Music Director Johannes Debus

Johannes Debus | Orchestra Members | Audio Interviews

German-born conductor Johannes Debus was appointed Music Director of the Canadian Opera Company in 2009, having already established himself in many of the great opera houses and festivals of Europe. Born in 1974 in southwest Germany, Debus spent his early years playing piano, organ, violin, and singing in the cathedral choir. He attended the Hamburg Conservatory where he studied conducting, but it was not until he began work at the Frankfurt Opera as a pianist, coach, and assistant conductor that his interest in opera was sparked. He went on to spend over 10 years with the company, eventually becoming resident conductor there.

Johannes Debus made his COC debut in 2008 conducting War and Peace, about which Toronto Star critic John Terauds wrote “It is hard to imagine anyone doing better justice to the music.” Mr. Debus made such an impression on the orchestra, chorus and company that COC General Director Alexander Neef offered him the position of Music Director almost immediately following his debut: “I realized that we not only had a remarkable talent here, but one who has truly exceptional chemistry with the performers. Johannes has a very rare rapport with the musicians and the whole company,” Neef said. Johannes Debus was officially appointed COC Music Director in January 2009.

In addition to winning the love and respect of his colleagues, Mr. Debus has captivated Toronto and international critics alike in his nearly four seasons since his appointment. Just one example of the rave reviews came during Mr. Debus’s most recent appearance on the COC podium, conducting his first Tristan und Isolde. Toronto Star critic Richard Ouzounian praised Mr. Debus for “[leading] his orchestra masterfully, sending out wave after wave of sound without ever degenerating into bombast…and [infusing] the score with a delicacy that allows us to feel the way that the greatest emotions begin by setting off tiny reverberations in our spirit.”  

In addition to his work on the COC’s mainstage productions, Mr. Debus is passionately committed to promoting and showcasing the musicians of the COC Orchestra. Now in its second year, Mr. Debus created a five-concert mini-festival as part of the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. These concerts allow the orchestra musicians to shine in performances of chamber works that range from Baroque to contemporary. 

When he is not conducting at the COC, Mr. Debus is very active with international engagements that include appearances with the orchestras of Boston, Cleveland and Toronto, at the Spoleto and Tanglewood Festivals, and at opera companies that include San Francisco, Berlin Staatsoper, and Bayerische Staatsoper, among many others. Mr. Debus lives in Toronto and keeps a second home in Berlin. In his spare time, he is an avid runner and cyclist.  

Mr. Debus returns to the COC podium in April 2013 to conduct R. Strauss’s Salome and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and, in the 2013/2014 season, conducts Britten’s Peter Grimes, Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Massenet’s Don Quichotte.  

Johannes Debus’s contract as COC Music Director was recently extended through to 2016/2017.

Photos: (top) Music Director Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra; (middle) Music Director Johannes Debus. Photo credits: (top) Michael Cooper, 2009; (middle) Bo Huang, 2012.