Randall Behr, 53; Led 24 L.A. Opera Productions

Times Staff Writer

Randall Behr, who conducted 24 productions for the Los Angeles Opera and served as resident conductor of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, has died.

Behr, 53, died in his sleep Thursday of a heart attack at a hotel in Bloomington, Ind., according to his mother, Colleen Bare of Modesto.

Behr was in Bloomington preparing Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” for an Indiana University opera production scheduled to open Sept. 23. The performance will be dedicated to him, according to university School of Music spokesman Alain Barker.

Los Angeles Opera General Director Placido Domingo, who sang under Behr’s baton in “Madama Butterfly,” “Tosca” and “Otello,” said in a statement Friday that Behr “was truly one of the important figures in the company’s early years.”


“Maestro Behr was a dynamic conductor who worked so well with soloists, the chorus and the musicians of the orchestra, all of whom respected him greatly,” Domingo said. “He will be deeply missed.”

A graduate of University of the Pacific, Behr began an extended association with the San Francisco Opera and its Merola Opera Program and Western Opera Theatre in 1975. He had previously been founding conductor of the Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble in Carmel Valley, Calif., where he had served as an accompanist for several years as a teenager.

He went on to conduct across the United States and in Canada and Europe. He changed the spelling of his name from Bare to Behr because Europeans mispronounced it as bar-ray, his mother said.

In the late 1980s, he was tapped as music director by Long Beach Opera, where he led the first American professional stage production of Richard Strauss’ 1912 version of “Adriadne auf Naxos.” He also conducted productions of Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe” and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and a benefit concert for the company featuring Marilyn Horne.


In 1989, his final year with the Long Beach company, he became resident conductor of L.A. Opera. At the same time, he served as music director of USC Opera. At one time, he had productions running concurrently at each of the three companies, including Strauss’ “Salome” with Maria Ewing for L.A. Opera. He last conducted for the L.A. company during the 1994-95 season, when he led productions of Verdi’s “Otello” and Strauss’ “Elektra.”

His recordings include Tchaikovsky arias, featuring Domingo.

In addition to his mother, Behr is survived by his father, Dr. Grant Bare of Modesto, and brother, Warren Behr of Cambridge, Mass.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial concert at Hidden Valley Music Seminars will be held at a later date.