Jay Lesenger - opera director

During his thirty-five-year career as stage director, administrator, and teacher, Jay Lesenger has become known for intelligent, honest productions that are dramatically compelling and musically respectful.

Lesenger first came to public attention when his production of Anna Bolena opened Beverly Sills’s first season as General Director of the New York City Opera, his Lincoln Center debut. He was soon re-engaged for productions of The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and Street Scene. The breadth of style represented by these early productions characterizes the range of repertoire that has become a signature element of Jay Lesenger’s almost two hundred stagings, spanning from the classical period through bel canto and to opera works by the most important composers of our time.

As General/Artistic Director and principal stage director of Chautauqua Opera for the past twenty years, Lesenger has introduced the Chautauqua audience to significant twentieth-century works including Vanessa (Barber), Two Widows (Smetana), Peter Grimes (Britten), The Consul (Menotti), The Cunning Little Vixen (Janáček) and the American musicals A Little Night Music (Sondheim), She Loves Me (Bock & Harnick), and Once Upon a Mattress (Rodgers & Barer). He also produced for the first time at Chautauqua overlooked Italian rarities: Macbeth, Stiffelio, and Luisa Miller by Verdi, Maria Stuarda by Donizetti, and Bellini’s Norma, as well as new productions of The Ballad of Baby Doe, La Bohème, The Crucible, Don Giovanni, The Elixir of Love, Falstaff, Gianni Schicchi/Sister Angelica, Hansel and Gretel, Lucia di Lammermoor, Madam Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Regina, La Rondine, Susannah, The Tales of Hoffmann, Tosca, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, and Werther. His critically acclaimed production of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos has been produced by Chautauqua, as well as the opera companies of Atlanta, Virginia, and Milwaukee, where it was telecast on PBS from the Florentine Opera.

Jay Lesenger’s reputation has led to important engagements in opera companies nationwide. His San Diego Opera directing debut was Werther, and he was re-engaged there for productions of Turandot, Lohengrin, and Anna Bolena. For Opera Pacific, he directed Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci followed by Samson et Dalilah, The Magic Flute, Brundibar (Krasa) and Der Rosenkavalier. Pittsburgh Opera audiences enjoyed his productions of Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. His stagings of The Magic Flute and Samson et Dalilah were also seen in Detroit at Michigan Opera Theatre. New Orleans Opera invited him to be part of the creative team that realized the world premiere of Thea Musgrave’s opera based on the life of the Baroness of Pontalbo, which was commissioned as part of the commemoration of the two hundredth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. For New Orleans, he also directed The Magic Flute, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Salome. The Ballad of Baby Doe and Die Walküre garnered Best Opera Production awards for their respective seasons. His operetta and musical theater productions include The Pirates of Penzance, The Merry Widow, Fiddler on the Roof, and Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.

He has produced operas at Opera Boston, Opera Carolina, Columbus Opera, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Kentucky Opera, Knoxville Opera, Mobile Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, Opera Omaha, and Orlando Opera, Palm Beach Opera, among others.

Lesenger made his European debut directing Puccini’s La Bohème for Opera Nordfjord in Eid, Norway. He has since returned to Norway for productions of The Marriage of Figaro and Eugene Onegin. He debuted in Germany with a new production of Madama Butterfly for Volkstheater Rostock.

A nationally recognized teacher of acting for singers, Jay Lesenger holds a master’s degree from Indiana University and a Bachelor of Music and Theater degree from Hofstra University. He has been Associate Professor of Music at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor, where he directed the School of Music Opera Theatre, and a full professor and Director of Opera at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music. While at Northwestern, his production of John Corigliano’s and William M. Hoffman’s The Ghosts of Versailles was performed with the composer and librettist in attendance. This production was later mounted by Manhattan School of Music, the first major New York revival of The Ghosts of Versailles since its Metropolitan Opera premiere. He has also staged productions for the Juilliard School, Mannes School of Music, and Indiana University. He is a frequent adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and other vocal competitions.