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Obituary: Lee Blakeley

Lee Blakeley. Photo: Roy Tan

Best known in the UK as an opera director of imagination and visual flair, Lee Blakeley was a rising star of musical theatre in Europe where he directed the belated French premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris to considerable acclaim in 2010.

Born in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, he studied acting at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and after a spell in the casting department at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, returned to the academy to take its directing course.

It was there he met the director David McVicar, who later invited him to become his assistant on productions for English National Opera, the Royal Opera Company and Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Blakeley would go on to direct revivals of several of those, including Bizet’s Carmen for Glyndebourne Touring in 2002, Handel’s Agrippina (2007) at the London Coliseum, and Gounod’s Faust (2004) and Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (2011) at Covent Garden.

His own productions included Handel’s Clori, Tirsi e Fileno in a promenade staging in London’s Heaven nightclub as part of the 2001 Covent Garden Festival and Dvorak’s Rusalka for Wexford Opera (2007), hailed by The Stage as “a production that would appear a distinguished piece of work on any stage”.

In 2006, he formed Opera-te (Opera Theatre Europe), directing its debut, the European premiere of Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin, at London’s Linbury Studio. The following year he was responsible for the first Scottish staging of Judith Weir’s A Night at the Chinese Opera with Scottish Opera.

In North America, his work was seen regularly at Santa Fe Opera and with Los Angeles Opera, Minnesota Opera, the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Theatre of St Louis, where his production of Verdi’s Macbeth earlier this year won a St Louis Theatre Circle award.

Blakeley’s theatre work included Jessica Walker’s Pat Kirkwood Is Angry, which transferred from the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester to London’s St James Theatre in 2012 and subsequently to New York.

In Paris, he gained a reputation for admired stagings of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods. His other productions at the Chatelet included The King and I and, for the Grand Theatre, Luxembourg, Kiss Me Kate.

Lee Blakeley was born on August 16, 1971, and died on August 5, aged 45. He is survived by his husband, Jonathan Foster.

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