English opera mourns a music director

English opera mourns a music director


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2022

Opera North has announced the death of its co-founder, David Lloyd Jones, at the age of 87. He was a deceptively good conductor, with many recordings to his credit.

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that David Lloyd-Jones, Opera North’s founding Music Director, has died after an illness.

In 1978, David was instrumental in founding Opera North, initially as English National Opera North (ENON), together with George, the then Earl of Harewood, and Graham Marchant, the Company’s first General Administrator. David became the first Music Director of Opera North and its orchestra, the English Northern Philharmonia (which subsequently was renamed the Orchestra of Opera North). During his tenure he established Opera North as a truly distinctive, highly acclaimed national opera company, based in Leeds and proudly serving the whole of the North. He remained in post until 1990.

It was in 1980 that David announced that “the third season of ENON sees the company settling more firmly into the patterns which will eventually become its norm and make its connection with the company at the Coliseum increasingly unnecessary”. A year or so later the connection with ENO was indeed severed and, under David’s leadership, “Opera North asserts decisively that it has left its infancy behind it”.

Known affectionately as “DL-J”, David threw his enormous energy and flair into building a new opera company from scratch. The creation of Opera North proved to be one of the great artistic achievements of the past 50 years in the UK and the pioneering spirit David instilled in the Company remains at its heart today. It was no mean feat to establish a brand new professional chorus and orchestra in Leeds where none had previously existed. “An act of faith’’ is possibly the most eloquent description of this incredible venture, achieved, some might say, against all odds.

Lord Harewood wrote of Opera North in 1979 that “one of the cornerstones is the Company’s ability to take a recognised masterpiece like Figaro or Rigoletto to theatres or buildings not normally associated with opera but capable of theatrical performance and serving an area which deserves it … only in this way will we convince opera’s detractors that this so-called ‘elitist’ art can be planned democratically and convince the public at large that they and the elite are one”. It was no accident that the same year the Company opened a production of The Marriage of Figaro in Barnsley which toured to Scarborough and Darlington before arriving at the Leeds Grand Theatre!

David was the indefatigable powerhouse of the Company and in our first season he conducted no fewer than six productions – Samson et Dalila (the Company’s very first production), La Bohème, The Magic Flute, Hansel and Gretel, Peter Grimes and Figaro.

He had a particular love and deep knowledge of Russian literature and opera, and in 1982 he memorably conducted one of Opera North’s greatest musical achievements with Borodin’s Prince Igor, followed in subsequent years by equally outstanding performances of two giants of the Russian canon, Prokofiev’s The Love For Three Oranges and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

During his time with Opera North, DL-J led a busy concert programme, much of which featured his burgeoning passion for British orchestral music, the fruits of which can still be enjoyed in several recordings in the Naxos catalogue.

A number of us and so many artists who have been associated with Opera North in those early years will recognise his remarkable musical gifts and sophistication, combined with immense experience and a capacity for enthusiasm and curiosity that have taken him through more repertoire, in more genres, than most conductors ever dream of. A professional through and through.

Clearly, David was one of the people who truly defined the special character of Opera North. We wouldn’t be the Company we are today without his fervour, passion and determination, which has taught us all the art of the possible is here to stay.

Even those of us now at Opera North who did not have the privilege of knowing or working with him will recall the name David Lloyd-Jones with huge admiration, respect, love and gratitude.

Richard Mantle
General Director
Opera North


  • Nik says:

    What is a deceptively good conductor?
    Deceptive how?

    • Cecily says:

      A “deceptively good” conductor is generally one who prepares thoroughly and quietly every aspect of the score at home He silently spots trouble spots and weaknesses in rehearsals well before the performance and then works with individuals and small groups until everyone is happy. In front of the audience, he is not over-, showy or self-serving and even appear to be doing very little. But the orchestra and cast feel prepared, confident and secure. That is my experience of a “deceptively good” pair of hands. I don’t know if others agree with me or not.. Cecily

    • slagwerker says:

      The art that conceals art.
      I can only echo Richard’s tribute and add his scholarly work: as Editor of OUP’s William Walton Edition. He will be deeply missed.

    • AndrewB says:

      I guess that means he didn’t necessarily receive the praise due for his conducting and was not attention seeking in his approach as some have been?
      I was in a couple of productions he conducted. He was a fine musician and conductor, meriting great respect. The musical world really needs people like David Lloyd Jones who calmly pursue the highest musical standards when there can be so much chaos in production rehearsals.

    • Juan B says:

      I think what is meant that given his tremendous skill, under normal circumstances he’d be better known and famous. Based on his recordings he certainly should be in the front ranks. Forever grateful for those Alwyn and Bax symphony cycles.

  • Joel Lazar says:

    I saw and heard him at the ENO in the mid 1970s, most notably the splendid production of Prokofiev’s “War and Peace”…and find much to admire in his fascinatingly diverse recordings…

  • Duncan says:

    A fine conductor and, like many other British names, under-appreciated by the powers that appoint chief conductors. I particularly admired his Bax recordings for Naxos. RIP.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    He was very interesting telling the RPS members how he, as a student met Mravinsky in Leningrad and how Mravinsky made time to speak with him.

  • Bartoliney says:

    He left an incredible legacy of recordings on English music on Naxos.

  • Bartoliney says:

    He left an incredible legacy of recordings of English music on Naxos.

  • Paul Anthony Kampen says:

    As somebody taken on by DL-J in 1978 for 24 mainly happy years I was very saddened to hear of his passing. I last saw him in York about five years ago – then still just an older version of the ramrod straight, witty and lively character which I remembered.
    One comment on the Press Statement: Leeds previously had a full time symphony orchestra in the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra from 1947 to 1955. This was axed by what then was very philistine local government (happily, not the case in Leeds today).
    Pre-WW2 full time orchestras were unknown; Leeds had the Yorkshire Philharmonic Orchestra which gave about 35 concerts per year. Its players were drawn from the five large theatres which then existed in Leeds plus freelance musicians. For four years (1932 to 1936) its Chief Conductor was John Barbirolli and it made frequent national radio broadcasts (have a look at the BBC Genome if you do not believe me!)

  • msc says:

    I am grateful to Naxos for letting him record so much.

  • David says:

    On stage, Boris Christoff could perform a spectacular fall from his throne in the death scene of Boris Godunov. But perhaps he was less keen on throwing himself around a recording studio, because the body you hear fall in his second recording of the work is that of David Lloyd-Jones.