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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER JULIUS RUDEL
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Director of the New York City Opera


In 1943, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia made an announcement that the old
Mecca Temple on West 55th Street would be converted into the City
Center of Music and Drama. As a result, a new major company was born
— the New York City Opera.

A young Jewish immigrant, Julius Rudel, who had fled Austria with his family not long before, immediately went to City Center in search of a job. He was hired as a rehearsal pianist, and in the years to come his talents blossomed forth in many areas. Working quietly behind the scenes, he became the Opera's indispensable Mr. Everything, who not only knew every phase of show production, but could be called on to conduct the orchestra and even take the place of a missing cast member on stage. Rudel's versatile musicianship and his personal charm did much to knit the company together.

In 1956 the New York City Opera suffered a financially disastrous season that led to the resignation of the distinguished Erich Leinsdorf as director and chief conductor. That was perhaps the lowest point in the company's history. The board of directors pored over dozens of nominations for Leinsdorf's replacement before they decided on the one person who had the confidence of everybody — Julius Rudel.

Twenty-two seasons later, he is still firmly in command, and the once struggling City Opera has risen to world prominence. Although its $8 million annual budget is much smaller than that of the Metropolitan Opera and the major houses of Europe, Rudel has been able to get many singers who are unequaled anywhere, and has staged far more new works by living composers than has Lincoln Center's "other" opera house.

Apart from its musical significance, the City Opera has become a sort of living symbol for the arts in America, flourishing in the face of financial hardships, and somehow emerging more creative, more artistically exciting because of those hardships. Why else would people like Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes perform at City for a top fee of $1,000, or even for free, when they can get $10,000 for a night's work elsewhere?

"We build loyalties," explains Rudel in his delicate Germanic-British accent, the morning after conducting a benefit performance of The Merry Widow. "A lot of our singers go on to other companies, but they come back. They don't forget us. The New York City Opera has produced more great singers than probably any other company in the world."

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