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Ionel Perlea, conductor

Ionel Perlea is the Romanian conductor with the most opera performances conducted at La Scala.

He is Toscanini’s successor at NBC Orchestra New York and to his chair of conducting at the Manhattan School of Music. Ionel Perlea is the only Romanian conductor who conducted performances in which Maria Callas had the leading role.

He achieved a brilliant performance with the opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, even having his right hand paralyzed from a stroke.

Ionel (Jonel) Perlea (December 13, 1900 – July 29, 1970) was a great Romanian conductor particularly associated with the Italian and German opera repertories.

Ionel Perlea was born in Ograda on December 13th 1900, of a German mother and a Romanian father. That he was talented was already clear when he was still a young boy and was sent to Munich where he received his musical education, studying with the German pedagogue Anton Beer-Walbrunn, and at the Leipzig Conservatory of Music (Leipziger Musikhochschule) with Paul Graener and Otto Lohse, all three were strongly interested in opera. Then he worked as répétiteur in Leipzig (1922-23) and Rostock (1923-25), and made his debut as conductor in Cluj-Napoca in 1927, in Aida.

In 1934 Perlea was appointed General Manager and Musical Director of the Bucharest Opera, he gave concerts with the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra and was a professor in composition at the Royal Academy of Music of Romania. At the same time he toured Europe as a guest conductor of the major orchestras.

In late 1945 he was at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, where Toscanini saw him and invited him to conduct a symphonic concert at the La Scala Theater in Milan. He conducted at the Communal Theater in Florence, La Fenice in Venice, and, in June 1946, he signed a contract with La Scala in Milan to conduct Boris Godunov, Samson et Dalila, Cosi fan tutte, Orfeo ed Euridice, Salome, Lohengrin, Fidelio, La Traviata, Werther, and Turandot.

Toscanini entrusted him with his baton. Thus, he made it into the La Scala golden book, which was being published then, some kind of a bible of the Italian and world opera, with dozens of impressive photos. He conducted in absolutely all the big Italian cities until 1949, when he made his debut at the Met in New York, where he was recommended by Toscanini.

The contract provided for him to conduct Tristan und Isolde, Rigoletto and Carmen. In order to prove his immense prestige, we mention a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1950, when George Enescu and Yehudi Menuhin played the Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra by Bach As the great epoch of recordings had begun, Perlea was invited to record for the National Broadcasting Corporation, R.C.A.-Rome, Vox, and others.

He began to work primarily in the United States, and in 1952 he seemed forced to settle in New York, when he became Toscanini’s successor at the Met and a professor at the Manhattan School of Music.

Below are only a few names of the most illustrious musicians he worked with at that time: Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Lotte Lehmann, Giuseppe De Luca, Lawrence Tibbett, Jussi Björling, Montserrat Caballe, Alfredo Kraus and so on. With all the stress of these enormous requests and his exigency in working with ensembles, he barely had time to compose.

In 1955 he made his debut as conductor of the Connecticut Symphony and two years later took up the post of principal conductor of that orchestra. He led the Connecticut Symphony for ten years.

In 1957, while he was conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, he had a heart attack, but he finished that monumental work and collapsed after the last chord, like a soldier felled by bullets on the front line. However, he continued to fight. When he felt a little better, he went back to work, but suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. Not even that stopped him.

He recorded several integral operas for the American Vox company: Manon Lescaut, Aida, and Rigoletto. He went to Rome, called by the R.C.A. Victor company, to record Lucrezia Borgia with the Italian Radio Orchestra and with the great soprano Montserrat Caballe and bass Alfredo Krauss.

At Carnegie Hall, he conducted Orfeo ed Euridice in 1967, the original score, with soloists Elisabeth Schwartzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He found time to participate in the jury of the international Arturo Toscanini conducting contest in Italy, then he went back to Carnegie Hall to conduct the Symphony no. 10 by Mahler.

In 1969 Ionel Perlea gave his last concerts in the Palace Hall and at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest.

Ionel Perlea had become partially paralyzed from a stroke, as a result of which he could no longer move his right hand. He managed to learn to conduct with his left hand. He achieved another brilliant performance with the performance of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini.

During his career he conducted numerous opera performances in Vienna, Paris, Buenos Aires, Florence and Chicago, and stood at the podium of famous orchestras, especially in the United States, but also with the Bamberg Symphony .

Ionel Perlea has been listed as a noteworthy conductor by Marquis Who’s Who.

His work includes a piano concert and some some pieces of chamber and symphonic music:

Symphonic music:

1919 – „Two symphonic sketches”

1923 –  “Concerto symphony for violin”; “Don Quixote”, the symphonic poem – which was composed in the concentration camp;

1935 – “Symphonic variations on its own theme”;

1968 – “Symphony in C major; “Concert Symphony for Violin and Orchestra”;

1969 – “Three studies for orchestra”;

Chamber music:

1919 – „String quintet and piano”;

1923 – „Piano sonata”, „String Quartet”, op. 10;

Vocal music:

1919 – „Three lieds for baritone and piano”

At only 23 years old, he got the first prize at the George Enescu composition contest, for Quartet op. 10.

There are numerous recordings of him. He died in New York City in 1970, aged 69.