This March, we as a nation continue to recognize and applaud the contributions of women to events in history. Conductor Tania León made Michigan Opera Theatre history nearly 40 years ago, when she became the first woman to conduct a main-stage production for the company. Her debut occurred November 12th 1982 in Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1943 León began playing the piano at age 4, and completed her B.A. from the Peyrellade Conservatory in 1963. She moved to New York City where in 1969 she became a founding member and the first musical director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theater of Harlem, establishing its music department, music school, and orchestra. Her ballet compositions for that company include Haiku (1973), Dougla (with Geoffrey Holder, 1974) and Belé (with Geoffrey Holder; 1981).
Tania León has gone on to lead major orchestras around the world including Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, The National Symphony Orchestra of Johannesburg, Beijing Central Conservatory Chamber Orchestra and many others. As a composer she has written over 30 chamber works, 8 orchestral works, as well as pieces for voice and keyboard. León composed 1 opera Scourge of Hyacinths, which was based on a radio play by Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka, commissioned in 1994 by the Munich Biennale. The opera won the BMW Prize as best new opera.
To learn more about MOT's 1982 production of Treemonisha by Scott Joplin, see pages 23-25 of the 1982-83 program book and 121-126 of the production program (p.125 for Leon's artist profile).
Listen to Tania León speak about growing up in Havana, Cuba prior to a Carnegie Hall performance in 2007.
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