The veteran conductor Georges Prêtre has died at his home in the South West of France; he was 92. He is perhaps best known as the conductor of two of Maria Callas’s late recordings, both made for EMI in 1964: her first of Bizet’s Carmen and the remake of Puccini’s Tosca. He also conducted her Paris gala in 1959.
Born in Waziers in the north of France, Prêtre studied at the Paris Conservatoire, harmony with Maurice Duruflé and conducting with André Cluytens. He made his conducting debut at the Opéra de Marseille in 1946, and then at Lyons and Toulouse. His Paris debut followed with Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, a work that remained close to his heart (and which he would recorded many years later with Dame Felicity Lott as the Countess).
He was Music Director of the Opéra-Comique from 1955 to ‘59, and at the Opéra de Paris from 1970 to ‘71. During the 1960s he made his debuts at Covent Garden, the Met and La Scala, with whom he enjoyed a long relationship (in 1992 he conducted filmed versions of Cav & Pag with Domingo at the Milanese house).
He was best known for his advocacy of French music. He conducted the world premiere of Francis Poulenc’s La voix humaine (1959) and the Sept répons de ténèbres (1963). Among his many recordings, made mainly for French EMI, were Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles (with Cotrubas, Vanzo and Sarabia), Gounod’s Faust (with Domingo, Freni and Ghiaurov), Massenet’s Werther (with de los Angeles and Gedda), Poulenc’s Concerto for organ, timpani and strings (with Duruflé playing the organ), his ballet Les Biches, and the Gloria and Stabat mater. For RCA he recorded Verdi’s La traviata with Montserrat Caballé as Violetta and, also with Caballé, a now legendary live performance of Bellini’s Norma, caught live at Orange, as well as Lucia di Lammermoor with Anna Moffo in the title-role.
He conducted the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna twice – the only Frenchman to do so – in 2008 and 2010.