The Third Season of Los Angeles Opera Theater is being performed in honor of a man whose life and art have been an inspiration to so many of us in Los Angeles over the years. Fritz Zweig's dedication to music and to the students with whom he shared it, has unwavering artistic integrity, and the personal courage his life has exemplified, have been the very embodiment of a life given to the highest artistic ideals.
Zweig was born in 1893 in Olmütz (Austria-Hungary today part of Czechoslovakia) of a family rich in musical tradition. A cousin, Otto Zweig, was a protege of Brahms; a second cousin was Stefan Zweig. After an education that included two yeas of study with Arnold Schonberg in Vienna, he began a career in 1913 at the age of 19 with the Opera in Mannheim as Assistant Conductor under Artur Bodansky. His young career was interrupted by four years as an officer in the Austrian-Hungarian army. After the war, he returned to Mannheim where he was Assistant Conductor to Wilhelm Furtwangler. In 1921 he succeeded Erich Kleiber as Music Director and First Conductor at the Opera in Barmen-Elberfeld. In 1923 he was invited to Berlin as First Conductor at the GrosseVolksoper, and after a very short period, became Principal Conductor along with Bruno Walter at the Stadtische Oper in Berlin (known today as the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin.) During this period, Zweig shared the podium with such greats as Klemperer and Zemlinsky.
The early 1930's saw the formation of the Kroll-Oper in Berlin, which was built to present newer works and composers, and was under the Directorship of Otto Klemperer with Zweig and Zemlinsky as First Conductors. During this innovative and productive period, Zweig conducted many world premieres and Berlin premieres of works by such composers as Richard Strauss and Janacek. The Kroll-Oper was considered the experimental, vital, innovative opera of the time, too innovative for Adolf Hitler, who ordered its destruction. Zweig escaped to Prague where he became Principal Conductor along with George Szell at the Prague Opera. In Prague he was assisted by a young man named Jan Popper. In the later 1930's, the advance of the Nazis became a serious problem of survival for Zweig and his family. They escaped to Paris, where for three years he continued to conduct for the Paris Opera, the Opera Comique, Covent Garden, Moscow, Leningrad and many other centers until the second year of World War II. At the last moment they fled to New York, and a few weeks later to Los Angeles.
Fritz Zweig (1893- )
Shortly thereafter, a health problem, complicated by a negligent x-ray specialist, resulted in tragic consequences. For some months, Zweig fought for his life; he was not expected to live. He survived, but his health never completely returned. He was never again able to fully resume his conducting activities. But the will - the need to create - the love of the music - kept him going. And over the many years that followed, this outstanding conductor became a great teacher.
When people around the world speak of the fine talent to come from our area, it is doubtless his influence has played a major role. Along with his beautiful wife of over 50 years, Tilly de Garmo - a Soubrette of renown during the 1920's and 30's-he has shared with many young conductors, pianists and singers what opera is about. He has worked with many young artists such as Marilyn Horne, Karen Armstrong and Carol Neblett as well as conductors such as Charles Munch, Lawrence Foster and composer Franz Waxman.
For many of us who have studied with Fritz Zweig, we have been steeped in a great tradition wherein discipline, taste, and devotion to the intentions of the composer are not compromised. It is because the Los Angeles Opera Theater seeks this standard, this highest form, and because Fritz Zweig has taught us to settle for no less, that we dedicate this Third Season to him.