Conductor James Conlon: master of the opera |

Conductor James Conlon: master of the opera

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times

Last Fall, when Placido Domingo announced he was appointing conductor and Aspen Music Festival and School alumnus James Conlon the music director of the Los Angeles Opera (effective in 2006), where Domingo is general director, he said Conlon would “play a vital role in the artistic future of this company.”

“I have had the privilege and joy not only to know James Conlon for a long time, but also to have sung under his guidance on two important occasions and I have always been struck by his exceptional musical perception and uncanny understanding of voices,” Domingo has said.

On Saturday, Aug. 6, Aspen festival students and audiences can sense that musical perception up-close as Conlon ” in Aspen for a seven-week residency ” teaches a 10 a.m. master class with Aspen Opera Theater Center Director Edward Berkeley and opera students at the Wheeler Opera House. Conlon’s annual Opera Scenes Master Class is generally one of the most popular of the season. Tickets are $30.

Formerly the music director of the Paris Opera Bastille, Conlon has conducted more than 250 Metropolitan Opera performances since his 1976 debut there at age 26, as well as productions at La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.

But Conlon divides his time between opera houses and concert hall stages, this summer conducting two Aspen orchestral performances, including a season-finale Aspen Festival Orchestra presentation of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. He is known as a champion of several neglected composers, particularly those who suffered during the Nazi era, including Alexander von Zemlinsky and Erwin Schulhoff.

Former festival president and dean Gordon Hardy invited Conlon to study conducting in Aspen 35 years ago. NancyBell Coe, former festival artistic administrator, in 2003 spoke of Conlon as loyal, not only to his music but also to Aspen.

“It was during his time here as a student that he began to understand and develop his potential as a conductor,” she said.

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