Born in Rochester, New York, Donald Palumbo graduated from Boston University, CLA in 1970, with a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction in Chemistry, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa. After three years of musical studies in Vienna, Mr. Palumbo returned to Boston and began work as a vocal coach and accompanist.
He also resumed the relationship with the Chorus pro Musica that had begun during his college years, and worked and studied with its Founder and Music Director, Alfred Nash Patterson. Upon Patterson’s death, Mr. Palumbo assumed the leadership of the Chorus, and in his tenure from 1980 to 1990 conducted programs of choral music of all periods and styles. Among the major works he conducted with the Chorus were Vaughen Williams’ Sea Symphony, the Bruckner Mass in f minor, the Poulenc Gloria, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle and the Schubert Mass in A-Flat Major. Mr. Palumbo and the Chorus pro Musica worked closely with Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic, performing together at Symphony Hall and at Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions. There were also collaborations with Craig Smith and Emmanuel Music, with Sarah Caldwell and the Opera Company of Boston, and with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Pittsburgh Symphony. During these years in Boston, Mr. Palumbo worked as an accompanist, chorus master and conductor of Artists Internationale in Providence, RI, as well as with the Cambridge Opera, and Boston Lyric Opera.
It was in 1981 that Mr. Palumbo began to expand his national and international role in the operatic world. After serving as Assistant Chorus Master under Maestro Roberto Benaglio at the Dallas Opera from 1981 to 1985, he has been engaged by many of the world’s most prestigious opera houses. From 1983 to 1987 he served as Chorus Master of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he conducted two of the world-premiere performances of Delius’ Margot la Rouge. From 1985 to 1988, he was Chorus Master of the Canadian Opera Company, and from 1985 to 1987 was both Chorus Master and conductor at the Banff School for the Arts Summer Opera Program, leading performances of Argento’s Postcard from Morocco. Mr. Palumbo was Chorus Master at the Opéra de Lyon for the 1988-1989 Season. In 1989-90 he served as Chorus Master at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, at the Dallas Opera, at the Théatre du Châtelet in Paris for the Berlioz Festival (Requiem, La Damnation de Faust, Roméo et Juliette), and at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo.
Mr. Palumbo was named Chorus Master of the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1991 and remained in the position for sixteen years until 2007. In close collaboration with Music Directors Bruno Bartoletti and Sir Andrew Davis, he brought the Lyric Chorus to a position of internationally recognized excellence. In 1992, he prepared choruses for the Rossini Bicentennial Birthday Gala at Lincoln Center in New York. In the spring of 1995, he returned to the Châtelet in Paris for performances of Peter Grimes, and also conducted the Radio France Chorus in a concert of American choral music. In June of 1999 he prepared the Chorus of Radio France for a performance of the Britten War Requiem.
Mr. Palumbo was named Chorus Director of the Salzburg Festival in the summer of 1999, the first American to hold that position. During his three year tenure in Salzburg he prepared the Chorus of the Wiener Konzertvereinigung in performances of Doktor Faust, Don Carlo, Les Troyens, Iphigénie en Tauride, Tristan und Isolde, Jenufa, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, Così fan tutte, and Le nozze di Figaro. In addition, he prepared the Chorus for concerts of the Schumann Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.
In April of 2001 he returned to Paris to conduct the Chorus of Radio France in a concert including choral works of Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Pizzetti and Verdi. In the spring of 2003 Mr. Palumbo was again in Paris to conduct the Chorus of Radio France in works of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Martin, and he prepared the Châtelet Chorus for performances of Jenufa. He returned to the Paris in the Fall of 2003, preparing the Monteverdi Choir and the Châtelet Chorus for critically praised performances of Berlioz’ Les Troyens and Lélio under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner.
Donald Palumbo assumed the position of Chorus Master of the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2007, following guest engagements for performances of Parsifal and Orfeo ed Euridice. At the Met, Mr. Palumbo is responsible for the Chorus’ preparation and performance in upwards of 25 productions each season.
In June of 2014, Mr. Palumbo joined the music staff of the Santa Fe Opera, working with the Apprentice Artists and serving as a musical consultant.