Carl J. Ratner’s career includes over two decades of experience as an opera director. He learned his craft assisting directors at major opera houses including Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, Munich Opera, San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, and the Spoleto Festival in Italy, where he worked with eminent composer Gian Carlo Menotti.
He is the recipient of a 2010-2011 Fulbright lecture-research grant to the Russian Federation; he will direct Menotti’s opera The Old Maid and the Thief, lecture on American art song, lead master classes and appear in recital at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music.
In 2010, he returned to Opera Naples to direct The Magic Flute, conducted by Lucy Arner of the Metropolitan Opera. He has previously directed Rigoletto, Madama Butterfly, L’enfant prodigue, and Amahl and the Night Visitors for the company.
In 2009, he served as resident opera director for the Bay View Music Festival, staging a critically acclaimed production of The Marriage of Figaro. His much-admired staging of Madama Butterfly has been presented by Cedar Rapids Opera Opera Theatre, the Battle Creek Symphony, Opera at the Acorn in Three Oaks Michigan, and Bellissima Opera as well as Opera Naples.
Other recent productions include The Marriage of Figaro and La Bohème for Cedar Rapids Opera Theater and Susannah for Dupage Opera Theater. Of his staging of Susannah, the local critic wrote, “The production’s dramatic power owes itself to Carl Ratner’s decisive stage direction which never wavers in getting directly to the point….The stage direction becomes a tool to evoke the richly textured life of a town brimming with activity.”
From 1994 to 1999 Ratner served as Artistic Director of Chicago Opera Theater, staging numerous productions for the company including The Italian Girl in Algiers, The Tales of Hoffmann, The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein, Ariadne auf Naxos, Gianni Schicchi, The Ballad of Baby Doe, Bon Appétit, and Michael Ching’s brilliant sequel to Gianni Schicchi, Buoso’s Ghost. William Shackelford, critic for the international magazine Opera, called his direction of The Tales of Hoffmann “flawless” and stated that his staging of The Italian Girl in Algiers “revealed a genius for comic timing.... Rossini would have approved."
From 1984 to 1993, he was Artistic Director of Chamber Opera Chicago, staging many repertory staples by Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, as well as more unusual fare such as Haydn’s World of the Moon, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, and Lawrence Rapchak’s The Lifework of Juan Diaz, for which Ratner adapted the libretto from the short story and teleplay by Ray Bardbury. Of his staging for the company of Cosi fan tutte, the critic for Opera Monthly magazine wrote, “"I left with a feeling of exultation....[This production] renews [one's] faith in the vitality and immortal relevance of opera for the modern world."
He currently serves as Director of Opera and Associate Professor of Voice for the School of Music at Western Michigan University, where he directs the annual opera production and teaches applied voice, opera workshop, vocal literature, and French and German diction. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in music history from the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and also participated in an internship in opera, dance, and drama production at The Juilliard School in New York City. He earned a Master of Arts in vocal pedagogy at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and his Doctor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the School of Music at Northwestern University.