On November 7, 1912, the newly-constructed Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin-Charlottenburg was opened with a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. The conductor on this auspicious occasion was the 31-year-old Ignatz Waghalter. Previous to his appointment to this prestigious position at the new opera house, Waghalter had conducted at Berlin’s Komische Oper and at the opera house in Essen. The selection of Waghalter, a Polish-born Jew, to open the new German opera house provoked an uproar among rightwing nationalists and anti-Semites in Berlin and throughout Germany. Both Gregor Hartmann, the intendant of the opera house, and Waghalter received numerous death threats. But Hartmann refused to submit to the vile campaign. The premier took place as planned, and Waghalter’s direction of Fidelio was praised in the press.
For 11 years, between 1912 and 1923, Waghalter position at the Deutsches Opernhaus would place him at the center of the musical life of Berlin. He was the acknowledged master of the Italian repertoire, and it was under his baton that major works of Puccini were introduced to an initially skeptical musical public. In the negotiations preceding the 1913 German premier of La Fanciulla del West, Giacomo Puccini insisted that the opera be conducted by Waghalter. The premier was an immense success, with the composer and conductor being summoned by the audience for 70 curtain calls. Puccini enjoyed a further triumph at the Deutsches Opernhaus with a performance later in 1913, again with Waghalter conducting, of Manon Lescaut.
Waghalter’s reputation as a conductor spread beyond Berlin. He was in demand as a guest conductor throughout Europe. After the devastating inflationary crisis forced the closing of the Deutsches Opernhaus in 1923, Waghalter traveled to the United States, where he became the General Music Director and principal conductor of the New York State Symphony Orchestra. He returned to Germany in late 1925, where he was named General Music Director of famed Ufa film production company. During this period he composed the original score for director Hanns Walter Kornblum’s masterpiece (and inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001) Wunder der Schöpfung.
In 1930 Waghalter lived in Moscow for six months, where he conducted at the Bolshoi Opera. He was then called to Latvia, to serve as General Music Director and principal conductor at the National Opera. Waghalter returned to Berlin in late 1932, shortly before the Nazi accession to power in January 1933 ended his career in Germany.
Upon arriving in the United States, Waghalter set out on what would prove a historically-significant project: the founding of the American Negro Orchestra. In the face of deeply-entrenched racism, Waghalter enlisted the support of major figures in African-American cultural life, including James Weldon Johnson, Marian Anderson, and Duke Ellington. But despite the success of the first performance, the project could not raise sufficient funds to be sustained.
Waghalter also founded the New York Doctors’ Orchestra, which exists to this day. In December 2016, the orchestra honored the memory of its musical founder with a performance of Waghalter’s Violin Concerto and The New World Suite. The concert was conducted by Alexander Walker, who in 2013 had discovered and reconstructed the long-lost handwritten orchestral score of the Suite.
Waghalter’s stature and popularity as a conductor in Germany is attested to by the large number of recordings he left behind. Most of these recordings, which were made with the orchestra of the Städtische Oper in Berlin (successor to the Deutsches Opernhaus, date from 1924 to 1926. They reveal a remarkably modernist conductor who combined passion with intense technical discipline.
We are placing examples of Waghalter’s recordings on this site to provide listeners with an opportunity to evaluate the work of this remarkable musician.
Offenbach: Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld [Part 1]
Offenbach: Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld [Part 2]
Mozart: Overture to La Nozze de Figaro
Mozart: Overture to Die Entführung aus der Seraglio
Mozart: Minuet from Symphony No. 39 in E Major
Rossini: Overture to Wilhelm Tell
D’Albert: Musical Fantasy from the opera Tiefland [Part 1]
D’Albert: Musical Fantasy from the opera Tiefland [Part 2]
Mendelssohn: Scherzo from the Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Verdi: Musical Fantasy from the Opera Rigoletto [Part 1]
Verdi: Musical Fantasy from the Opera Rigoletto [Part 2]
Gounod: Musical Fantasy from the Opera Faust [Part 1]
Gounod: Musical Fantasy from the Opera Faust [Part 2]
Puccini: Musical Fantasy from the Opera La Boheme [Part 1]
Puccini: Musical Fantasy from the Opera La Boheme [Part 2]
Offenbach: Minuet and Bacarolle from the Opera Hoffmans Erzählungen
Rossini: Overture to Die Diebische Elster [Part 1]
Rossini: Overture to Die Diebische Elster [Part 2]
Johann Strauss: Overture to the Opera Die Fledermaus [Part 1]
Johann Strauss: Overture to the Opera Die Fledermaus [Part 2]
Mascagni: Fantasy from the Opera Cavalleria Rusticana [Part 1]
Mascagni: Fantasy from the Opera Cavalleria Rusticana [Part 2]