Leopold Hager has become best known for his performances and recordings of the early Mozart operas and other seldom-performed operas by Haydn and Gluck. Hager is also a podium veteran in the purely instrumental realm, but again with strong connections to the music of Mozart and that of other eighteenth century composers. Yet his repertory encompasses a range of composers, both early and modern, taking in the disparate likes of Handel, Smetana, Schnittke, and Helmut Eder. Hager has served as music director or principal conductor of several prominent orchestras, both in the realms of opera and concert music. He has recorded for a variety of labels, including Philips and Vox.
Hager was born on October 6, 1935, in Salzburg, Austria. He exhibited rare talent in his youth, enrolling at the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1949, where he studied keyboard, conducting, and composition. His most important teachers there were Bernhard Paumgartner, Gerhard Wimberger, Cesar Bresgen, and Egon Kornauth. Hager concluded studies in 1957 and accepted the appointment of assistant conductor at the City Theater in Mainz that same year.
Hager left Mainz in 1962, and for the next seven years held brief but important conducting posts: from 1962-1964 he conducted at the Linz Landestheater, in the 1964-1965 season he was conductor at the Cologne Opera, and from 1965-1969 he worked as the general music director in Freiburg.
It was in the following decade that Hager made his greatest breakthroughs: as chief conductor of Salzburg's Mozarteum Orchestra and Landestheater (1969-1981), he not only made significant inroads in Austria and the Germanic sphere, but established a major international career. He debuted at the Met in 1976 with Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, at Teatro Colon in 1977 with Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and at Covent Garden in 1978 with Le nozze. In the late '70s Hager began recording the early Mozart operas for Philips with some of the finest opera singers of the time, including Peter Schreier, Werner Krenn, Edith Mathis, Lucia Popp, Agnes Baltsa, and many others. The complete edition (five operas) was reissued by Philips in 2006.
In 1981 Hager accepted the position of chief conductor of the Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra. He remained active conducting for the remainder of the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries. Hager retired from teaching conducting at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts in 2004.