Publicist  Danny  Newman

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


In these days of full disclosure, it is with pride that I acknowledge my debt to Danny Newman.  Early in my radio career, Newman suggested to me that I interview one of his singers who was appearing at Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Over the next quarter century, the total number of interviews grew to just over 1600, and it was Newman (and his staff) who arranged for many of them.  Besides being on WNIB and later WNUR and Contemporary Classical Internet Radio, quite a few were published in journals and newsletters, including my own magazine, Opera Scene which ran for a year. 

These days, I am happy to be giving new life to many of them on this website.  Some of the previously-published items are here, as well as many which were only used before on the air.  The response from my guests who are still around has been completely positive, and I also get messages from readers all over the globe.  I am sure that Newman is pleased at this success, even though I do not charge anything for browsing the site.

Besides staying in touch with him often during his final years at Lyric Opera, we sat down for two conversations.  This page presents the second of those two encounters.

newmanWhile promoting his book, Subscribe Now!, he wrote a brief synopsis of his path in life which he delivered as he started off his personal appearances.  I asked him to read that onto the tape, which he did with appropriate gusto . . . . .

Danny Newman:    In my sixty-six years in the lively and lovely arts, I have been intensively and often simultaneously involved on the multi-levels of publicity, promotion, management, and entrepreneurship in a wide range of activities, and with artists of infinite variety.  I’ve been in horse opera, soap opera, light opera, comic opera, and grand opera.  I have worked with crooners, pop singers, blues singers, soul singers, band singers, liturgical singers, calypso singers, torch singers, jazz singers, choral singers, and opera singers
a very great number of them.  I’ve been with guitar and banjo strummers, mandolin pickers, and harp pluckers, tap dancers, ballet dancers, soft-shoe dancers, ballroom dancers, modern dancers, adagio dancers, exotic dancers, and folk dancers of many diverse ethnic strains.  I’ve been an actor, barker, script writer, oratorio narrator, modern dance impresario, leather-lunged change of cast announcer, opera lecturer, and musicale conférencier!  I’ve press agented in my time lion tamers, high wall walkers, ventriloquists, mimics, mummers, acrobats, jugglers, mind readers, knife throwers, fire eaters, sword swallowers, magicians, card tricksters, prestidigitators, animal trainers, equestrians, bareback riders, stand-up comics, knock-about comics, sister acts, brother acts, trampoline acts, dog acts and pony acts!  I’ve been associated with movies producers, radio producers, television producers, legitimate theater producers and all their actors, choreographers, directors, and designers.  I’ve come up through those melodramas, musical shows, tap shows, puppet shows, tent shows, carnival shows, sport shows, wild-west shows, circus shows, vaudeville shows, and minstrel shows, even dog shows!  I have done my time with little theaters, big theaters, community theaters, civic theaters, dinner theaters, repertory theaters, resident professional theaters, touring theaters, stock theaters, burlesque theaters, review theaters, Yiddish theaters, variety theaters, cabaret theaters, Broadway theaters, off-Broadway theaters, and avant-garde theaters too!  I’ve labored in the vineyards of symphony orchestras, jazz orchestras, balalaika orchestras, swing-bands, harmonica bands, and brass bands.  I’ve done drama festivals, dance festivals, musical festivals, recital series, and performing arts centers when they came into being.  As publicist, ad writer and once owner of three movie theaters of my own, I count 8,890 films in my promotional background.  I’ve been associated with hundreds of plays, both on tour and in residence.  In my time I’ve performed in the capacities of house manager, concert manager, company manager, stage manager, personal manager, and general manager!   I have functioned as guru for performing arts boards and managements.  I was program ad solicitor door-to-door, telephone subscriptions, salesman, producer, director, advanced road agent, press agent, and playwright agent.  But most of this was before 1961.  Since then for the past thirty-eight years, apart from heartfelt commitment to my own Lyric Opera, Chicagoan association which goes back for me now, more than forty-five yearsI’ve concentrated mainly on building those committed audiences, my euphemism for subscription audiences for non-profit professional performing arts organizations in the United States, Canada, and overseas; in fact on five continents.  Out of this new career, which I admit has been as fascinating adventure for me, has come the book Subscribe Now, originally published in 1977, in use in thirty-one countries that I know of, and now in its tenth printing, if you count the original hard cover edition.  [Both have a huge laugh]  The audience had a terrific laugh after I read this.

Bruce Duffie:    Is there anything you could not promote?

DN:    Well, I probably couldn’t promote conventional commercial products.  I’ve often been asked to promote things in the commercial world, and I’ve invariably shied away from such assignments.  I must feel enthusiastic.  I do feel enthusiastic about the professional performing arts, particularly, and even the non-professional performing arts, which I originally came from.  But there’s something about the theater
about opera, symphony, ballet, vaudeville, circuses, all of those things I describedthat makes me enthusiastic.  Where they have joy I have fun, and I also have more than strong sentiment.  I have a feeling of oneness, of brotherhood with the people of those arts, and I want them to succeed.  I have that feeling of fighting for the lady fairthe lady fair being the artists.  It is as if I’m a knight in my shining armor, and I’m battling for their survival for their good.  It’s been a very serious thing all of my life.

BD:    Then what for you is success?  Is it having a body in every seat?

DN:    The problem of the artist is always thus.  He or she cannot very well go out on the street and grab people by the collar and drag them over and say,
Now look, you’ve got to come and hear me tonight!  You’ve got to come to the performance.  You can’t do that, and we would not want them to that.  We would not ask that of the artists.  But we, who have the stewardship of these projects, we who are their management and see to their promotion, we can do it and we should do it.  That’s our role.  That’s why we’re on board. 

