German Opera Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff, Known for Janáček Stagings, Dead at 76

By Steve Nagel on Aug 31, 2015 05:14 PM EDT

Opera Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff died last Saturday, at age 76, according the German news agency DPA.  Known most recently for bringing the characters and music of Leos Janáček new life with his directing talent and reviving the creative spirit of the East Sussex Opera House, Expatica reported that Lehnhoff was respected for his "swish, elegant, but always thought-provoking stagings that avoided some of the provocative excesses of some of his more controversial colleagues."

Born in Hanover in 1939, Lehnhoff studied theater and musicology in Vienna and Munich.  Excelling so far as to complete his doctorate, he found work at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin as well as in Bayreuth, and had the prominent distinction of being an assistant to Richard Wagner's grandson, theater director Wieland Wagner.  Despite the honor, Lehnhoff sought to break from the director's shadow, and after a position as assistant stage director, he found his stride in his staging of the Ring Cycle in San Francisco between 1982 and 1985.

Ironically, Lehnhoff's work was recognized for its true-to-form conservatism, staging Wagner as closely to what 19th century audiences might have experienced.  Still to come, his performances of Janáček's operas in the late 80s and 90s were responsible for exhibiting his more experimental side.  They brought the Czech composer's characters (already known for their dark and morbid traits) to the world stage using tactics new to contemporary audiences.  In one instance, to convey the passage of time in Janáček's The Makropulos Case, Lehnhoff arranges for the set to move almost imperceptibly over the course of the performance.

In later years, Lehnhoff spent time as director of the Salzburg Festival and the Glyndebourne opera festival in Britain.  His death has been mourned by various Wagner Societies around the world.

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TagsNikolaus Lehnhoff, Leoš Janáček, Richard Wagner, Wieland Wagner, Ring Cycle

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