James Conlon is a born and bred New Yorker but sunny Los Angeles apparently agrees with him.
The 62-year-old conductor has renewed his contract with the Los Angeles Opera for five more years, and will remain music director at least through the end of the 2017-18 season. The company made the announcement Wednesday evening at an event honoring Conlon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Conlon works closely at L.A. Opera with Plácido Domingo, the tenor who is the general director of the company. They’ll continue to work together: Domingo’s most recent contract with L.A. Opera was set to expire at the end of the current season. But the tenor now has an “evergreen” contract with L.A. Opera that renews on a biannual basis.
Joining that leadership team is Christopher Koelsch, who has been the company’s new president and chief executive officer since September.
Conlon joined L.A. Opera at the start of the 2006-07 season, succeeding conductor Kent Nagano, and has since led more than 190 mainstage performances, more than any other conductor in the company's 26-year history.
He is next scheduled to lead L.A. Opera performances of Wagner's “The Flying Dutchman” and Rossini's “Cinderella” starting next month at the Dorothy Chandler.
“If you had told me that I would love California and L.A., I would never have believed it,” said Conlon in an interview.
The conductor said that he believes in “long-term commitments -- I'm not interested in moving from one job to another in a zigzag career.”
Among Conlon's accomplishments at L.A. Opera are conducting the company's first stagings of Wagner's “Ring” cycle operas as well as championing its “Recovered Voices” series, dedicated to presenting the works of composers whose careers were cut short during the Holocaust.
The program, however, has been absent from the company's mainstage in recent seasons due to budgetary matters. L.A. Opera was hit hard by the recent recession and is working its way back from financial challenges.
Conlon said he is confident the series will return. “As soon as money comes back, it will come back. It's only the money,” he said.
The conductor has spent much of his career in Europe, where he held top positions with the Cologne Opera in Germany and the Opéra National de Paris. He continues to conduct internationally and most recently led a series of concerts with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.
L.A. Opera, the fourth largest opera company in the country, has operated on a reduced schedule of just six productions per season in recent years. In December it paid off a $14-million loan related to the cost of its “Ring” cycle. Next season, it will present seven mainstage productions, including the local premiere of “Einstein on the Beach” by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson.
Domingo said in a separate interview, “The orchestra has improved tremendously under James. He has dedicated a lot of time, and everybody is happy. The atmosphere is great.”
The tenor, speaking from Vienna where he is performing Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra,” said “I'm very happy that we have survived the difficult times. We will, little by little, increase the number of productions.”
The 72-year-old tenor has served as the public face of L.A. Opera since he assumed the role of artistic director at the company in 2000. In 2003, his title was changed to general director.
Conlon has become popular among L.A. opera fans for his energetic talks and lectures. He was recently named a UCLA Regents’ Lecturer and is speaking on the subjects of Verdi and Wagner this month and in March.
On Saturday, he will give a free talk at the Dorothy Chandler to launch “Britten 100/LA: A Celebration,” which honors the centenary year of the late British composer Benjamin Britten.
Conlon grew up in Queens, N.Y., and still maintains a residence in Manhattan. The most recently available public figures for L.A. Opera show that Conlon received compensation of nearly $915,000 for the fiscal year ending June 2011.
Domingo received $1.4 million from L.A. Opera in the same period, plus $50,000 in deferred compensation.
In addition to his duties in Los Angeles, Conlon serves as music director of the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and the Cincinnati May Festival.