Minnesota Opera appoints conductor as music director

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2012 - 12:18 PM

Michael Christie, 37, is primarily charged with developing the opera's orchestra.

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Michael Christie

The Minnesota Opera has appointed Michael Christie as music director, beginning with the 2012-13 season.

Christie joins an opera leadership that includes Allan Naplan, president and general director, and Dale Johnson, artistic director.

Minnesota Opera produces five operas each season on an annual budget of $10.2 million.

Christie, 37, is a conductor, and he is primarily charged with developing the opera's orchestra. In the past two years, he has conducted "La Traviata," "Wuthering Heights" and "Silent Night" in Minnesota. His presence with the latter two -- which were new works -- played a role in his hiring. "He's such a champion of new works, and that's important to us because of our commitment in that area," Naplan said.

Christie, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., is music director at the Phoenix Symphony and the Colorado Music Festival. He will leave Phoenix in 2013 but retain his responsibilities at Colorado. He previously was chief conductor of the Queensland Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

"His track record in orchestra-building was important because we want someone committed to developing a particular sound here -- and a sense of ensemble," Naplan said.

The opera's orchestra, with a core of 46 union musicians, will perform for all five productions going forward -- a change from previous practice in which the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra played in one production a year.

In a statement released by the opera, Christie said he looks forward "to being a steward of the company's New Works Initiative while bringing dedication and enthusiasm to opera's greatest known masterpieces."

Naplan said Christie will conduct three of the five productions each season and work special events. It is rare for a music director to be at the podium for every production.

Christie's appointment returns to the Minnesota Opera a key artistic position that has been dormant for many years. George Manahan was principal conductor, a similar role, from 1988 to 1996.

Leadership structures vary greatly among American opera companies. In Santa Fe, there is a chief conductor. Houston combines the music and artistic titles. Lyric Opera in Chicago has a music director and general director, while Opera Boston has a general manager and artistic director. James Levine is the best-known example of music director in his role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Christie will move to Rochester in July. His wife, Alexis, will be a fellow of intensive care at the Mayo Clinic.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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