MA 30 Profiles in Courage: Eve Queler
Eve Queler has been fighting the good fight for over half-a-century. Her first salvo was to aspire to a conducting career at all, in an era during which female maestri were as rare as gorgons, and about as welcome.
A native New Yorker, Queler graduated from the High School of Music and Art and then studied conducting with Carl Bamberger at Mannes College of Music and with Joseph Rosenstock. She became assistant conductor to Julius Rudel at New York City Opera and a coach with the short-lived Metropolitan Opera Studio.
In 1971, she founded the Opera Orchestra of New York, for which she still serves as conductor laureate and which she has by now led in well over 100 operas in concert at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere. Consequently, her conducting career has taken her to opera houses and orchestras throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.
In OONY, however, Queler created much more than a showcase and career springboard for herself. She has long used it as a platform to advocate for what she cares about and her influence has been felt nationwide, even worldwide.
She has continually taken chances on neglected masterworks like Wagner’s Rienzi, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, Smetana’s Dalibor, Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae, and other exotic titles that most opera companies cannot afford to risk in multi-performance stagings. Years before Glasnost and the ubiquitous Valery Gergiev, Queler began introducing then-obscure Slavic operas to the U.S., including Glinka’s Ivan Susanin, Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride, and Shostakovich’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, as well as the first Czech-language performances of Janácek’s Jenufa and Katya Kabanova and Dvorák’s Rusalka, all of which she has helped to nudge into the Western opera house repertory.
Queler has cannily anchored such daring ventures with bankable stars like Montserrat Caballé, Renata Scotto, Marilyn Horne, Carlo Bergonzi, Plácido Domingo, Nicolai Gedda, and Richard Tucker, who have relished the chance to test-drive or reprise juicy but taxing roles in concert. Some of these glamorous artists were actually given early career breaks by Queler, including José Carreras, Renée Fleming, James Morris, Deborah Voigt, and Aprile Millo, which underlines another one of her greatest legacies: her unfailing ear for young talent and her tireless efforts to support it.
These days, thanks to her own yeoman work, Queler is no longer an anomaly among conductors and presenters. Now an octogenarian, she continues to make music, energetically, boldly, and indefatigably. And not just any music: At the helm of OONY’s performances, she provides the kind of increasingly rare, ineffable, visceral thrill that reminds us why we love opera.