BD:    So you do everything for the artist except perform?

DN:    That’s right.  And if necessary, I can do that, and I have!

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You got a good high C working for you?

DN:    [Laughs]  Well, a little short of that!  Singing is not my forte.  The problem is that I can’t keep the tune except in group singing.

newmanBD:    But you enjoy hearing the tune?

DN:    Oh, very much, yes.  I’m a real aficionado, a devotee of vocal music particularly.  I love the voice.  It is something which I cultivated, or was cultivated for me in childhood when I began to hear voices of these marvelous cantors that we had sixty or seventy years ago.  They were some of the greatest voices you can imagine, and I was so captivated by their
cantorlation and the magnificent vocal prowess that it affected me for my entire life.  There was no question that I was pre-ordained, that I would become deeply interested in opera and in concerts, anything where the voice was concerned.  I have presaged in hundreds of concerts, many of them vocal artists doing recitals in Orchestral Hall in the 1940s and 1950s.  These showed some of the great opera singers doing something which is rare today because the audience for that somehow has withered away.

BD:    Is it your job to help ensure that the audiences come, or to make sure that the audiences that want to come, always come?  Also, are you trying to find new audiences, or trying to keep and cultivate the audiences that you have?

DN:    Always!  I am a special pleader for enthusiasts, a promoter for the subscribed audience.  These are the people who commit themselves to attend regularly, who in effect sign contracts with us many months before the season begins, guaranteeing that they will be present, paying their money a long time in advance.  These are the people who, because of this regular attendance, develop into the kind of audience which we really need in the arts, which we want in the arts.  These are the people who not only pay for their subscriptions in advance, but they are the people who can contribute millions and millions of dollars in addition because they come to love what we do.  They believe in us, and we become more and more important to them as the season-adherence continues as part of their way of life.  I’ve seen this tremendous development in the United States.  The same could be said for Canada across the border, and it’s not that much different than many places overseas.  I have helped with projects in audience building on five continents.  Things are not that much different in other places.

BD:    So the only ones you have left to get are the penguins in Antarctica!  [Both laugh]

DN:    That’s true.  You have to go after them, of course!  They have beautiful suits.

BD:    That’s right, they’re always dressed!

DN:    Like opening night, they look like they’re in full dress all the time in their tuxedos!  [More laughter before returning to the topic]  In this society, as recently as forty years ago there were only four resident professional theaters in the entire United States.  Now we have 400!  We also have a considerable number across the border to the north in Canada, and this due to the concept of subscription having become recognized, and the knowledge of how to promote it having become widespread among the people who manage the stewardship for the ballet companies, the opera companies, the symphony orchestras, and the resident professional theaters.  I call them
residential professional theaters, by the way.  I do not use the terminology of the New York journalists, who call them ‘regional theaters’.  I consider this ‘regional’ business a perjorative of designation, meaning really west of the Hudson, out there, provincial!  They feel that nothing really important happens in those hinterlands!  This is nothing against New York.  I recall at one time in the 1970s where I had thirty-three projects on simultaneously in New York City alone, where I was building subscription audiences for all kinds of arts organizations.  I really have good feelings about New York, however they have this patronizing attitude, shall we say, and I have constant polemics about it with certain people in the arts.  As a matter of fact, for them some very important and large arts organizations all over the country weren’t important.  They weren’t larger and as far as New York was concerned, they didn’t exist!  But their existence became important, and they became large because they developed great subscription audiences.  Some symphony orchestras might have to be told by me that subscription is a good idea.  They are the only on-going arts entities of our society that seemingly always had such a reputation.  You can go back a hundred years.  The big problem for them was that as they entered the 1950s and 1960s they had the concept and they had the structure, but they had very few subscribers.  The smallness of audience was remarkable in a very great number of the symphony orchestras, even in some pretty big cities, so we moved into that situation greatly in the ‘60s and heavily in the ‘70s, and made an enormous change in that.  Symphony orchestras which had for a generation three or four thousand subscribers, suddenly seemingly overnight had 25,000 or 35,000 subscribers.  In Toronto and Vancouver, we got to 43,000 or 45,000 subscribers, and even some of the big five orchestras weren’t so well off with subscription.  They’re all much better off now, and what precipitated their willingness to promote.  You see, they were the old-line arts organizations, rather snobbish in certain senses, and they were originally not too happy about having to even be caught in the stance of convincing somebody to subscribe to their orchestra.

BD:    They thought that you should come automatically?

DN:    That’s right, and if you didn’t, well, it was just as well because you might not be the person of the type of blue blood who you would want to sit next to you at a performance.  They had to get over that, and they did, mainly because the musicians revolted in the ‘50s and ‘60s all over North America because they had very short seasons.  They had insufficient employment.  They had children who wanted to go to college like everybody else’s children, and they turned, tragically in a sense in so many cases, to the only people in our society who really wanted to have good music in their communities
— the managers of those orchestras and the board membersand they said, You are our enemy!  There was a very painful situation which went on for some years, but once the floodgates were open and so many thousands of new subscribers materialized in so many places, they were able to give the musicians what they wanted, which was longer seasons, fuller employment, better wages and better conditions.  They were even able to convince the conductors to be less tyrannical, which was part of the demand the musicians were making, along with the economic demands.

BD:    So, are you the savior of the performing artist?

DN:    Well, it has been said that I am, but I don’t take any special credit for myself.  I give great credit to a visionary man, who brought me into this picture.  He is unfortunately no longer alive, but his name was W. McNeil Lowry, the Vice President and the Founder of the division of humanities and arts of the Ford Foundation.  It was the Ford Foundation which recruited me to spread to the entire country the concepts which I was using specifically in my own projects.  They asked me to teach others and I said I would try!

