Eleanor Fazan

Born: May 29, 1930;

Died: January 20, 2024

Eleanor Fazan, the choreographer and director who has died aged 93, worked in films and with many leading theatre and opera companies. She was involved with historic new productions with the Royal Opera, Scottish Opera, The Metropolitan in New York and The Salzburg Festival.

Her work in the theatre was equally acclaimed dating back to revues in the West End and redirecting Beyond the Fringe from the 1960 Edinburgh Festival to its triumph in London the following year.

Fazan was often described in programmes simply as a choreographer - worse as ‘movement’ - which never reflected the important role she played in mounting a production. She really acted as co-director with particular responsibilities for getting to the heart of a production.

Eleanor Henta Fazan (always known affectionately as Fiz) was born in Kenya where her father was a senior government officer. She travelled to London in 1940 to study dancing firstly with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) and then the Arts Educational School.

Her first job was to direct revues. One to Another was written by future stars such as John Mortimer, Bamber Gascoigne and Harold Pinter. This was followed by smash hits such as Grab Me a Gondola and Share My Lettuce (with the young Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams).

She was then asked to direct the transfer of Beyond the Fringe – starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennet and Jonathan Miller – to London. She wrote in her autobiography, Fiz and Some Theatre Giants that “when I first met them I well understood their personal success. But the Edinburgh show was badly put together and their attitude was typically undergraduate.”

Its length had to be doubled – it was only an hour in Edinburgh – and she told them at the first rehearsal she had one minimal requirement: “Turn up for rehearsals.” The rehearsals were tense – the script had to be virtually rewritten. “Most of it was written on my kitchen table, but I don’t think I have ever laughed so much in my life,” she said.

The Herald: Eleanor Fazan: Scottish Opera choreographer who played key role in Beyond the FringeEleanor Fazan: Scottish Opera choreographer who played key role in Beyond the Fringe (Image: free)

After some rough dates out of London, the show opened in London in 1961 and, as Fazan recalls, “The rest is history plus a New York transfer.” In New York her fee was doubled to £20 a week.

She then joined the pioneering Royal Court Theatre Company mounting plays that changed British theatre with such authors as Joe Orton.

In 1976 Fazan worked on Richardson’s movie Joseph Andrews. He decided to film at his estate in the South of France. Many visitors arrived through the summer including Rudolf Nureyev. One night the entire party went to a night club in St Tropez and Nureyev insisted that Fazan taught him the slow foxtrot – not a dance with which even he was too familiar and they got a huge ovation. Fazan was thrilled, “I took a call with Rudolph Nureyev!”

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It was then that she was asked by Toby Robertson to assist him in his 1972 production at Scottish Opera of Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Scottish conductor Roderick Brydon conducted and James Bowman sang Oberon.

In 1982 she returned to SO for Bizet’s Pearl Fishers which toured Scotland and was warmly greeted in many village halls and theatres.

Another brief connection with Scotland was on the Edinburgh Fringe of 1977. A friend was putting on a rock musical about The Rolling Stones – Let the Good Stones Roll. Midst her rehearsals for The Ring Cycle at Covent Garden she dashed to rehearse a rock musical with a young cast. “It sure was different,” she gleefully recalled.

Fazan’s work on that Ring Cycle dynamic UNICEF representative directed by Götz Friedrich and conducted by Colin Davies – ensured she returned to Covent Garden often. Historic productions included Otello and Tales of Hoffmann (both with Placido Domingo) and Peter Grimes (with Jon Vickers). At Salzburg, Herbert von Karan was to conduct Ballo in Maschera but days before the first night he died and Georg Solti was flown in. Fazan had to make many rapid alterations.

Fazan, who was made an OBE in 2017, married composer Stanley Myers. They divorced in the 1960s and both he and their son Nicolas predeceased her. She is survived by her granddaughters and their mother, Emma Duncan.