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About Chautauqua Opera


About | History | Jay Lesenger | Carol Rausch | Auditions | Employment | Staff 2014 | Facts


Jay Lesenger


General/Artistic Director


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

Lesenger first came to public attention when his production of ANNA BOLENA opened Beverly Sills’ 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’s almost 200 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 since the 1995 season, he has introduced the Chautauqua audience to significant twentieth-century works including VANESSA (Barber), TWO WIDOWS (Smetana) 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 BOHEME, THE CONSUL, THE CRUCIBLE, DON GIOVANNI, THE ELIXIR OF LOVE, FALSTAFF, GIANNI SCHICHHI/SISTER ANGELIA, HANSEL & GRETEL, LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, MANON LESCAUT, REGINA, LA RONDINE, SUSANNAH, THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, TOSCA, LA TRAVIATA, IL TROVATORE, and WERTHER. His critically acclaimed production of Richard Strauss’ ARIADNE AUF NAXOS has been produced by Atlanta, Chautauqua, Virginia, and Milwaukee where it was telecast on PBS from the Florentine Opera.

Jay’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 Jay to be part of the creative team which 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 200th 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 WALKURE 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 Wilson’s THE MUSIC MAN.

Jay 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, among others.

Jay made his European debut directing Puccini’s LA BOHEME for Opera Nordfjord in Eid, Norway. He has since returned to Norway for productions of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO and EUGENE ONEGIN. This fall, he debuts in Germany with a new production of MADAMA BUTTERFLY for Volkstheater Rostock.

Jay holds a Masters degree from Indiana University and a Bachelors of Music & Theater degree from Hofstra University. He is a nationally recognized teacher of acting for singers. 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 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 Julliard School, Mannes School of Music, and Indiana University. He is a frequent adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and other vocal competitions.