A highly competent conductor whose repertory was extensive, Peter Maag made his reputation in Europe, but was a presence in American theaters as well.
Although most of his life was devoted to opera, he made several recordings that honestly represented his eloquence in the symphonic literature and suggested that he might have made an even more appreciable impact there had he spent more time in concert work. After musical training in Zürich and Basel, Maag studied with Ernest Ansermet in Geneva and soon became an assistant to the elder conductor. He served first as coach and chorus master in Biel-Solothum beginning in 1943, two years later working his way to full conductor. He served as principal conductor at Düsseldorf from 1952 to 1954 before becoming music director at Bonn from 1954 to 1959. Maag's Covent Garden debut came in 1959 when he conducted Die Zauberflöte. From 1964 to 1968, Maag held the post of principal conductor at the Volksoper in Vienna. Meanwhile, Maag had made his American debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago conducting a November 1, 1961, performance of Così fan tutte. For his Fiordiligi, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was ill, likely contributing to the caution evident in the performance. Maag was even less fortunate with Don Giovanni when Schwarzkopf succumbed and Lisa della Casa had to be flown in to sing Donna Elvira. Still, the first performance was well regarded and subsequent performances were better still when Schwarzkopf returned as Elvira. Despite a wayward horn section, Maag did well with the Lyric's Fidelio, firing an intense performance with Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers. Making his Metropolitan Opera debut with Don Giovanni in September 1972, Maag conducted there for three seasons. Other assignments included Norma, Die Zauberflöte, and La Traviata. Critics found him supportive of his singers, but deficient in eliciting orchestral sheen in the Verdi. From 1982 to 1991, Maag served as music director of the Berne Municipal Opera. Among Maag's most notable recordings are those devoted to the symphonies of Beethoven (the complete cycle), Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, and the piano and orchestra works of Schumann. For Decca, he led a Luisa Miller with Milnes, Caballé, and Pavarotti. Several other operas are available in recordings captured from stage performances.