7 August 2017

Lee Blakeley, 45, One of the Most Admired Opera and Theater Directors of his Generation, has Died

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LEE BLAKELEY 

Mirfield, West Yorkshire, England, August 16, 1971—London, England, August 5, 2017  

ONE OF THE MOST admired opera and theater directors of his generation, Blakeley delivered productions that were elegant, witty and richly intelligent, achieving success in a repertoire that ranged from Verdi and Mozart to Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Educated at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and at the University of Glasgow, Blakeley first attracted important attention in 2001, with his world-premiere production of an early Handel cantata, Clori, Tirsi and Fileno, offered in a sexually provocative staging at Heaven, a popular gay club in London. Blakeley began a long and happy association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as an assistant on the premiere of the 2003 staging of Die Zauberflöte by David McVicar, whom Blakeley had first assisted during his student days in Glasgow. Blakeley returned to Covent Garden to stage the McVicar Zauberflöte production in four subsequent revivals, and performed similar duties for McVicar’s 2004 staging of Faust. Blakeley also directed the European premiere of Tobias Picker’s Thérèse Raquin at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio Theatre in 2006. Other European credits included Rusalka at the 2007 Wexford Festival, the show that Blakeley regarded as his career “breakout,” Judith Weir’s Night at the Chinese Opera for Scottish Opera in 2008 and a gritty Merry Widow, set in 1939 Europe, for De Vlaamse Opera.

Blakeley’s highest-profile projects in Europe were a successful series of American musical-theater works presented at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, beginning in 2010 with the French premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, its starry cast headed by Greta Scacchi, Leslie Caron and Lambert Wilson. Other Blakeley stagings at the Châtelet included Sweeney Todd, with Rod Gilfry as Sweeney (2011); Sunday in the Park with George,starring Julian Ovenden (2013); Into the Woods (2014); The King and I, with Wilson and Susan Graham in the title roles (2014); and Kiss Me, Kate (2016).

Blakeley’s principal professional activity in North America was at Santa Fe Opera, where his productions included Madama Butterfly (2010); a spectacular Pêcheurs de Perles (2012), The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein, with Susan Graham as the Grand Duchess(2013); and Rigoletto (2015). In 2015, Blakeley directed the U.S. premiere of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he returned to direct the company premiere of Macbeth in 2016. Both of his OTSL stagings were characterized by Blakeley’s typically keen attention to text and his masterfully swift, clean presentation of stage action. At the time of his death, Blakely was scheduled to return to OTSL in a future season for a new Nozze di Figaro. Other North American credits for Blakeley included Falstaff and Madama Butterfly at LA Opera, Orfeo ed Euridice at Minnesota Opera, Sweeney Todd at San Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera, The King and I at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Canadian Opera Company. In 2014, Blakeley directed the New York premiere of Jessica Walker’s play Pat Kirkwood Is Angry as part of the “Brits Off Broadway Festival.”

An associate director at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, The Royal Opera and English National Opera, Blakeley was also a translator, dramaturg and broadcaster. 

Blakeley died of an apparent heart attack.  —F. Paul Driscoll 



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