Aspen Music Festival opera director Edward Berkeley dies

Saturday’s ‘Magic Flute’ dedicated to director, who died unexpectedly hours before the performance

Longtime Aspen Music Festival and School opera program director Edward Berkeley died unexpectedly Saturday.

The news was announced from the stage at the Benedict Music Tent on Saturday night moments before a performance of “The Magic Flute,” directed by Berkeley, was to begin. The show went on, dedicated to the director, who was in his 40th season on faculty at the festival.

“The entire cast, orchestra and AMFS artist-faculty and staff are channeling their emotion into the performance tonight that we are dedicating to him, and it is an emotional moment,” said Music Fest president and CEO Alan Fletcher.

Berkeley, 76, was found unresponsive by a colleague at home in Aspen late Saturday afternoon, according to the Aspen Police Department and the Pitkin County Coroner’s office, and was dead when medical personnel arrived.

The cause and manner of death will be determined by an autopsy, expected to be performed Monday.

Berkeley’s cast and orchestra learned backstage of his death about 15 minutes before they were to perform Saturday.

Fletcher, music director Robert Spano and board chair Michael Klein shared news of Berkeley’s passing on stage and led the audience in a moment of silence before beginning the performance in Berkeley’s honor.

“However strange it may seem on the surface, to have ‘The Magic Flute’ upon hearing this news is a testament to the joy he gave all of us and the ebullience of this music speaks to the ebullience he brought to his students and the genius he brought to Aspen every year,” Spano told the crowd. “We are all going to miss him terribly.”

Berkeley directed classics and championed new operas in Aspen, while mentoring generations of emerging singers each summer. An athletic stage director, he oversaw rehearsals in his signature shorts, high socks and sneakers and traveled almost exclusively by bicycle in Aspen.

Berkeley also was a longtime faculty member at The Juilliard School and prominent theater director in New York, where he was born. A founding artistic director of the Willow Cabin Theater Co., he directed the Tony-nominated revival of the play “Wilder, Wilder, Wilder” in 1993. Berkeley also taught Shakespeare at the Circle in the Square Theater School and Pace University and worked with the New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony and Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.

For most of his tenure here, Berkeley served as director of the Aspen Opera Theater Center. This season the program is in transition, rebranded as Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS under co-directors Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers, with Berkeley staying on board as stage director.

“This was Ed’s 40th summer with the festival, and his contributions to the institution and to the young singers he nurtured in the program are immeasurable,” Fletcher said. “We will be fully recognizing him in the days to come, and his presence here will truly be felt for all time.”


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