From February 25 through March 11, 2017, conductor Michael Christie will lead Washington National Opera’s new production of Dead Man Walking, composed by Jake Heggie on a libretto by Terrence McNally and directed by WNO’s Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. WNO’s cast includes Kate Lindsey (Sister Helen Prejean), Michael Mayes (Joseph De Rocher), Susan Graham (Mrs. De Rocher), Jacqueline Echols (Sister Rose), and Wayne Tigges (Owen Hart).
Dead Man Walking was commissioned by San Francisco Opera and premiered in 2000, has since been staged in more than 40 productions. It is based on a biographical account by Sister Helen Prejean of her journey as a spiritual advisor to a convicted murderer on death row in Louisiana. Her memoirs also inspired the 1995 film of the same title. London’s The Guardian writes that the opera “makes the most concentrated impact of any piece of American music theater since West Side Story.”
“As Sister Helen Prejean herself has been telling us during the rehearsal process in Washington, there is no more complete emotional telling of this story than what an operatic setting can provide,” says Christie. “Anyone who attends will simply be blown away by the intense performances of this remarkable cast, orchestra and chorus.”
Michael Christie is a thoughtfully innovative conductor, equally at home in the symphonic and opera worlds, who is focused on making the audience experience at his performances entertaining, enlightening, and enriching. The New York Times reports, “Michael Christie is a director open to adventure and challenge,” and the Cincinnati Enquirer declares, “If Michael Christie represents the future of music in this country, the future looks promising indeed.”
Christie, who was featured in Opera News in August 2012 as one of 25 people believed to “break out and become major forces in the field in the coming decade,” began his tenure as the first-ever Music Director of the Minnesota Opera with the 2012-13 season. He has already been re-engaged by WNO for its new production of Aida in the 2017-2018 season.
In addition to these performances of Dead Man Walking, highlights of Christie’s 2016-2017 season include the world premiere performances of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates with Santa Fe Opera, Madame Butterfly with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and engagements with the Sacramento Philharmonic, Charlotte Symphony, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and Grand Rapids Symphony. At the Minnesota Opera he will lead productions of Vicente Martín y Soler’s Diana’s Garden, Charles Gonoud’s Romeo & Juliet, Puccini’s La Bohème, and Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
Deeply committed to bringing new works to life, Michael Christie has championed commissions by leading and emerging composers alike, including Mark Adamo, Mason Bates, Michael Daugherty, Osvaldo Golijov, Mark Grey, Daron Hagen, Matthew Hindson, Marjan Mozetich, Stephen Paulus, Kevin Puts, and more.
In 2011, Christie led the Minnesota Opera in the world premiere performances of Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, which was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Anthony Tommasini praised his “supple pacing and vitality” in The New York Times when Christie led the work in 2013 with Opera Company of Philadelphia. He conducted the European premiere of the opera in October 2014 at the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland, and led the opera again in May 2015 with the Opéra de Montréal.
Other recent highlights include Christie’s San Francisco Opera debut in the world premiere performances of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene; the world premiere of Twenty-Seven, a new opera by Ricky Ian Gordon commissioned by Opera Theatre of St. Louis; and the world premieres of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec’s opera The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King, and Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s new opera, The Manchurian Candidate, at the Minnesota Opera. Notable past performances include highly praised productions of Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, and the North American premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland, all with Opera Theatre of St. Louis; the European premieres of The Ghosts of Versailles at the Wexford Festival Opera; as well as various performances at Opernhaus Zürich, Finnish National Opera, Scottish Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Christie’s nearly 20-year symphonic conducting career has included serving as Music Director of the Phoenix Symphony (2005-2013) and Brooklyn Philharmonic (2005-2010), and as Chief Conductor of the Queensland Orchestra (2001-2004) in Australia, as well as guest appearances leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and the Symphonies of Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota, Oregon, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. Christie’s many European engagements have included leading the Rotterdam Philharmonic, DSO Berlin, Orchestre National de Lille, Swedish and Netherlands Radio Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony, NDR Hannover Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic. In addition, Christie enjoys a strong profile in Australia, where he has conducted the Sydney Symphony, Tasmanian Symphony, Opera Queensland, and the Western Australian Symphony in Perth.
Christie’s New York Philharmonic debut came in 2007 when he stepped in on short notice for an ailing Riccardo Muti, and his Carnegie Hall debut came in 2014 when he led the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the Spring for Music festival. Christie also served as the Music Director of the Colorado Music Festival from 2000-2013, where he was highly praised for his innovative programming and where audiences are now at an all-time high, resulting in him being named “Musician of the Year” by The Denver Post in 2010.
Michael Christie first came to international attention in 1995 when he was awarded a special prize for “Outstanding Potential” at the First International Sibelius Conductors’ Competition in Helsinki. Following the competition, he was invited to become an apprentice conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra where he subsequently worked with Daniel Barenboim as well as at the Berlin State Opera during the 1996-1997 season. Christie graduated from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music with a bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance.
Christie lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Alexis, a physician, and their two children. A licensed pilot for over 15 years, Christie often flies his Mooney Airplane Company single engine aircraft to his conducting engagements across the U.S. He volunteers for Angel Flight Central, flying people in need with serious medical issues to receive care.