W. McNeil Lowry Is Dead; Patron of the Arts Was 80
Published: June 7, 1993, The New York Times  [Text only.  Photo from another source.]

W. McNeil Lowry, a former vice president of the Ford Foundation who made that institution a major supporter of the arts, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 80.

The cause was cancer of the esophagus, said his wife, Elsa.

Through his efforts, Mr. Lowry (whose full name was Wilson McNeil Lowry) helped make the Ford Foundation America's largest nongovernmental arts patron and the first foundation to support dance. The effects of his cultural campaigning were so great that Lincoln Kirstein, a co-founder of the New York City Ballet, called him "the single most influential patron of the performing arts that the American democratic system has produced."

lowryMr. Lowry joined the Ford Foundation in 1953 to head its education program. He became the director of its arts and humanities programs in 1957 and vice president in 1964. After retiring from the foundation in 1974, he was in demand as an arts consultant, and from 1988 to 1991 he was president of the board of the San Francisco Ballet. Although Mr. Lowry, who was familiarly known as Mac, could seem mildly professorial in manner, he proved to be tough-minded and strong-willed. Modest Grants, Then Expansion

Under his guidance, the Ford Foundation began to support the arts in a modest way. Yet many of its early grants were important. A grant of $105,000 in 1957 enabled the New York City Opera to present a season of American operas, and another of $210,000 that same year to symphony orchestras across the country went toward the commissioning of 18 new symphonic compositions.

The foundation expanded its arts program in 1962 with grants totaling $6.1 million to nine nonprofit repertory theaters. Later grants went to writers, film makers, art schools and conservatories of music. In 1967 a Ford grant helped establish the Negro Ensemble Company.

In 1963, believing that dance was an underfinanced art, Mr. Lowry spearheaded a project through which more than $7.7 million was shared by eight ballet organizations: the New York City Ballet, its affiliated School of American Ballet, the National Ballet in Washington, the San Francisco Ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Utah Ballet (now Ballet West), the Houston Ballet and the Boston Ballet.

No foundation had ever supported dance on such a scale. Yet far from inspiring elation, the grants were greeted in some quarters with dismay. Supporters of modern dance complained that their idiom had been ignored. From within ballet itself came a second charge: that the leaders of the regional ballet groups had been connected at some point with either the City Ballet or with its principal choreographer, George Balanchine, when he was associated with other troupes.

Although debates raged over the foundation's choices, Mr. Lowry's subsequent policy decisions helped make up for any lapses of 1963. Modern dance eventually received Ford Foundation support; so did companies including American Ballet Theater and the Joffrey Ballet. Moreover, the precedent of the Ford grants inspired corporations and other foundations to aid dance in their own way. Roots in the Midwest

Mr. Lowry took criticisms seriously, if philosophically. Typically, in 1973, he said: "There is no way to be in this post without getting both plaudits and criticism, sometimes intemperate and inaccurate. I don't mind being put under the villains. I can look at myself in the mirror and see a villain."

No matter what the artistic field, Mr. Lowry encouraged activities across the nation. He explained why in a 1962 interview in The New York Times: "I suppose the fact that I was born 80 miles from the exact geographical center of the United States has given the foundation's program a grass-roots approach."

The place to which he referred was Columbus, Kan., where Mr. Lowry was born on Feb. 17, 1913. He received his bachelor's degree in 1934 and his Ph.D. in 1941 from the University of Illinois, where he taught English from 1936 to 1942. In 1936 he married Elsa Alberta Koch.

During World War II, Mr. Lowry served on active duty as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve and as a writer for the Office of War Information. He then embarked on a journalistic career. He was editor of The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News in 1946 and 1947; chief of the Washington bureau of the Cox Newspapers from 1947 to 1952, and associate director of the International Press Institute in Zurich in 1952 and 1953. Before his wartime service, Mr. Lowry edited Accent, a literary journal, from 1940 to 1942, and over the years he contributed to publications including The New York Times Book Review, The Reporter, The Progressive, Antioch Review and Educational Theater Journal, among others. Encouraging Collaboration

After leaving the Ford Foundation, Mr. Lowry helped organize conferences for the American Assembly, which had been established at Columbia University in 1950 as a public-affairs forum. He edited "The Performing Arts and American Society," a background volume for the American Assembly of 1978, and wrote "The Arts and Public Policy in the United States" under the assembly's auspices in 1981. In 1975 he directed a study of the arts in America for the American Council of Learned Societies.

During his earlier years at the Ford Foundation, Mr. Lowry urged arts organizations to develop strong boards of directors, but he became increasingly dismayed by the way boards began to usurp the prerogatives of artistic leaders. One reason he agreed to head the San Francisco Ballet's board was to demonstrate how a company's artistic and managerial staffs could work together harmoniously.

Mr. Lowry was given a special Tony Award in 1963 for his support of American theater. Other honors include an ANTA Award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award, the Association of American Dance Companies Award, the Capezio Award, the American Association of University Presses Award and the John F. Wharton Theater Award.

He is survived by his wife and a son, Harrison Graham Lowry of Purcilville, Va.

BD:    Is there a difference in promoting a subscription audience for the opera, for the symphony, for the theater, for the ballet, for the circus, or is it just the same kind of promotion of a subscription audience?

DN:    In the larger sense the same principles apply, however, of course, they have to be treated differently because they are different.  What they have to offer is different, and for that we need to discuss the promotional methodology involved.

BD:    What are some of the basic principles of this methodology?

