Emerson Buckley is best remembered as the long-time music director of the Greater Miami Opera and as Luciano Pavarotti's touring conductor. Buckley made many concert tours across the globe with the famous tenor and accompanied him on several live PBS broadcast concerts. Buckley even appeared, as himself, in Pavarotti's 1982 film Yes, Giorgio. But Buckley was also an ardent supporter of contemporary American opera, often premiering important works like the revised version of Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe and Robert Ward's The Crucible, which would become two of the most popular American operas of the mid-20th century. Buckley also conducted orchestral music and was the long-time music director of the Fort Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra. Buckley made many recordings during his career, too, but virtually all are in the operatic realm: several are of the greatest-hits variety, but a half-dozen or more were with Pavarotti and two were groundbreaking efforts that offered The Ballad of Baby Doe (DG) and The Crucible (Albany Records) in what many would claim are benchmark recordings.
Emerson Buckley was born in New York City on April 14, 1914. He studied music at Columbia University, graduating at 22 and immediately accepting his first appointment, conductor of the Columbia Grand Opera. Other such posts, some in ballet and orchestral work, would follow over the next decade or so, but Buckley would eventually make Florida the base of his operations while maintaining ties in New York, where he often conducted at the New York City Opera. From 1950-1973, he was music director of the Miami Opera, and then served as artistic director and resident conductor there until 1986.
Buckley also guest-conducted during his Florida years at the Chicago Lyric Opera and served as conductor of the Seattle Opera from 1964-1975. With the premieres of Baby Doe in 1958 and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Crucible in 1961, both at the New York City Opera, Buckley had become a major presence in the opera world.
In the latter years of his career Buckley began touring with Pavarotti, making particularly notable recordings of concerts given in China and Munich in 1986. Pavarotti in China (now on Kultur Video) featured Buckley and the tenor in repertory of Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, and others, while the Munich disc (also Kultur Video) features more of the same kind of fare. Buckley died of emphysema at his Miami home on November 19, 1989.