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Hailed by Critics on 3 Continents Over 7 Decades : Opera Conductor Rosenstock Dies at 90

October 22, 1985|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Joseph Rosenstock, a child prodigy forced by a World War I injury to abandon the piano in favor of the podium, is dead at age 90.

Rosenstock, whose musical career spanned seven decades and won him accolades from critics on three continents, died Thursday at his home in New York City.

He will probably be best remembered as the conductor of the German wing at the Metropolitan Opera and general manager and director of the New York City Opera. But he also was revered in Germany and Japan.

Born in Krakow, Poland, Rosenstock attended the Vienna Conservatory and was concertizing in Vienna and Berlin before he was a teen-ager. He served with the Austrian army in World War I and suffered an injury to his left hand that limited his playing. He turned to conducting after the war and in 1919 took over the Vienna Philharmonic Choir.

Next he moved to Stuttgart where he learned opera.

In 1929, at age 34, Rosenstock accepted an offer from the Metropolitan Opera to conduct "Die Meistersinger," "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Die Walkure," but he quickly resigned, saying the job was affecting his health.

He returned to Germany to head the Mannheim Opera but only briefly, for Hitler's rise to power in 1933 cost Rosenstock, a Jew, his post. He had been offered a position by the Nippon Philharmonic and was able to leave Germany for Japan in 1936. In Tokyo his concerts and rehearsals became legendary. One story, possibly apocryphal, has him continuing a rehearsal even as his podium was sliding across the stage at the height of an earthquake.

He paused momentarily, but only to complain that "Gentlemen, there is too much vibrato in the strings."

He was trapped in Japan when war broke out in 1941 and with other foreign aliens was sent out of major cities. He spent the war years in Karuizawa, a small town north of Tokyo.

In 1948, Rosenstock returned to New York to conduct the New York City Opera in "Marriage of Figaro," a debut described as "masterly" by a New York Times critic. For the next few years he conducted such disparate operas as Puccini's "La Boheme" and Menotti's "Medium" and in 1952 was named general manager of City Opera. He departed in 1956 amid lagging attendance and financial problems to return to Japan to conduct. In 1961, he returned to the Metropolitan Opera in an acclaimed production of "Tristan und Isolde."

In 1965 Rosenstock moved to Salt Lake City where he taught and performed occasionally, returning to New York after his retirement.

He is survived by his wife, Marilu. No funeral was planned.

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