DN:    One thing is that I have used very greatly the opportunity provided to us by the third class postal privilege called ‘not for profit’, enabling us to mail brochures into millions of homes at something at a third of the cost of commercial mailers.  Direct mail has been one of the most important weapons in my armory.  The government doesn’t subsidize the arts in our society.  You could say, yes, the national endowment does, but we all know...

BD:’s a pittance!

DN:    Right.  Take the case of almost any arts organization in our society, big or small.  The most they can get is probably about 2.5% of their overall operational costs in governmental subsidy on federal, state and municipal levels combined!  That’s about it.

BD:    Should the government do more, or should the private sector pick up the tab?

DN:    In our society we have had to find our way.  For so long there was not even 1%.  There was no government subsidy.  The 2.5% is only a new thing of the last thirty or thirty-five years.  Remember there were no state arts councils.  In 1961 there were only two states that had an arts council.  They were all municipal arts organizations or branches of government.  Only about thirty-five years ago did the federal subsidy come into being really because of the prodding of the Ford Foundation Theater Communication Groups, which proved that you could change the reality, which wasn’t such a good reality in those days.  They greatly encouraged those people who wanted to help, but there was always a great prejudice against governmental support for the arts in our society, and I don’t think it’s entirely subsided.  People who feel that way say,
You must not use tax monies, which is everybody’s money, to support the arts because everybody doesn’t want to support the arts!  So I answer, “What about the public schools?  There are people who don’t have children, and they don’t begrudge their taxes being used for public schools!  Why don’t we begrudge the money for use of police stations?  Not everybody uses the police station every day, but we have to maintain them.  We have to have a fire department!  We have to look at it really as they do in most other places, where the arts are a part of the educational process of the whole society.  It’s looked at that way, and therefore nobody begrudges that government spends tax monies on it.

newmanBD:    Are we getting more to the point where the general public
even the non-participatory publicis becoming proud of the performing arts?

DN:    Oh yes, because you see we now have cadres of a considerable size which we didn’t have before.  For instance, if you have a middle-sized city now, a couple of hundred thousand people are subscribing in one way or another to the arts and going regularly.  This is a substantial strength which we never had before.

BD:    It’s a big voting block!

DN:    Yes, oh yes, it is politically active.  It’s very important!  Many years ago I pointed out a situation of a small dance company
— really not so small, a pretty good sized onethat appealed for a governmental grant and couldn’t get it.  But in this middle-sized city overnight it got 10,000 subscribers, and this happened to be in a thinly populated area where 10,000 votes could swing an election!  So when the manager of the company addressed himself to the granting body along those lines and he said, I have 10,000 subscribers who will want to know why we can’t pull up the curtain if we can’t get the financing we need!  All of a sudden the governmental body gave in.

BD:    Money materialized!

DN:    Money materialized, and so in effect we have achieved some kind of political strength.  I’m not saying it’s overwhelming but we never had it before.  We have it because we have people going to the arts, loving it and supporting it privately.  The ideal would be that the arts should be supported like a table being held up with four legs
— the private individual, companies, foundations, and government.  One of those legs happens to be the biggest leg right now, and has been just about everywhere in our society, and that is the private individual; not companies, not foundations, not corporations and certainly not government.  The biggest single source of contribution is private contribution to the arts.

BD:    The people who buy the tickets?

DN:    Yes, the people who go, or people who may themselves not go but who are greatly impressed by the fact that some of the other people are going.  This is a great argument with companies, corporations, foundations and so on, who wouldn’t be so enthusiastic by giving money when nobody was going, which was the great problem of fundraising for the arts in our society for about a hundred years.  Because we were constantly trying desperately to get people to give money to something that hardly anyone was going to, it’s not logical.

BD:    So you’re trying to change the arts from being more elitist to more populist?

DN:    Absolutely!  I consider that we have democratized the attendance of the arts, and this democratization was, in a real sense, opposed not that many years back by the people who ran arts organizations.  They could point to me and say proudly that they didn’t have too many performances and I think they should have a lot more, but that’s my opinion, and they don’t know if that could ever happen.  But of course, it did happen!  They said they were not so sure if that would be so wise because attendance at the ballet is not everybody’s cup of tea.  They said to me,
“There are only certain people who have had this kind of upbringing!  We learn this with our mother’s milk!  We come from homes which held these values high.  You can’t say this about most of the people who are around us!

BD:    Culture for the cultured class!

DN:    Yes!  People even wrote letters to The New York Times bitterly complaining when we had this tremendously successful campaign overnight for the George Balanchine’s New York City ballet, which had no subscriptions at all and which had very short seasons.  Some of the dancers probably had to work in bargain basements for part of the year because the Company could not sustain them.  The old-line goers were used to getting the best tickets in the house at the last minute.  They didn’t have to make any advance preparations.  There were no subscriptions, and now suddenly we had 23,000 subscribers overnight, and all of the best seats were in the hands of the subscribers!  The old-line goers came and they had to take the leftovers, and they were very angry.  They flooded The New York Times with letters of protest.

BD:    It never occurred to them though to become subscribers and get the good seats?

DN:    No, they were the last to subscribe.  They did not want to.  They thought it was an insult to them, and that the idea of taking these people off the streets and turning them into lovers of the dance was ludicrous to them.  They wrote in their letter,
These people are going to come and they won’t know when to applaud.  They’ll applaud in the wrong places and they may even bring their lunches in brown-paper bags and eat in the theater!  They were having these dire forebodings.  One man wrote to Clive Barnes, who was then the dance editor of The New York Times, and said, I’m not embarrassed to say that when it comes to the arts, I am a snob!  This idea that you can take these strange people off the street and turn them into appreciators of the arts is absolutely ridiculous!

