Alan Payne, Mark Walters and Roy Delp, Don Giovanni, Florida State Opera, 1998.
Long-praised by audiences and critics for the strong insights and keen theatricality of his stage productions, Michael McConnell has, for over three decades, achieved a notable creative presence on lyric stages across the country and from within academic and administrative arenas as well.
The North Carolina native received his musical training at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) studying piano with Olga Conus and graduating with honors in musicology. He spent a year as music critic and staff writer for The Charlotte Observer before returning to CCM, where the study of opera styles and production (with both Roger Brunyate and Italo Tajo) was the chief focus of his graduate training. Production work at the Santa Fe Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Cincinnati Opera among other companies provided early professional experience and direct contact with some of the busiest and best stage directors of the day including Colin Graham, Lou Galterio, Frank Corsaro, James deBlasis and Gian Carlo Menotti plus a trio of notable singers whose attentions had turned toward the area of stage direction: Rosalind Elias, Evelyn Lear and James Atherton, all of whom offered invaluable insight and lasting mentorship.
Not yet thirty, he began a ten-year artistic and administrative association with Lyric Opera Cleveland as Executive Director, bringing the Company to national prominence for its innovative profile in opera and music theater in which promising young professionals were featured each festival season in an eclectic mix of repertoire, old, new, obscure and traditional.
While at Lyric Opera Cleveland, he joined the Voice/Opera faculty at nearby Baldwin-Wallace University’s Conservatory of Music, staging its annual opera production and developing an acting training/workshop that would serve the curricular needs of the voice department as well as the Conservatory’s fledgling, rapidly-growing musical theater program. Subsequently, he succeeded Andrew Foldi at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) where he held the Ralph S. Schmitt Chair in Opera. In 1995, following an acclaimed production of THE RAKE’S PROGRESS (and with CIM’s revised and revamped opera curriculum running at capacity), he joined the voice/opera faculty at Florida State University's College of Music. Again he played a key role in an administrative reorganization of the opera programs resulting not only in capacity student involvement, but also increased visibility and a substantial boost overall in ticket sales for the College’s highly visible, three-production mainstage season. Within three years following his appointment, Florida State Opera, as ranked by US News & World Report in its prestigious survey, placed third among university opera programs in the United States.
Additional opera faculty appointments include positions at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), University of Tennessee (Knoxville) and, most recently, The Eastman School of Music. Opera faculty positions in summer study abroad programs in Italy have taken him five seasons to the Opera Festival of Lucca for CCM and, under the auspices of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, three seasons to Urbania.
His students have been frequent winners of top prizes in major, national singing competitions (including the National Council Auditions of the Metropolitan Opera). They are regularly seen in prominent international and festival settings; in the musical theater world, in regional theaters, national tours, Broadway and Off-Broadway, and on faculty rosters of a number of schools of music across the country.
In addition to much work in the standard repertory, his professional directing credits include numerous productions of lesser-known and world premiere pieces such as Libby Larsen and Bonnie Grice’s MRS DALLOWAY (World Premiere), Berlioz’s BEATRICE & BENEDICT, Agatha Christie’s BLACK COFFEE, Cavalli’s CALLISTO, Gershwin’s GIRL CRAZY; Monteverdi’s THE CORONATION OF POPPEA and THE RETURN OF ULYSSES, Larry Baker’s HAYDN’S HEAD (World Premiere), Milhaud’s LES MALHEURS d’ORPHÉE, Handel’s AGRIPPINA, Luciano Chailly’s PROCEDURA PENALE, Stravinsky’s THE RAKE’S PROGRESS, Weill’s THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s THREE DECEMBERS and Britten’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW.
His work has been successfully mounted by Skylight Opera Theatre, Lake George Opera Festival, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Opera Memphis, Dayton Opera, Knoxville Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, Opera San José, The Mississippi Opera, Memphis Playhouse on the Square and The City Musick among others. In addition he has directed educational programs and tours for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, The Cleveland Orchestra, Opera Memphis and the Cincinnati Opera.
Recent production highlights include L’ELISIR D’AMORE and ALBERT HERRING for Tennessee Opera Theatre, THE BARTERED BRIDE for the Eastman School of Music, IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA for the Shreveport Opera and Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's THREE DECEMBERS for UrbanArias.
Michael McConnell is the recipient of a Cleveland Critic’s Award (THE MIKADO) and Northern Ohio LIVE Award of Achievement Nominations for his production of THE TURN OF THE SCREW, for Lyric Opera’s Mozart Cycle and also its 20th Anniversary Season. He has regularly served as adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, has been a frequent panelist for the Opera/Music Theater Program of The National Endowment for the Arts, and has served on the Board of Directors of OPERA America. His master classes and lectures have been heard at The Cleveland Orchestra, Kent State University, University of Akron, Reinhardt University, Georgia Southern University, Opera San José, Wright State University and University of Memphis.
As a music journalist, he has written numerous articles and reviews for Opera News, The Music Journal, Northern Ohio LIVE and The Charlotte Observer; and he has also been a contributor to OPERA America’s guides to the young singer. He has created supertitles for productions of FALSTAFF, DON GIOVANNI, MADAMA BUTTERFLY, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL, COSÌ FAN TUTTE, HÄNSEL UND GRETEL, DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE (also new English dialogue) and ORFEO ED EURIDICE, among others, for the Dayton Opera, Opera San José, Opera Memphis, Mercury Opera Rochester, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Florida State Opera and the University of Memphis.