George Darden, a pianist and conductor who has worked with the likes of Placido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa, has donated his extensive opera and piano music collection to UNCG.
The George Darden Music Collection — part of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives — enhances the University Libraries’ support of student learning in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, and provides an exceptional archival music resource to researchers worldwide. It includes nearly 200 annotated scores, 22 monographs, and an impressive collection of signed photographs and tear sheets from the Metropolitan Opera.
“Given Mr. Darden’s association with numerous universities and production companies nationally, as well as his distinguished career internationally, we are deeply honored by Mr. Darden’s selection of UNCG as the official repository of his archive,” says Rosann Bazirjian, dean of the University Libraries.
The George Darden Collection expands the Libraries’ performing arts collection, joining such noted music collections as the Harold Schiffman Archive, the Egon Wellesz Contemporary Music Collection and the Cello Music Archive.
Darden’s 1963 debut featured a solo piano performance with the Savannah Symphony. After studying under pianist Carlisle Floyd and mezzo-soprano Elena Nikolaidi at Florida State University, Darden established himself in the Texas Opera Theatre and the Houston Grand Opera in major projections such as “Il Barbiere di Sivilia” and “Of Mice and Men.” In 1985, he began his collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera, providing piano and music preparation for major works by Mozart, Verdi, and Rossini. Darden is regarded as an authority on productions of “Porgy and Bess,” having directed the musical preparation for 165 performances.
Darden’s reputation for expertise in piano and vocal music preparation contributed to his collaboration with the biggest names in opera. He has been heard as the piano behind some of the most famous performances by soprano Renée Flemming, including Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” and Massenet’s “Manon.” Additionally, he accompanied such celebrated vocalists as Marilyn Horne, Kiri Te Kanawa and Thomas Allen.
Darden’s friend Plácido Domingo has said, “If I was singing or conducting, I always heard in your playing the weight, feeling, and colors from the orchestra.”
The George Darden Collection documents these artistic collaborations, featuring the original, thoroughly annotated scores employed for the productions. Notable items include Darden’s annotated copies of “Porgy and Bess” and “Of Mice and Men”. In addition to the performance notes, many of the scores and books are signed by the stars of the productions, such as a cast-signed score of “Fledermaus” and a collection of specially bound works of Carlisle Floyd, many of which are inscribed by Floyd to Darden.
Darden retired from the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, having been credited with musical preparation for five operas televised on PBS’s Emmy Award-winning “The Metropolitan Presents” series. He has recorded on several labels, including RCA. Darden was awarded South Carolina’s Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian award for lifetime service to the state and nation, in 2000. This award is included with the collection, as well as a framed photograph of Darden receiving the award from South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges.
The collection includes a series of performance photographs, signed tear sheets, and framed letters, chronicling Darden’s performance history at the Met. Displayed within this portion of the collection are the official Metropolitan Opera performance photographs with opening night tear sheets, frequently signed by the stars of the production. Prominent gems are a framed and signed photograph of Sergei Rachmaninov, and a signed photograph and manuscript piece by Fritz Kreisler. Included among the framed material is a group portrait from the 10th Anniversary Gala for the National Endowment of the Arts signed by Lady Bird Johnson to Darden.