BD:    Have they since come around and thanked you for saving their companies, and saving their performances?

DN:    Not the old-line goers, but the people, the Trustees, the managers, and of course the new generation of goers did.  Yes, they have shown great appreciation.  The American Symphony Orchestra League tendered to me the Gold Baton (1984) which before me they gave to Eugene Ormandy (1979) and Leonard Bernstein (1959) and Aaron Copland (1978).  [Others include the Ford Foundation (1966),  AT&T (1967), Leopold Stokowski (1968), Maurice Abravanel (1981) Morton Gould (1983), William Schuman (1985) Isaac Stern (1987), Robert Shaw (1988), Robert Ward (1991), Pierre Boulez (2000), Michael Tilson Thomas (2003), Leonard Slatkin (2005), and many other individuals and organizations.  (Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.)]  I’m not a conductor, I am not a composer, I’m a theatrical press agent.  It is a really wonderful thing that happened.  Then Opera America honored me, and the Association of American Dance Companies has honored me, and the theater companies...  My walls are covered with plaques and all that sort of thing.  I cannot say that my work has gone unappreciated.

BD:    Is it fair to say that without you the theaters would not still be surviving?

DN:    Well, many of them would not have come into existence.  We’ve had enormous proliferation of arts producing organizations, and they came into being with the momentum of the subscription revolution.  It was a revolution in the way in which people attended and the numbers in which people attended.  What we have now is more than a cadre.  We have a growing audience which, compared to the majority of the population, is still a minority, but nonetheless, it’s more than we ever had.  And these are knowledgeable goers, people of some discrimination, some discernment, and certainly a great appreciation of what it is we do in all of these various arts.  I’m very proud of that.

BD:    So is your work finished?  You don’t have everyone subscribing, so do you want ever more subscribers?

DN:    I have to tell you this to be fair.  There are some dissenters, particularly in very recent years.  I call them ‘the subscription revisionists!’  These are people who say that times have changed and I am an old fuddy-duddy!  They say that the subscription revolution was fine in its time, and we did have great benefits from it, but people’s lifestyle has changed.  They no longer have the time to go to all of these events.  There’s such a competition for their time and for their attention, and so on. 

BD:    How do you respond?

DN:    I respond by saying that forty years ago they told me exactly the same thing!  If there is such a competition, how can Lyric Opera of Chicago now have 36,000 season subscribers?  I give great credit to my dear colleague, Susan Mathieson, who for the past ten years has taken on the entire burden of all the promotion for Lyric Opera.  She’s done a brilliant job.  How is it all possible?  We have many theater companies and many arts companies which have very large subscriptions.  Look what has happened to this!  Let us say a new resident professional theater began twenty-five years ago, and it built a considerable audience of regularly attending people on series tickets who went to the six or seven plays a year.  They renewed year after year, and new people came and they renewed.  Now with time, the people who ran that project changed.  Since it began, they may now have their fourth or fifth artistic director.  The man who has inherited it didn’t build it like his predecessors did.  He inherited it, and it’s a wonderful thing.  They built a building or maybe they have two buildings now!  They’ve had thousands of subscribers who are also heavily contributing towards the company.  They have prestige.

[From Broadway World, June 27, 2013 (text only, photo from another source)]

Susan Mathieson Mayer, director of Lyric's marketing and communications department for the past twenty-five years, has chosen to leave her current position at the end of 2013, Lyric's general director Anthony Freud announced yesterday.

Mathieson Mayer will work as an independent marketing and communications consultant for a variety of organizations. She will retain an association with Lyric, consulting on media-related and marketing projects.

mathieson"It is an honor to work for this great company," Mathieson Mayer said. "However, I now want flexibility in my professional career so that I can spend more time with my husband, Friedrich Mayer, who is retired."

Freud said that the appointment process to recruit Mathieson Mayer's successor is well underway with an announcement expected within the next several weeks.

"Susan has earned an international reputation for arts marketing and is widely acknowledged as one of the leading practitioners in the field today," Freud said. "She has made a major contribution to the company during her tenure, and will be greatly missed by her colleagues, Lyric's Board of Directors, and the artists. Just as Susan had big shoes to fill when she succeeded the legendary Danny Newman, so too will Susan's successor."

Mathieson Mayer joined Lyric in 1988 and has the distinction of completely selling out the season for sixteen consecutive seasons (1989/90 through 2004/2005) - a record unequaled in the performing arts field. With its 25,000 season ticket holders, Lyric remains a leader in subscription sales and audience development. Because of Lyric's expanded programming and effective marketing, Lyric just announced a 15% increase in attendance for its 2012/13 season over the previous season.

Mathieson Mayer has spearheaded a wide variety of audience-building initiatives for Lyric, as well as numerous high-profile branding projects for the company, including the 2011 advertising campaign "Long Live Passion," which featured Lyric's creative consultant and superstar soprano Renée Fleming; the naming of the Lyric Opera Bridge; and a series of Lyric Operathon fundraising posters that featured celebrities ranging from Michael Jordan to Bono.

In 2000, Mathieson Mayer was named one of the country's Top 100 Marketers by Advertising Age- the only professional in the arts to be nominated.

Prior to joining Lyric, Mathieson Mayer headed her own arts marketing firm. She was also director of marketing for the arts festival of the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver, where she sold out 102 of the 106 events. While at the Vancouver Symphony in the 1980s, she built the subscription base to 42,000 - at the time, the largest orchestra subscription audience in the world.

BD:    So this new management has to maintain and enhance what you have done?

