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Obituary: Peter Zander – ‘Seemingly inexhaustible figure who worked in theatre, opera, music, television and film’

Peter Zander

Peter Zander was a seemingly inexhaustible figure who worked in theatre, opera, music, television and film as a stage manager, and as an actor, director, lecturer and teacher, an adjudicator and an examiner – all of which resulted almost by accident.

Having hitchhiked to Scotland in 1948, on his return journey he was offered a job as assistant stage manager with Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre. A tour with Dundee Rep followed, before he joined the Adelphi Guild company as an actor. He appeared as Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, in 1959, and was an inaugural member of the short-lived Welsh Theatre Company in 1962.

Having begun directing at the 1955 Jewish Drama Festival, he went on to stage shows with rep companies in Perth and Birmingham before co-founding Romilly Productions in 1968. As the company’s artistic director, he gave the London premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule (Little Theatre, 1969) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first play in the UK, Pre-Paradise Sorry Now, at the Place Theatre in 1972.

In 1969, he won a fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to study opera production at leading European opera houses.

As founder and administrator of Central London Opera, Zander directed Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre in 1975, before being appointed city arts administrator and director of the Portsmouth Festival the same year. As artistic director from 1977, he launched a number of music projects, including what later became the Wigmore Hall London International String Quartet Competition.

In 1981, he served as administrator of the Piccadilly Festival and successfully transformed the focus and fortunes of the Richmond upon Thames arts festival.

In the late 1990s, Zander played a leading role in an ambitious project to build an opera house in the Swiss alpine village of Gstaad, a plan now nearing realisation as a multipurpose concert hall.

Among his many teaching positions were posts at RADA, Rose Bruford College and the East 15 Acting School.

Peter Erich Fritz Georg Zander was born in Berlin on July 9, 1922. In early 2012, a stroke left him partially paralysed and he spent his later years in nursing homes. He died on January 18, aged 96.

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