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Carpe Dignitas

R.I.P. Sir Edward Downes. The conductor, 85, died together with his wife Joan, 74, on Friday in an assisted-suicide clinic called Dignitas in Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal). A statement from their children, Caractacus and Boudicca (both named for leaders of British tribes who resisted the Roman conquest), said that “they both lived life to the full and considered themselves to be extremely lucky to have lived such rewarding lives, both professionally and personally.” Downes, who conducted frequently at the Royal Opera and was music director of the Australian Opera was nearly blind and deaf; his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. His extensive recording catalogue includes arias by Pavarotti, Gedda, Freni, Crespin, Price, and Domingo; and he recorded a conversation with Maria Callas that is still available on the box set "Callas: La Divina." (The interview is available as individual paid downloads.)

Edited to add: Ethical concerns are invariably raised by a high-profile death of this nature; British police are investigating.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 14, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  news  
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I remember when Sir Edward Downes conducted a memorable Don Carlo here in Washington. He will be missed.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | July 15, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Downes was probably best known as a conductor of symphonic music. Uunsurprisingly, he recorded quite a bit of British music, including the first recordings of symphonies by George Lloyd (Nos. 4, 5, and 8, and in better performances than the composer later recorded for Albany). Much of his discography is on Lyrita, and much of that is now out of print. He also recorded some Gliere and other Russians for Chandos. He struck me as a straightforward conductor, an adherent to Toscanini's criterion "come scritto," but careful to dig beneath the surface and come up with the nuances there in the score. Some of his Lyritas are being revived, and I hope there will be more to come.

Posted by: BobL | July 15, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"He also recorded some Gliere and other Russians for Chandos."

I very much enjoyed Downes's recording of the "Ilya Muromets" Symphony of Gliere...which I seem to believe was also recommended (although in a somewhat backhanded way) by Svejda in one of his massive guides. It's still in print and available on disc and as a download, from Amazon.

Posted by: SportzNut21 | July 17, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

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