DN:    Right, but the management says,
They’ve given me this Rolls Royce to drive now, and I have my own ideas.  Mr. Newman said there were certain rules, and I don’t agree with those rules.  Those rules had to do a great deal with the fact that if we offered subscribers 75% conventional repertoire, traditional, solid stuffChekhov, Shakespeare, Euripides, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller — and then there are two young playwrights the director believes in.  Nobody ever heard of them, but the director believes in them and wants to do their plays.  Fine.  The majority will carry the minority, and if the majority gets a good part of what it wants, it will tolerate the new things and may even come to like the minority pieces.  This is what I’ve always counted on.  But the new blood says, We want to do all esoteric works.  Why follow these rules?  We’re rich, we’re powerful, we’re successful.  Everybody loves us.  We’re prestigious.  So they break the rules, and after a couple of seasons of abuse of their standpoint, the subscribers exact revenge.  They may refuse to subscribe, which is the most horrible thing that can happen to a nice organization.  So then they call me up and say, We have made a terrible mistake.  Our predecessors before us, all these years, have been concentrating on building these subscription audiences.  What we have to do is get rid of subscription audiences.  These people, the subscription audiences, don’t understand the greatness of my arts.  They cannot see my vision, and therefore the future will be with the single ticket-buyers.  The single ticket-buyers are why we only had four theaters, you understand!  The single ticket buyers will betray you every time.  They have no loyalty to the project.  They won’t give you any contributions.  They buy you like groceries, or like gasoline at the gas station when you need it for convenience!  They don’t understand what we do for the youth. They have no feeling for what our institutions stand for.  So then the more they do that, the more insistent the public gets, and they say that’s the fault of subscription.  Of course overwhelmingly we have the affirmative people who believe what I believe, and with good reason.

BD:    So do the companies that want to go back to single ticket-buyers wither and die?

DN:    Yes, or worse than that.  In the arts, the situation is such that companies can wither but not die.  So they remain a constant whining problem, going around with their hat in their hands begging people to give them the wherewithal so that they can pull up the curtain for the next season.  I have a different vision.  My vision has been vindicated by arts organizations that are so publicly successful, that have so many thousands and thousands of people who want to go, and do go, and who find pleasure in them.  Audiences will grow in their perceptions in those arts, and I believe that they are still the way for our future.

BD:    Is there a place at all for experimentation?

newmanDN:    Yes, within the framework as I described.  You must understand that if I have two experimental plays or operas or ballets in a season of eight events, which is 25%, the majority of people who attend tolerate the minority of new items, or better still even comes over a little their side.  Then we can go on.  That is generally accepted and understood, though some people don’t like that system.  They would like to have all eight completely conventional and traditional.

BD:    And there are some who want eight completely novel!

DN:    Yes, however they know that if they have that we couldn’t exist.  Also, an arts organization, whatever the art is, can have two elements in its repertoire which are very special, very experimental, different, esoteric.  They could be something new, or they could be even something from the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries that nobody ever produces.

BD:    A ‘resurrected piece’!

DN:    Yes, one usually not produced because it was never successful in the past.  But because the present artistic direction has ideas, they might do a better job.  Anybody can try again.  That’s a reasonable stance.  So what happens is that those experiments have a basic audience of 25,000 people.  If you try to do them on their own strength, you couldn’t get a corporal’s guard to attend!  So this is a tremendous boon for the experiments because they get the weight of the subscription audience, which is really giving them every chance.  There are many different kinds of works which I would classify as esoteric.  They could be classics but just not popular, works which have never been really that widely accepted.

BD:    When they hear an odd piece I have played on the radio, people will often call and ask why we haven’t heard this in a hundred years.

DN:    We get letters of this type containing certain elements of the repertoire.  But remember, as far as Lyric Opera’s concerned, our system for some years has been to do eight operas in our mainstage season, not eighteen, not twenty-eight.  So we have certain limitations.

BD:    I feel you have handled the balance very well during all these many seasons.

DN:    Overall, I really think that Lyric Opera is a wonderful example of sound management and sound artistic direction, bearing in mind all of the checks and balances which must be taken into consideration.  We had twenty-five years with Carol Fox, who established the character of the company as one with great artists of the world were expected by the audience.  Then we had another large number of years by Ardis Krainik, who carried on that tradition and also entered more enthusiastically into the twentieth-century concept!  We would  always do certain more special things.  What was a little deceptive is that we always did them!  If you go back to the Lyric’s first season, 1954, we did The Taming of the Shrew by Giannini.

BD:    And Lord Byron’s Love Letter (Banfield) the following year, and The Harvest (also by Giannini) in 1961.

DN:    We always did esoteric works, except we didn’t talk about it.   We just did them, and the audience would accept it.  It’s true that once we boasted about it, the people began to become more conscious and they’d worry about it more!  But we weren’t doing anything that much different than today.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    We’ve talked quite a bit about Lyric Opera and about current things, so let us shift back to your early days.  Tell me about your experiences in the infantry.

