Coroner: Berkeley died of heart disease

Aspen Music School and Festival opera director, 76, died of natural causes

Courtesy Aspen Music Festival and School

Aspen Music Festival and School opera director Edward Berkeley is presumed to have died of artherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, according to a release from the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office sent Monday.

A joint investigation between the coroner’s office and the Aspen Police Department concluded the cause of death was natural.

Berkeley, 76, died in his Aspen apartment Saturday and was found there hours before a performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which he directed, was to begin at the Benedict Music Tent. News of his death was announced to the audience before the performance, which went on dedicated to Berkeley’s memory. He was in his 40th season with the festival.

Since news broke Saturday night, there has been an outpouring of tributes honoring Berkeley from Aspen and the international classical music and theater communities, remembering him for his passion as a director, mentor and teacher here, at the Juilliard School and elsewhere, as well as for his sartorial signatures (like shorts and high socks).

“You have left your mark on this world, Ed, with few words, a large backpack, and a knowing wink,” opera singer Eva Lukkonen Sullivan wrote on Berkeley’s Facebook page, where hundreds of tributes went up Sunday and Monday as news of his death spread. “And you truly lived valiantly, and taught everyone you encountered to do the same. I am forever changed by you in just those three summers at the Aspen Music Festival; thank you to eternity and back!”

Maryland Lyric Opera’s Adam Cioffari wrote: “It’s difficult to think of one individual so completely synonymous with a long-standing institution, but such was the case with Edward Berkeley and Aspen Opera Theater. I’m also hard-pressed to think of an operatic stage director who has influenced and inspired such a volume of performers and artists over the last few decades. The sheer number of tributes I have read in the last couple of days is testament to that.”

And conductor James Gaffigan wrote on Twitter: “I’m shocked and very sad hearing this news. From the age of 19-22, the Aspen music festival was my summer home. My love for opera was born in his brilliant classes. Watching and conducting in his ‘opera scenes’ at the Wheeler was the highlight of Aspen.”

Berkeley with students at the Wheeler Opera House in 2016. Elle Logan/Aspen Music Festival and School

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