Christopher Keene

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Christopher Keene (December 21, 1946 – October 8, 1995) was an American conductor.

Born in Berkeley, California, Keene studied at the University of California, Berkeley. Associated with the Spoleto Festival from 1968 (and as Music Director there from 1972 to 1976), he was co-founder of the Spoleto Festival USA, where he was Music Director from 1977 to 1980. From 1969 to 1971 he was Music Director of Eliot Feld's American Ballet Company.

In 1969, Keene joined the staff of the New York City Opera, where he debuted the following year with Ginastera's Don Rodrigo (with Salvador Novoa). He was to conduct a great array of operas at that theatre, including the world premiere of Menotti's The Most Important Man (with Harry Theyard, 1971), as well as La traviata, Le nozze di Figaro (with Michael Devlin in the title role), The Makropoulos Case, Susannah, Tosca (with Marisa Galvany), Beatrix Cenci, Faust, Die Zauberflöte (with Syble Young as the Queen of the Night), L'incoronazione di Poppea, Ariadne auf Naxos, Médée (in the Italian version), I puritani (with Beverly Sills), Salome, A Village Romeo and Juliet, La fanciulla del West, Andrea Chénier, L'amour des trois oranges, The Turn of the Screw (with Phyllis Treigle as Miss Jessel), Jay Reise's Rasputin, Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Zimmermann's Die Soldaten, and Stewart Wallace's Harvey Milk.

In 1976 Keene conducted the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's The Hero for the Opera Company of Philadelphia. He also conducted at the Metropolitan Opera during a single season, a double-bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci (with Teresa Stratas as Nedda) in 1971. From 1974 to 1989, he was Music Director of the Artpark Festival in Buffalo, and from 1975 to 1984 held the same post at the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. He was Founder of the Long Island Philharmonic in 1979, and directed it until 1990. In 1976, he led the world premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Bilby's Doll at the Houston Grand Opera.

At the City Opera, Sills named him Music Director from 1982 to 1986, and he succeeded her as General Director in 1989, a position he held until his death. Keene had undergone treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center, and died of lymphoma resulting from AIDS, at New York Hospital. His last performance, at the City Opera, was of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler.

He was seen over PBS conducting The Consul (1977) and Vanessa (1978) from Spoleto USA, and Frank Corsaro's City Opera productions of Madama Butterfly (1982) and Carmen (1984). Keene's discography includes the first recording of Philip Glass' Satyagraha (for CBS/Sony, 1984), and John Corigliano's score to Ken Russell's film, Altered States (on RCA, 1980).


  • "Christopher Keene Is Dead; Head of City Opera Was 48," by James R. Ostreich, The New York Times, October 9, 1995.

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