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Opera's Next Wave     

MICHAEL CHRISTIE, conductor; music director Minnesota Opera

Next Wave M Christie lg 812
Michael Christie
© James Salzano 2012

The rapidly shifting opera world seems to promise a minefield of challenges in the decade to come — more production-sharing, the need to invigorate the repertoire, and to do smaller-scale versions of cumbersome big works. Few conductors seem as well poised to meet this period of adjustment as Michael Christie. Although he is only thirty-eight, he has forged an enviable career in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. His work at two adventurous U.S. companies, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Minnesota Opera, provides a look at the intellectual and musical curiosity that drives him. For Saint Louis, he has led John Adams's Death of Klinghoffer, John Corigliano and William M. Hoffman's Ghosts of Versailles (in an admirable reduced-orchestra version by John David Earnest) and, this past June, Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland. At Minnesota, his credits include Bernard Herrmann's all-but-forgotten Wuthering Heights and the world premiere of Kevin Puts's Silent Night. Conducting rehearsals for the latter last spring, Christie was a model of authority, but he clearly had a terrific rapport with the orchestra players. "He's friendly with them, but he really pushes them hard," says Puts. "He won't accept anything less than the best from them." 

Christie's successes in Minnesota led the company to appoint him music director, beginning next month. "In Minnesota, they have laid the foundation for what quality represents," says Christie. "At Minnesota Opera, there seems to be a coalescing that happens among the board and the people around the organization that says, 'Go — do it. Go forth and be prosperous.'"

Christie feels that as the U.S. emerges from the depths of the recession, a certain rethinking is going to have to take place, with organizations learning to be less cautious than they have been in the stringent recent years. "We have to set ourselves up to be courageous again," he says. "I think getting the patrons, whether donors or ticket-buyers, to get their appetite built up around the excitement of the art form is going to be a big thing. Everyone has been so risk-averse. It doesn't mean we have to spend tons of money doing it. I think a lot of it will come from doing new work — and not only doing the clichéd community-involvement things but really focusing on the substance of the art. I've always said that as companies grow, you have to have a few things that people actually attribute to that growth, whether it's a new production or a level of singing. You have to have something to put out to your community that says, 'This is what it means when you grow and improve — look what we can do.'" spacer 

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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10