Oliver von Dohnányi was born in Trenčín, Czechoslovakia, (now Slovakia), into a musical family. He studied conducting at the Prague Academy for Music under Václav Neumann and Alois Klíma, and at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna under Otmar Suitner, taking masterclasses with famous conductors Franco Ferrara, Arvid Janssons and Igor Markevich.
He made his début with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava, in 1979 and continued to conduct this orchestra regularly until 1986, which included many concerts and recordings not only for Slovak National Radio, but also for the Naxos Records Marco Polo imprint, Supraphon, Panton, Verga and Opus labels. From 1978 he worked extensively with the chamber ensemble Canticorum Iubilo, with which he toured Spain, Belgium, Sweden and the USSR.
During 1986–1991, he was principal conductor of the Slovak National Opera, where he enlarged the Opera’s repertoire with the scenic works of Borodin, Puccini, Bellini, Rossini, Smetana and Verdi, as well as conducting the company in an award-winning production of Faust at the Edinburgh Festival (1990). He performed with the Slovak National Theatre Opera ensemble in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Russia and China. Other appearances abroad have included visits to the Salzburg Festival, the ENO (where he has conducted Falstaff and Mefistofele), Opera North in Leeds (Carmen, The Bartered Bride, La Gioconda, Hamlet, Norma), the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and opera houses in Basle, Düsseldorf, Vienna, Zürich and Wexford. He has also appeared with the English Chamber Orchestra and the Yomiuri Nippon SO in Japan. His reputation is based above all on music of the late 19th and 20th centuries, and his recordings include music by Liszt and Rubinstein, Odysseus by Michael Kocáb and an acclaimed performance of Smetana’s Libuše at the National Theatre Prague.
He has won distinctions in a number of competitions including the “Resphigi Competition” in Siena, the “Talich Competition of the Prague Spring” and the Hungarian television conducting competition. His recording of J.Filas opera Memento won the special “Jacob Suchard Prize” at the Salzburg Festival.
During 1993–1996, Oliver von Dohnányi became the principal conductor of the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague. His production enriched the Theatre’s repertoire with the works of Smetana, Dvorak, Gounod, Saint-Saens, Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Prokofiev, and Mozart. He toured Japan in 1995 and 1997 with the extraordinarily successful production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro. Since 1997 he has regularly worked with the English National Opera in London, where he conducted with much success, operas by Verdi (Falstaff) and Boito (Mefistofele).
Since 2000, Oliver von Dohnányi has co-operated intensively with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. He is a regular guest conductor of Opera Leeds, with which he produced operas by Bizet, Ponchielli, Thomas, Smetana (the “Best Production” of 1998) and Bellini (The Theatre Award 2012 and Achievement in Opera 2012). He has also been invited to opera houses in Basel, Zürich, Vienna, Osaka, Kassel, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Oviedo, Naples, Wexford, Copenhagen, London, Prague, Brno among others.
His production of Gounod’s Faust was famous not only in the former Czechoslovakia, but has been highly praised in Hungary, Israel and Great Britain. This production was awarded the Critic’s Prize in the music category at the Edinburgh Festival. He is frequent guest with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in Bratislava. He has also released some recordings with the Capella Istropolitana ensemble and conducted this chamber orchestra at concerts in Slovakia, Italy, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
Oliver von Dohnányi’s other operatic engagements include Goetz’s Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung at the Wexford Festival, Aïda at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Düsseldorf, Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Il Turco in Italia at the State Opera in Prague, The Macropulos Case, Don Carlos and The Bartered Bride at the Janáček Opera Brno, the world premiere of Golem by Hanus Barton, Marco Tuttino’s Vita, Don Giovanni, The Bartered Bride, Faust, Alfano´s Cyrano de Bergerac, Dvořák’s Cantata The Specter’s Bride in Ostrava, La bohème and La traviata in Osaka, The Flying Dutchman in Kassel. Mefistofele in Basle, Rusalka in Zürich, a concert performance of Ernani with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican in London, Tosca and Die Lustige Witwe for Reisopera Enschede, Falstaff and Jenůfa for the Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen, a concert performance of Libuše for the Edinburgh International Festival, Ariadne auf Naxos for the Britten-Pears School, Aldeburgh, Macbeth and Roméo et Juliette for the Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe. He has also conducted a Ballet Evening at the Vienna Staatsoper, Alexander Nevsky at the Teatro San Carlo Naples, Prokofiev’s Cinderella, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the premiere of In the Blue Garden for the Bayerisches Staatsballett, Munich, and Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev) in Zürich, The Bartered Bride for Baltimore Grand Opera and Jenůfa for Málaga Opera House.