DN:    Just today backstage I talked to one of the stage directors who’s from France, and he told me just a week ago he was at Omaha Beach in Normandy where I landed in 1944.  I was a replacement for a rifleman who had been killed.  I was rifleman in the American Infantry with the 30th Division of the 20th Infantry Regiment.  It’s a very difficult thing to be a rifleman in the infantry, very unhappy, very unpleasant, very difficult, very painful, very injurious.  I was wounded three times.  I lasted well through Normandy, central France, northern France into Belgium, into Holland, into Germany and then back to Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge, which was very cold I can tell you that.  We went for probably couple of months and I was never ever indoors.  The ground was like ice so you couldn’t dig a foxhole, which you really needed to save your life, but you couldn’t dig it because the ground was so resistant.  I cannot say that I loved being in the army or being in the infantry, but it had to be done.  As they say, somebody had to do it.  It was my generation’s turn and we did it.  We had good fortune that our successors some years later in Vietnam did not have.  We were the ‘good war’, so that nobody was unhappy with us.  We had the support of the country, and we treated as heroes upon our return.  I understood very much the pain of the Vietnam veterans so many years later.  I think I was equipped for the infantry because you have to be able to walk, you have to march.  You have to carry everything you need on your back
75 pounds or more of equipment.  You have to cover a lot of distance, and stop and fight in the middle of all this.  It’s a nightmare, but nonetheless I survived it, and I was equipped for it in a sense because I was a press agent.  I could walk very well, I could run very well, and move very well.  As a press agent I was always nimble in more ways than one, and so I really felt that I was equipped.  I served in the North Carolina Division where most of the soldiers were country boys who were used to shooting squirrels and living outdoors all their entire childhood.  I was a city-boy, born into apartments, and yet I stood up physically amazingly well, often ended up carrying the packs of and the rifles of the country boys who unfortunately broke down.  So I’m pretty proud of my city-boy background, and I feel that being a press agent somehow helped me.  I entered the army at the age of 25, between 24 and 25, and I had already been working in the theater for a full ten years.  I began my work as sort of a child prodigy as a press agent and theatrical manager at the age of 14, which sounds rather astonishing but it’s a fact.  So that by the time I was in my late teens, I was a thorough going professional.  I must have been 19 years old when I was the press agent of the biggest Vaudeville house in the mid-west, the Oriental theater, which has recently undergone renovation.  I became the press agent there about sixty years ago, and I remained in that position through 1955, except for the two years I was away in the army.  But I was not there exclusively.  My work all through the years has involved multiple activities, multiple employments where I simultaneously was handling six or seven or eight projects.  When I went to the newspapers each day, I carried with me six or seven or eight different envelopes containing the materials of the various projects.  I was working in the legitimate theater, in the recital and concert field, in the opera field, in Vaudeville, and in motion pictures.  I was, for many years, the press agent of one of the few art film movie theaters where we played French, Italian, Russian films, even German ones before World War II began.  We didn’t do them anymore during the World War II...  I was at the World Playhouse Theater on Michigan Avenue, right across the lobby, the same lobby, of the Studebaker Theater, where I would, at the same time, be handling a play in that 1,250 seat legitimate theater.  I could walk across the lobby to my little office in the World Playhouse, where I was working on one of the foreign films.

newmanBD:    I get the feeling that you wouldn’t be happy unless you’re juggling several balls at once!

DN:    Well, I’ve always been involved in a number of projects, but I like it, and it also worked for me.  The economics of it were very good, and one hand often washed the other.  For instance, when I returned from the army in 1945, I began almost immediately a five-year assignment as co-producer of a daily radio show, five days a week, sort of the ‘grand-daddy’ of the celebrity interview show, where I supplied the celebrities from all areas.  [See newspaper notice at left.]  I had so many different projects, I didn’t have to bring in any other people.  I had movie stars, stage stars, sports stars.  I had everything going, and the interviewer of my program was Myron Wallace, who is now called Mike Wallace.  We spent five years together at the Mayfair Room at the Blackstone Hotel, conducting these interviews five days a week.  I supplied the celebrities and he interviewed them.  By the way, at that time he didn’t have his present personality, which I believe is now a part of him.  He assumed that of an interrogator, a sort of prosecutorial-type of interviewer, which he wasn’t then.  He was rather pleasant and gentle.

BD:    Now he’s more adversarial!

DN:    Oh yes.  It’s part of his role, and it’s important to what he does.

BD:    I remember the old series he did on television called Biography.  Those were good.  He would present the people and show film clips.

DN:    That was more along the lines of what we were doing.  That program was called Famous Names, and it was, as I say, a really a pioneering program of its type.  It worked very well.  We were sponsored by the same sponsor for five years, Walgreens, which was seeking to create a more upscale image that it had had at that time.  Such a program was what they wanted, with famous names and the Blackstone Hotel, which was then the same kind of very elegant hotel as the Drake Hotel is now.  It seemed to fit what they wanted, and we went five years on that program.

BD:    In the meantime, you were doing all of these other things, too?

DN:    Oh, yes.  Also in those years I was handling the annual Kelly Bowl football games, which I started before I left for the army and continued when I came back.  That was an annual football game in Soldier Field with an attendance of 100,000 people.  First we sold the 100,000 tickets to people who regarded them as a charity.  They gave us the money, and we resold the tickets to people who actually wanted to use them.  It was the annual championship game between the public high schools, and the Catholic high schools, and all the money went to wonderful charitable organizations.  This was in the years when Edward J. Kelly was the Mayor of Chicago.  [Kelly was the 46th mayor of Chicago from 1933-47.]  The people who ran that entire operation were all in politics, and that was a great education for me because up to that point I had nothing to do with political organizations.  But I learnt a great deal and I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I made some wonderful friends
people who were just fellows around the office and they later became judges and city heelers, and the Aldermen.  They were very pleasant people, and I liked that work very much.  The reason why, by the way, I was elevated to that position as press agent for the Kelly Bowl was that the previous holder of that position had taken to ‘the bottle’ and finally reached the stage where he was not able to function.  The man who was at that time, and was for many years, closest to the Mayor, was a brilliant man named Barnet Hodes.  I rarely met a man as brilliant as he was, and his son is Scott Hodes, a very well-known attorney here now.  He was the Corporation Counsel for the city of Chicago, and the confidante and great advisor of the Mayor.  So he called me at the Oriental Theater and said, I’ve been told that you’re good at this type of thing, and I’d like to talk to you.  So we made an appointment and we talked, and I enjoyed very much working with him.  He had a wonderful man named Jack Anderson, who was one of the most politically sophisticated men that you could imagine.  I learned a tremendous amount from him just by listening to him and by watching him.  He had a special ability to deal with people and their problems.

