld, Boronow, Markowitz and Mehlich families.

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