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Walter Taussig, 95; Vocal Coach at N.Y. Metropolitan Opera for 50 Years

August 05, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Walter Taussig, a vocal coach for New York's Metropolitan Opera for more than 50 years and a mentor who described himself as a real-life "phantom of the opera," has died. He was 95.

Taussig, who worked at the Met from 1949 through its 2001-02 season, died Thursday in Manhattan of causes associated with aging.

He was known for his unusual start-from-scratch method of introducing a singer to an operatic role, rather than trying to correct mistakes in any preparation singers might have done on their own. He applied that technique whether he was teaching a youngster or a Met star such as Placido Domingo to sing "Parsifal." Birgit Nilsson, who said she learned her difficult role in "Elektra" in 18 hours from the meticulous Taussig, made it one of her signature performances.

The vocal coach, whose other pupils included Maria Callas, also served as chorus master and assistant conductor for the Met, directing offstage instrumentalists that artistic director James Levine came to call the Taussig Philharmonic.

During his long tenure at the Met, Taussig also spent summers from 1964 to 1982 coaching casts for the Salzburg Festival for his former schoolmate, Herbert von Karajan, and for his longtime friend, Karl Bohm. In addition, Taussig coached operatic recording artists for the company Deutsche Grammophon.

Born in Vienna in 1908, he studied harmony, composition and piano with composer Franz Schmidt and conducting with Robert Heger at the Music Academy in Vienna. He also learned the oboe.

He relished memories of seeing his musical idol, Richard Strauss, conduct opera in the Austrian city.

From his graduation in 1928 until 1939, when growing Nazi power forced the Jewish Taussig to leave Europe, he worked as roving coach and conductor in Germany, Italy, Istanbul and Cairo.

Then he moved to Cuba, which at the time had a short waiting period for U.S. visas, to conduct the Havana Philharmonic.

Taussig later worked at the Montreal Opera, the Chicago Opera and the San Francisco Opera, before settling permanently in New York.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Lore, and their daughter, Lynn.

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