Andrew Litton, conductor
Home Biography Engagements Reviews Recordings News Insights Gallery Contact

My First Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

by Andrew Litton

My mother took me to my first opera during the last season at the old Met, in 1966. I was maybe a little too young, but she thought it would be nice for me to be able to say I’d seen something there. The opera was Lucia di Lammermoor. My only recollections are that it was Anna Moffo singing—she was strikingly beautiful, even to an almost-six-year-old child—and that I liked Act 2 better than Act 1, because in Act 2 I had a green lollipop. As for Act 3, I was on my way home. It was way past my bedtime.

By the 1967-68 season, in the new house, I was able to stay up for a whole performance, and was just getting old enough to appreciate what was going on. I had help in this from a close family friend—my godfather, in fact—who was the timpanist in the Met’s orchestra, and would explain the stories to me. I remember making it through all five hours of Die Frau ohne Schatten, and also the amazing Robert O’Hearn Der Rosenkavalier, a staging that's still in the company's repertoire now and that the Met puts on its postcards.

Then, when I hit ten, I decided I wanted to be a conductor. I'd been going to Leonard Bernstein's Young People’s Concerts, and had heard him conduct Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which I found hugely exciting. My parents were doubtful at first—after all, the day before I'd wanted to be a fireman—but I was absolutely serious. My godfather also took me seriously, and started taking me to rehersals with him. And so, whenever I didn’t have to be at school, I'd be in the pit at the Met. From my seat next to the timpini I could see just about two thirds of the stage; and from that seat I began to fall in love with opera.

At first I never knew where the big timpani rolls were coming, so we had a system whereby my godfather would say 'pssst' and I'd then cover my ears while his sticks came crashing down. Then, in my teens, I got to the point where I could read a score, and so I would sit in the pit during performances with a music stand. I don't know what the audience thought I was doing there, but it was a fantastic education. Back then the musicians were in the pit every night, and it was amazing how different they could sound, depending partly on the repertoire, but mostly on the conductor.

I feel a bit of a fuddy-duddy saying this, but it really was a golden age. The house team for Verdi was Leontyne Price, Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill—and I got to see them day after day, horsing around in rehearsal! I remember Jon Vickers as Peter Grimes, and Jess Thomas and Birgit Nilsson as Tristan and Isolde; I saw Pavarotti’s debut and his subsequent Fille du régiment. I was just in time to catch Reneta Tebaldi as Alice Ford. And I remember very distinctly the Bernstein Carmen, which was controversial at the time but which, as I'd been at all the rehearsals and five of the performances, felt like it was mine.

My godfather, Richard Horowitz, is still playing timpani for the Met, aged 81. In his spare time, he makes batons—he has made them for Bernstein, Kleiber, Leinsdorf, Böhm, and now Haitink and Levine. And, I’m happy to say, for me. He’s a legend.

Andrew Litton conducts 'Carmen' in concert at the Vail Valley Festival, Colorado, on July 16th.

Originally printed in the July 2005 edition of Opera.
Copyright © 2005 Opera. All rights reserved.

Other insights

February 2018
Why West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein resonates with 21st-century music lovers

July 2017
Andrew Litton, Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s new principal guest conductor, is humbled by the power of music

July 2016
Maestro Andrew Litton takes us behind the scenes of Sommerfest 2016

January 2016
The conductor Andrew Litton, finding a different tempo

October 2015
Andrew Litton: a portrait of the artist as a mature conductor

July 2015
Still Going Strong: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra at 250

December 2014
Andrew Litton to Lead New York City Ballet Orchestra

October 2014
Watch the YouTube videos from Rhinegold LIVE of Andrew performing selections from A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

September 2014
Colorado Symphony trades busy offseason for big Beethoven opener

May 2014
Podcast: Andrew Litton swaps his conducting baton for the piano for his latest recording, an album dedicated to the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.

May 2014
A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

April 2014
Transcribin’ the Blues

January 2014
The Broncos and the Colorado Symphony, both winning teams

April 2013
New Colorado Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Litton is a modern maestro

February 2013
Andrew Litton on bringing the Bergen Philharmonic to Edinburgh

January 2013
How the Norse code was cracked; Andrew Litton tells Ivan Hewett about achieving his goal of putting the Bergen Philharmonic on the musical map

January 2013
Karl Bohm is remembered fondly by Andrew Litton

December 2012
Andrew appears on BBC Radio3’s documentary, “Tchaikovsky’s 1812: A Dishonest Overture?” on Dec. 1st

November 2012
Colorado Symphony’s New Artistic Advisor Excited About The Holidays

September 2012
Andrew discusses Russian music, his career with Bergen, and upcoming concert with the NZSO with Radio New Zealand

June 2012
The June Gramophone Podcast asks Andrew about his 100th CD (starts at 23:30)

October 2011
Having some musical fun: virtuoso percussionist Martin Grubinger notes that this is the first time a Chief Conductor appears on stage as a bass marimba player

April 2011
TheArtsDesk Q&A: Conductor Andrew Litton

March 2011
Norwegians Can! Conducting the Bergen Philharmonic.

February 2011
Andrew discusses life with the Bergen Philharmonic with Edward Seckerson, (MP3)

October 2010
Andrew talks with ABC Classic FM’s Margaret Throsby about the joys of classical music, (MP3)

July 2010
Bach, re-imagined

April 2010
Musicians on the moments that changed them: Andrew Litton meets Oscar Peterson

March 2010
WUNC-FM’s Catherine Brand talks with Andrew Litton about the music and friendship of Vaughan Williams and Holst, (MP3)

March 2010
Andrew discusses the “Music that changed me” with BBC Music

March 2010
Andrew tells Opera Magazine “Wish I’d been there when...”

February 2010
Q & A with BBC Music Magazine’s Daniel Jaffé

January 2010
Jeremy Nicholas discusses the real George Gershwin with Andrew, as featured on the cover CD of January’s Gramophone Magazine, 34:03 (MP3)

August 2007
North Star: How does it feel to step into the shoes of a national treasure?

February 2007
Andrew reminisces about his favorite experiences with the DSO
(streaming video)

January 2007
NACOcast: Andrew chats with NAC’s Christopher Millard, 20:00 (MP3)

July 2006
Artistic director Andrew Litton seeks to make the music festival fun

July 2006
Sommerfest director’s credo: Classical music can be fun

March 2006
BBC Radio 4: In Tune with Sean Rafferty, 17:01 (MP3)

February 2006
Passed Up by the NSO, Concerto For Contrabassoon Premieres in Norway

January 2006
Litton considers Gershwin a neighbor

December 2005
New developments on ENO Music Directorship

December 2005
ENO regrets? No, just plans

July 2005
My First Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

January 2005
Denver latest stop for conductor Litton

October 2004
MPR: Andrew Litton’s guide to the Shostakovich 8th forum discussion, 50:55 (WMA)

May 2004
What’s next for Andrew Litton?

August 1997
BBC Radio 3: In Tune with Anthony Burton, 16:08 (MP3)

August 1997
BBC Radio 4: Kaleidoscope with Paul Gambaccini, 7:53 (MP3)

September 1995
Dallas Symphony Dynamo

August 1994
The Linking of Litton and Gershwin

August 1993
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

January 1993
The Young One

February 26, 1988
Conduct So Becoming