The life of Nora London is celebrated in word and song at New York’s Morgan Library

United StatesUnited States ‘Nora London – A Celebration’: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano), Matthew Polenzani (tenor), Ken Noda (piano). The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 18.9.2022. (RP)

Nora London © George and Nora London Foundation for Singers

Puccini – ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (Tosca)

Hahn – ‘À Chloris’

On 18 September at The Morgan Library & Museum, Nora London was honored in celebration of her extraordinary life. London, who passed away in June at the age of 98, was the driving force behind the George London Foundation for Singers for some 37 years. The most fitting tribute to this remarkable woman went beyond words, however: going forward, the Foundation will have a new name, The George and Nora London Foundation for Singers.

Canadian-American George London was among the leading bass-baritones of the mid-twentieth century. He sang regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera, as well at La Scala and the Glyndebourne and Bayreuth festivals. After a paralyzed vocal cord ended his singing career in 1967, George London became active in arts administration. In 1977, he suffered a severe heart attack that forced him into permanent retirement, and he died in 1985 at the age of 64.

The support and nurturing of young opera singers was an abiding interest of the Londons. Since 1971, the Foundation’s annual competition has given 300+ awards and more than two million dollars to an outstanding roster of young American and Canadian opera singers who have gone on to international stardom. The list of past winners includes Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming, Christine Goerke, Catherine Malfitano, James Morris, Eric Owens, Matthew Polenzani, Sondra Radvanovsky, Neil Shicoff and Dawn Upshaw.

Joyce DiDonato and Matthew Polenzani offered their voices here in honor of Nora London. Polenzani, the quintessential lyric tenor, has taken on heavier roles in recent years, most notably the title role in Verdi’s Don Carlos at the Met last season to great acclaim. On this occasion, he sang ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Puccini’s Tosca; his first Cavaradossi was in July at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland. Polenzani’s voice sounded glorious in the dramatic aria, which throbbed with emotion as Cavaradossi bid farewell to life.

DiDonato said that she associated Nora London with all things beautiful, and so offered one of the most elegant and charming songs ever written, Reynaldo Hahn’s ‘À Chloris’. The spell was cast from the moment pianist Ken Noda began playing the stately introduction to the song based on the bass line of Bach’s ‘Air on the G-string’. DiDonato’s mezzo-soprano, floating above the piano, was beauty beyond compare, tinged with an air of melancholy that made for a truly special experience.

George and Nora London in 1950 © George and Nora London Foundation for Singers

Family and friends spoke, giving insights into London’s extraordinary journey in life. Born Nora Schapiro in Berlin in 1924, she moved to Paris to escape the growing antisemitism of the ascendent Nazi Party in Germany. She was again forced to flee when the Nazis invaded France, ultimately making it to the United States via Portugal and South America. When she met George London at a party in New York, it was love at first sight.

Eric Wollberg, one of her ten grandchildren, was the last to speak. It was a grandson’s farewell to a treasured grandmother. Earlier, it had been announced that he and his cousin Katrina London were now on the Foundation’s Board, joining other London family-member trustees: Marina London (Vice-President), Marc D. London (Secretary), Andrew Garvin and John Wollberg.

In his opening remarks, John Hauser, who joined the George London Foundation in 2015 as the Artistic Director and has just been named President, said that Nora London not only fulfilled her husband’s dream but ‘became a matriarch of the opera world in this country – one of its most esteemed figures and, certainly, one of its most beloved’. Opera lovers the world over are indebted to this remarkable lady’s passion for singers.

Rick Perdian

The video of ‘Nora London – A Celebration’ can be viewed on the Foundation’s YouTube (click here).

2 thoughts on “The life of Nora London is celebrated in word and song at New York’s Morgan Library”

  1. As a recently retired member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, I recognize and admire all the singers mentioned in Nora London’s obit, and applaud her and George London’s efforts in behalf of opera. also, I have a painting (oil on canvas, still life) signed Nora London. Could it possibly be the same Nora London?


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