Mr. Runnicles was born in Edinburgh and was educated there and at Cambridge. Following a season with the London Opera Centre, he began his career in Mannheim, Germany as a répétiteur, and spent summers assisting in Bayreuth to further immerse his Wagnerian disposition. He spent those early years guest conducting throughout the German repertory theaters and orchestras. In 1988, he made his North American debut conducting Berg’s Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera, jumping in for an indisposed James Levine. In 1989 he became General Music Director in Freiburg, Germany where he remained for three seasons.
In 1990, after two Ring cycles at San Francisco Opera, he was asked to be its Music Director, and began the appointment two years later. Since then, he has conducted at leading international opera houses, orchestras, and summer festivals including Bayreuth, Salzburg, Glyndebourne, Tanglewood and Ravinia. Long associated with the city of Vienna, Mr. Runnicles has conducted many titles and performances for the city’s famed theaters and orchestras, including Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, new productions of Parsifal, Billy Budd and Die Tote Stadt at the Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna premieres of The Fiery Angel and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Volksoper, and most recently a new and acclaimed Vienna premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice at the Theater-an-der-Wien.
Mr. Runnicles’ extensive discography includes complete recordings of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Mozart’s Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Britten’s Billy Budd, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. His recording of Wagner arias with tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin won the 2013 Gramophone prize for Best Vocal Recording, and his recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin was nominated for a 2015 GRAMMY award for Best Opera Recording.
Donald Runnicles is a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and holds honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.