Charles Osborne (music Writer) - Life and Career

Life and Career

Osborne's father hailed originally from Devon and his mother was from Vienna, a fact to which he attributes his lifelong love of opera. He went to school locally, then studied at the University of Queensland. Osborne then worked in literary and musical journalism and in repertory theatre in Australia and Britain, where he settled permanently in 1953. He played the role of Front Gunner Foxlee in the film The Dam Busters (1955), and acted in the play Black Coffee by Agatha Christie, which he later adapted as a novel.

From 1958, he was assistant editor of The London Magazine, founded by John Lehmann, which publishes poems, short stories and literary reviews. Osborne himself wrote poetry from an early age. He has published three collections of poetry, including Swansong in 1968.

Between 1971 and 1986 he was literature director of the Arts Council of Great Britain. This involved dispensing government grants, and Osborne, perhaps inevitably, given the nature of the position, became embroiled in the so-called "poetry wars" that took place during the 1970s. Osborne has given an account of his tenure at the Arts Council in his autobiography.

Osborne's 1986 autobiography, Giving it Away: Memoirs of a Uncivil Servant, sheds light on his influential role at the Arts Council, as does Peter Barry's 2006 book, Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earl's Court.

Between 1986 and 1991, Osborne was chief drama critic for the Daily Telegraph. He continued to write journalism on a wide variety of arts, leading to Vogue magazine dubbing him an uomo universale (universal man).

Osborne writes about opera and has published books on Verdi, Wagner, Mozart, Puccini, Richard Strauss and the bel canto operas. His ground-breaking book, The Complete Operas of Verdi, was the first on that composer by someone who had actually seen all the operas staged. It was translated into Italian and published by Mursia.

Osborne published an original novel, Pink Danube, in 2000 and has adapted works for the stage as novels, which have been widely reprinted and translated into many languages. His novelised versions of Black Coffee (1998), The Unexpected Guest (1999) and Spider's Web (2000), all originally by Agatha Christie, have proved enduringly popular with readers. He has also adapted Blithe Spirit (2004), by Noël Coward, and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

His most recent published work is The Opera Lover's Companion (2004), "A loving and expert guide to the great operas in the repertoire, written from many years of experience. A must for all opera lovers young and old. I love it!" Dame Joan Sutherland

Osborne holds an honorary doctorate from Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, for services to the arts and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is a former president, and now council member, of the UK Critics Circle.

In 2009, the Italian state conferred on him the honorific title of Commendatore dell'Ordine della Stella della solidarietà italiana, known as the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity; for his outstanding contribution to the life and works of Verdi.

In 2011, The King's Head Theatre, London, staged a successful world premiere of an Oscar Wilde play, Constance. The only one of Wilde's works not yet produced, Constance was unearthed, translated and adapted by Osborne from the original French.

Being a distinguished Wildean scholar, Osborne's adaptation was received as being a fascinating rendering of a genuine Oscar Wilde play, with the secretary of the Oscar Wilde Society, Michael Seeney, calling the performance of Constance “a premiere”. Dr Joseph Bristow, a world-leading Oscar Wilde scholar and the head of English at the University of California wrote "Constance presents us with a startling Wildean drama in an arresting style. I left the King's Head Theater realizing that Wilde might have truly become the Irish Ibsen of his day."

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