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Christopher Keene; Director of New York City Opera

October 09, 1995| From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Christopher Keene, 48, general director of the New York City Opera since 1989, died Sunday at New York Hospital.

The cause of death was complications from lymphoma arising from AIDS, said opera spokeswoman Susan Woelzl.

Keene disclosed publicly in August that he had been HIV-positive for a decade or more. His lymphoma was diagnosed in February.

On Sept. 7, he conducted the New York City Opera's opening night opera, "Mathis der Maler," with verve and energy.

He was applauded long and warmly when he stepped onstage before the performance to make a witty speech about the evening's title role. Two tenors recovering from ailments performed Mathis, one acting on stage and one singing from the orchestra pit.

Keene began his association with the New York City Opera in 1969 as recipient of the first Julius Rudel Award, granted to a young American to develop opera administrative and managerial skills.

Keene, who was born in Berkeley, Calif., on Dec. 21, 1946, conducted, staged and produced his first operas while a student at UC Berkeley.

He became assistant conductor of the San Francisco Opera in 1966 and of the San Diego Opera in 1967. In 1968 Gian Carlo Menotti invited him to the Festival of the Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and he made his European debut there conducting Menotti's "The Saint of Bleecker Street." Keene later became music director of that festival and then of the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. from 1977 to 1980.

He made his conducting debut at the New York City Opera in 1970 with Ginastera's "Don Rodrigo" and conducted more than 300 performances of more than 50 operas for the company, including the world premieres of Reise's "Rasputin" and Menotti's "The Most Important Man."

Always a champion of contemporary operas, Keene was music director of the New York City Opera from 1982 to l986 and was rehired as Beverly Sills' successor as general director in 1989.

Two seasons ago, Keene was treated for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center. He said the AIDS deaths of colleagues and friends and worries about his own health contributed to his retreat to alcohol.

Keene received Columbia University's 1991 Ditson Conductor's Award for the Advancement of American Music and was awarded four honorary doctorates.

He is survived by his wife, Sara Keene of Manhattan; two sons, Anthony and Nicholas, both of Manhattan; a stepdaughter, Gigi Teeley, of Manhattan; his mother, Yvonne San Jule, of Berkeley; his brother, Philip, of Redondo Beach; his sisters, Elodie Keene of Van Nuys and Tamsen Calhoun of Martinez, Calif.; and his companion, Michael Brandow, of Manhattan.

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