My previous blog posting was of Fritz Reiner, an unsavoury man, and in that vein I am going to write about Fausto Cleva, an Opera conductor whom I came across in Vancouver, B.C., Canada in the mid-sixties when he conducted the Vancouver Opera in performances of “The Girl of the Golden West” by Puccini and I was playing principal bass.
He must have been in his seventies at the time and was living in San Francisco. As a conductor he was very good and certainly knew what he was doing when he came into the orchestra pit tho’ he only obtained results which were good but not scintillating, the reason being that he intimidated the singers who gave careful, but not brilliant performances.
I don’t think he ever achieved recognition as a great conductor which was why, I think, that he acted the way he did.
On the night of the dress rehearsal he was particularly insulting, and Jack Kessler, the concertmaster came up to me and said “Bob, I don’t know whether to have a go at him now or in the next intermission”. I had known Jack for many years as concertmaster in Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group Chamber Orchestra, and also as first violinist in the Legge Philharmonia Orchestra when I was a member of it. He was a fine player but rather hot headed, so I did my best to calm him down, but whether or not he did “have a go” at Cleva or not I never knew, but I do know that Cleva was never again asked to the Vancouver Opera.