Oliver von Dohnanyi studied conducting with Václav Neumann at the Academy of Musical Arts in Prague, and later with Otmar Suitner at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna.
In 1979, he made his debut with the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra. Throughout the 1980s, he was closely associated with that orchestra, as well as with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and the chamber group Canticorum Iubilo. He subsequently turned his attention to opera. From 1986 to 1989, he was chief conductor of the Slovak National Opera and in 1993, was appointed music director of the National Theatre in Prague. He has conducted at the English National Opera and the Salzburg Festival, and has appeared with the English Chamber Orchestra. Dohnanyi's discography includes works by Rubinstein, Liszt, and Smetana.