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.
In 1985, Gregorij von Leitis founded the Erwin Piscator Award Society, which annually confers the Erwin 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, Ullman'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 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 20 cities, among them Berlin, Brasov, Brussels, Coburg, Essen, Kiev, Leipzig, Lodz, London, Munich, Naples, Prague, Rome, Rostock, Salzburg, Sarajewo, Sibiu, Ulm, Vilnius, Warsaw, Weimar, and Vienna. 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 Presse in Vienna called 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".
David Stone from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London noted: “It is significant that the German director and dramaturg Gregorij von Leïtis, 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”.”
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, The Lahr von Leïtis Academy & Archive fosters the academic and intellectual exchange between the US and Europe by means of lectures, seminars, workshops and master classes. Convinced, that education and knowledge are the only tools we have to fight against ignorance, hatred, and discrimination, Gregorij von Leïtis increasingly focuses on bringing his educational and artistic programs into schools and universities.
In addition to his activity as Artistic Director of Elysium – between two continents, he is also the Co-director of the Elysium Festival Bernried, as well as 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 the role of the art dealer Blum in his part of the film trilogy New York Stories.