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Gregorij H. von Leitis
Michael Lahr
 
 
 
The Founders - Gregorij H. von Leitis
 
Gregorij H. von Leitis

studied art history and theater science at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. He also studied acting with Helen von Münchhofen and Herbert Mensching in Munich, and with Lee Strasberg in New York. He has been working for over 40 years at various theaters in Europe and in the United States. In the summer of 2003, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit by German Federal President Johannes Rau for his merits in promoting understanding between peoples by way of art. In 1985 he received, as the first non-American, the New York Theater Club Prize for this direction of Bertolt Brecht's The Jewish Wife.

In 1983, he founded the Elysium Theater Company in New York, which he headed as Artistic Director till 1990, when he was called to be the Intendant (Artistic Director) of the Landestheater Mecklenburg, Neustrelitz. Since 1993 he has been Artistic Director of Elysium - between two continents New York - Munich. Elysium Theater Company specialized in presenting German-language plays in English translation. Many productions were American premieres.

Photo: Gregorij H. von Leitis. © Barbara Schirpke
 
In May of 1984, Professor Volkmar Sander, director of Deutsches Haus at New York University, offered the company a temporary home. There, during the first year, The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau, On the Chimborazo by Tankred Dorst, and The Jewish Wife by Bertolt Brecht were performed. The correspondent of Time Magazine commented on the premiere of Dorst’s play On the Chimborazo: “The acting was of very high quality, and the power of the production as a whole reflected excellent direction as well.”

With the American premiere of Death and the Fool by Hugo von Hofmannsthal on the occasion of the exhibit “Vienna 1900" at the Museum of Modern Art, Gregorij von Leitis began a fruitful cooperation with the Austrian Institute New York (today the Austrian Cultural Forum) which continues to this day. At the time, the New Yorker Staatszeitung wrote: “Through Mr. von Leitis’ untiring leadership, it was possible to get rid of some of the prejudices against German-language drama in this city.”

In 1985, Gregorij von Leitis founded the Erwin Piscator Award Society, which annually confers the Erwin Piscator Award to keep alive Piscator’s heritage and to commemorate Piscator’s important influence on the development of theater on both sides of the Atlantic. Having fled the Nazis, Piscator found refuge in the US and in 1940 founded the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research. He taught a whole generation of American actors and playwrights, among them Marlon Brando, Elaine Stritch, Rod Steiger, Tony Randall, Walter Matthau, Harry Belafonte and Tennessee Williams. His theater productions left a lasting mark on Broadway and to this day influence the Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater scene.

The first award recipient of the Erwin Piscator Award was the Oscar winner Lee Grant. To this day, Gregorij von Leitis is the Chairman of the Piscator Award.

Since 1987, Gregorij von Leitis has been committed to the integration of marginal social groups by way of theater. In 1989, Gregorij von Leitis, with the Elysium Theater Company, created the program Theater for the Homeless: "In a city where high-style but meaningless shows easily cost $50 per ticket, while next door hundreds stand in line to get a little pasta and an apple, it is encouraging to realize, that a theater makes its talents available to people who can't very often get to see a play," wrote the Village Beat in 1990 about the Theater for the Homeless. In 1989 the New York paper Villager wrote: "In the classic tradition of the German avantgarde theaters of Piscator and Brecht, a socially relevant theater exists under the direction of Gregorij von Leitis. Gregorij von Leitis deserves applause for holding fast to his ideals."

Since 1992 Gregorij von Leitis had been active as guest director, first at the State Theater in Linz, later also at the State Theater in Bregenz. In 1998 he produced Kafka's A Report to an Academy at London's Bloomsbury Theater, Viktor Ullmann's opera The Emperor of Atlantis at the Guggenheim Museum and at the Miller Theater in New York, as well as the Italian premiere of Ernst Krenek's chamber opera What Price Confidence? The New York Times wrote about The Emperor of Atlantis: "This production provided a chance to hear this deeply moving opera". Corriere della Sera commented on the Rome premiere of Krenek's chamber opera What Price Confidence?: "The deciding factor in conveying the spirit of this chamber opera is the direction of Gregorij von Leitis".

In his function as director, Gregorij von Leitis prepared, among others, the legendary American soprano Anna Moffo for her role in the German TV series Lorenz und Söhne.

In 1997, he recited the New York premiere of The Lay of Love and Death of the Cornet Christoph Rilke, one of the last works which the composer Viktor Ullmann was able to finish in the ghetto and concentration camp Theresienstadt, before he was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944 and murdered there. Since then, he has performed this composition for speaker and piano internationally in more than 30 cities, among them Berlin, Brasov, Brussels, Coburg, Essen, Kiev, Leipzig, Lodz, London, Munich, Naples, Prague, Rome, Rostock, Salzburg, Sarajewo, Sibiu, Ulm, Vilnius, Vienna, Warsaw, and Weimar. The New York Times praised the strong, moving performance of the Cornet, and called Gregorij von Leitis and the accompanying pianist "effective advocates for this music." The Vienna daily Presse called von Leitis’ presentation of the Cornet “a worthwhile discovery.”

Since 1997, Gregorij von Leitis' work has emphasized staging again the works of composers and writers who had been persecuted and silenced by Hitler's executioners.  In the summer of 2005, he directed the premiere of Egon Lustgarten's opera Dante in Exile in Bernried, and later on in New York. In regard to the Lustgarten premiere, the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote: "Rebirth of a forgotten work of opera (...) under Gregorij von Leitis sensitive direction".
In 1999, David Stone wrote in a report for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research: “It is significant that the German director Gregorij von Leitis, through his drama group Elysium – between two continents, which is based in Munich and New York, has been acknowledged by ex-Chancellor Kohl and many persons distinguished in the arts and politics in Europe and America as an ambassador of Jewish culture.’”

From 1988 to 1990, Gregorij von Leitis taught German-language theater literature at New York University's Deutsches Haus. Since 1994, he has been chairman and artistic director of the International Summer Academy for young singers. With Michael Lahr, he founded the Lahr von Leitis Academy & Archive in 1995, whose president he is. The Lahr von Leitis Academy & Archive has set itself the task of documenting the rich heritage of the writers, composers, and intellectuals, who were persecuted by National Socialism, and who had to flee their homeland.

In addition to his activity as Artistic Director of Elysium – between two continents and the Elysium Festival Bernried, he is also a member of the advisory board of the Nietzsche Forum e.V. in Munich, of the Viktor Ullmann Foundation London, the Jewish Music Institute London, and the Leon Askin Forum Vienna.

It was a special pleasure for Gregorij von Leitis to be invited by the director Martin Scorsese to perform, in his part of the film trilogy New York Stories, the role of the art dealer Blum.

 

On the following pages you find the upcoming events   News and Projects
or Gergorij H. von Leitis .

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