17 May 2012
Horst Koegler, Veteran OPERA NEWS Correspondent in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, has Died at Eighty-Five
Neuruppin, Germany, March 22, 1927 — Stuttgart, Germany, May 11, 2012
A contributor to OPERA NEWS for more than sixty years, Horst Koegler published his first report, an assessment of "Opera in Berlin," in the issue of March 31, 1952. The twenty-five-year-old critic's essay held several of the pithy, eye-catching statements that were to become typical of his work during the six decades during which OPERA NEWS carried Horst's byline: his review of a Rigoletto at Städtische Oper cited its Gilda and Rigoletto, Rita Streich and Josef Metternich, as "two voices of marvelous beauty [but] two singers of curious impersonality, lacking the passion that Verdi's music demands." Horst's reports — and his correspondence — were charged with enthusiasm and integrity; nothing pleased him more than discovering a good performance that had almost slipped under his radar. In 2009, he wrote an e-mail to me that ran as follows: "Dear F.P.D., Surprise, surprise! Last night: second performance of a new Stuttgart Lucia. Expectation and hopes: Nil! Result: TERRIFIC!" Although Horst had been attending opera as a professional critic for more than a half-century — his first Lucia was the 1955 Berlin Festival performance with Karajan pacing Callas — he was still capable of being completely captivated by a performance. Horst pronounced some of the shows that he reviewed during the present season — among them the Zurich Opera staging of The Nose and an Ariadne auf Naxos in Baden-Baden — as being among the best experiences of his operagoing career. A man of truly catholic taste, Horst remembered with joy a 1964 sojourn in Manhattan, during which he saw the Beatles at Carnegie Hall and Leontyne Price's first Met Eugene Onegin during the same week. Horst embraced radical regie interpretations of the standard repertory as well as more traditional productions, unafraid to acknowledge the intelligence and psychological insight of Calixto Bieito, a stage director whose productions often inspire controversy; Horst called Bieito's 2008 staging of Der Fliegende Holländer "the most thrilling evening I have spent in the Stuttgart Opera House for many a month." Although Horst had few preconceived prejudices when it came to opera staging, one of his pet peeves was the device of inserting a "Demon" into an opera's cast of characters; he grumbled, "This Demon happens to appear in so many productions in Stuttgart that he should be the company mascot."
Born in the Prussian city of Neuruppin, Horst studied philology, art history, dramaturgy, theatrical production and drama in Kiel and at the Theater School in Halle/Saale before beginning his professional career with a three-year term as an assistant director and dramaturg at the Gerhard-Hauptmann-Theater in Görlitz. He moved to what was then West Berlin in 1951, to begin work as a freelance journalist and critic for European publications as well as English-language magazines. Koegler worked as a critic for Die Welt in Berlin (1957–58) and as music editor and dance critic for Stuttgarter Zeitung (1977–92) in Stuttgart, which was his home and the base of his freelance professional operations for the last thirty-five years of his life. He covered dance and opera performances throughout Europe, with especially frequent reports filed from Stuttgart, Zurich, Baden-Baden, Bregenz and Karlsruhe. He was editor and author of several books on ballet and dance, including The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (1977), John Neumeier — Pictures of a Life (2010) and Heinz Spoerli: Weltbürger des Balletts (2011), and he contributed to numerous reference works and journals, among them The Encyclopedia Britannica and the International Encyclopedia of Dance.
In 2001, Koegler launched a blog, koeglerjournal, for the internet platform tanznetz, where he posted nearly 1,000 articles. Despite failing health in recent years, he continued to travel, filing OPERA NEWS reports from Baden-Baden, Zurich and Stuttgart during the present season, but he admitted that retirement was inevitable. After mulling over the matter for a few months, in August 2011 Horst wrote to me that the present season would be his last as an OPERA NEWS correspondent, citing his sixtieth anniversary as "a good time to go" and mentioning the change of regimes in the opera houses of Zurich, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart as a sign that a new perspective was needed. "Do let me know whether you want me to recommend a successor for Stuttgart and/or Zurich for the 2012–13 season," he wrote, "or whether you have already a queue of people just waiting for me to quit!" Nevertheless, Horst prepared a full list of all the 2011–12 productions that he thought would be of interest to our readers — marking the especially exciting ones, as always, with an exclamation point. He cheerfully accepted assignments through June of this year — with the black-humored caveat "if I am still alive at that time!" — and continued to file copy as scheduled until March, when he submitted what was to be his last OPERA NEWS piece, a review of a Stuttgart double-bill of Schoenberg's Die Glückliche Hand and Janáček's Osud, staged by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito.
Horst, who variously signed his emails as "Your Favourite Swabian Correspondent" or "That Old Nuisance OE from Stuttgart," had impeccable manners, personally and professionally, and was always a pleasure to edit. Despite his self-deprecating jokes about his own work, his meaning was so clear and his standard for excellence so unmistakable that his copy was a joy to read. He was a delightful colleague who will be missed by everyone at OPERA NEWS.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
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