There are very few people in the arts - and especially in the world of opera - of whom you can say you never heard them say anything bad on somebody's back and yet were neither uncritical nor dishonest. Folke Abenius, who passed away yesterday, was such a person. A real gentleman, a real "Mensch" as they say, sincere, humane, humorous - never at the expense of others - and friendly. Not the most challenging of opera directors but we remember many excellent productions and few if any failures. Not the most adventurous opera manager but one remembers the repertoire of his seasons as skilfully designed and on the whole most satisfying. Abenius had taste, he had an eye and an ear for quality, he was well-balanced in his judgments, a stage director with a musical education - as an opera singer - which earned him the respect of singers and musicians. There will be plenty of time to write about his best productions in Malmö, Göteborg, Stockholm and the rest of Scandinavia. About a traditional but intensely musical Rosenkavalier which held the stage for almost four decades. About a somewhat belatedly "neo-bayreuth" Nibelungen-Ring at the Royal Opera, which he was entrusted at the tender age of not yet 36. In the repertory for almost 30 years, with success it toured Scandinavia as well as to Warsaw and Moscow. If less than radical in 1968-70, it did not seem antiquated in the 1990s. And - not the least- it formed the impression of this mighty work for at least two generations of Stockholm opera-goers. And finally we will of course remember Abenius' vital founding efforts for the schooling of opera directors at the State Opera School of Stockholm, in which he was a pioneer. Abenius was an artist for whom not the director's ego was most important but the art form, the artists and - above all - the audience. If that should sound just self-evident, it is not, no,it is a rare quality in today's opera business.
Folke Abenius at the Royal Opera in 2009 - remembering Aniara (1959) with Kjerstin Dellert, creator of Daisy Doody in Blomdahl's space opera half a century before. Below, as second from the left, the former master of the house, with spring in his steps, is heading for other Aniara exhibits,in the company of this blogger and other colleagues, with some marble heads of earlier greats watching benignly.