George Jellinek (1919-2010) was from 1968 to 1984 music director of New York City’s classical music radio station WQXR. His nationally syndicated weekly program, “The Vocal Scene,” was broadcast for 36 years. He also produced “First Hearing,” another nationally syndicated program in which a changing panel of vocal music experts reviewed new recordings without knowing who the performers were. His frequent appearance as a panelist on Texaco’s Metropolitan Opera Quiz made his mellifluous, Hungarian-accented voice an ingredient of American cultural life until 2004.
Born in Budapest, he took violin lessons starting at age 5 and later accompanied the traveling Gypsy bands that serenaded diners at his father’s restaurant. Upon hearing his first “Traviata” as a teenager, he became an avid (in his words, “almost insane”) operagoer, attending over a hundred performances a year.
Jellinek left Hungary as a young man in 1939, initially for Havana, Cuba and two years later for the United States. He served as an Army intelligence officer and translator during WWII. Returning to New York after the war, he took an office job but spent so much time hanging out in a music store that he was hired as an employee. From there his career took off. He began writing reviews for Stereo Review and articles for Opera News. Callas: Portrait of a Prima Donna (1960; 1986) was his first book, followed by History Through the Opera Glass (1994; 2000).
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