BD:    Does it please you now that people listen to you and take from you all that you have learned, and scatter it out across the country and across the world?

DN:    Well, it’s in certainly a limited field.  Really, it is show business on one level and the more elegant forms of the arts, like Lyric Opera, on the other.  But I have great pleasure in the human side of it with all the wonderful friendships that I have made.  By the way, this causes one of my great problems because I have such a voluminous correspondence.  If I worked with somebody forty or fifty years ago, I don’t let go.  They’re my friends, and unfortunately the people of that generation are dwindling now.

BD:    [Re-assuringly]  Oh, but you’re making more and more new friends all the time!

DN:    Yes, I am making new ones all the time.  Lately some well-meaning friends of mine have asked me why I don’t just stay in Chicago all the time and sit at my desk at Lyric Opera to carry out your responsibilities there.  Well, I also go out and do lectures.  That’s something else I do a lot now.  I always did some, but I do more now than I ever did.  But these well-meaning friends don’t want me to go out on the road to all of these different places and subject myself to all the weather conditions and going without sleep and all that.  They say I should give up and consider my advanced years!  What happens is that I continue to get these wonderful letters from people I just started to work with a year or two or three ago.  One letter I got just recently was from the chairman of the board of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, which is one of my current problems.  (I call them my problems.)  I’ve worked very closely with them for the last two years, and this year he doubled the subscription; over 100% increase!  So when this man writes a letter to me, how can I deny these special ministrations which I am able to provide through these wonderful people who run the arts?  This man, by the way, is the chairman of the board of a multi-national corporation, a very big, billions of dollars corporation.  And he’s so enthusiastic as a result of my tutelage and seeing the results that he’s participated in, that he is retiring two years ahead of schedule just to devote all of his time now to the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  He tells me that I’ve inspired him, and he calls me a genius.  So when I read letters like this, why should I go off the road?

BD:    Do you ever get a chance to just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor, to enjoy the fact that there are these thriving companies everywhere?

newmanDN:    I must say I have great satisfaction in that, and you’d be amazed to the extent I keep track of them.  I still know the figures because it’s very important to me having affected the lives and careers of so many people and so many institutions.  In these years of activities, we have built a vast network of organizations all over North America, not to mention the projects overseas.  We have given career fulfillment and livelihood to thousands of artists of every kind.  This is no small thing.  We’ve given prestige, respect, dignity, and a place in the communities involved of those arts organizations that were never occupied before.  I’ve tried to remove the arts organizations from being cheap, speculative, show business, hoping to find some rich man who will pull them out somehow and get the curtain open.  I want them to be
and have succeeded in so many casesso patently successful that people come to them, wanting to extend their help, wanting to jump onto their fast-moving bandwagons and become part of it.  I love that, and I must say that for me this is a very, very great satisfaction.  I dreamed it at one time, and I have lived to see it happen.  Everybody is fructified, so to speak, by this kind of success.  The artists thrive, the art thrives, and the community is better because of it.

BD:    Everybody wins!

DN:    We’re able to provide cultural opportunities for the youth on a considerable scale that nobody would have dreamed possible.  And remember we are doing it in a society which, in so many places, has renounced arts education as a responsibility of government.  When I was a boy we had wonderful classes in art, in painting, in music and in structures, in all these things.  Virtually those classes don’t exist anywhere now.

BD:    Maybe that’s your next target

DN:    Well, it is!

BD:    Your second book  should be entitled Enroll Now!

DN:    [Laughs]  Yes, very good!  It’s true.  Lyric Opera is not the only one in this field, but they do a marvelous job.  We have a very large education department where, at our cost for funds that we raise, we are doing really what government should be doing.  As I told you before, we need to have the table with the four legs
the private individual, the companies, the foundations and government.  The government leaps in last now, and it really is no leg at all.  It’s a shriveled little thing.  It’s hardly a leg on the table, but that is the ideal. I am for government subsidy, but I’m not for it exclusively.  We should have it all in balance, and I think it is possible.

BD:    I just wonder what would happen if you did really seriously put your full effort and weight behind getting arts education back into the public schools.

DN:    Well, that problem may be bigger than the both of us because the economics are, in most places, against it.  We can’t help it.  Even with the in-roads my work has made, in the main society doesn’t really consider this kind of education important.  They consider it ‘frills’.  That is the word that’s often used.  We don’t have to have it, you see.  As far as they’re concerned we have to have our stores, factories, machine shops, and so on.  We don’t need schools of art.  We don’t need art theaters.  We don’t need any of these things.  That’s the way they use it
overwhelming philistinism is what it is.

BD:    [Concerned]  Are you optimistic about the future of the arts and the arts organizations as we move into century number twenty-one?

DN:    [Re-assuringly]  I think so.  I would say that our picture is one which permits optimism, but we can be optimistic only from the position of our own strength.   We cannot relent in our efforts.  We have some marvelous people in the corporate community who are now extraordinary supporters of the arts.  It’s not that they changed their minds; they weren’t in those jobs forty or fifty years ago.  They’ve come into their jobs now in an era where there is a greater respect for us.  Maybe this is because of the fact that we do have, in relation to what used to be, a good sized audience.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about working with Maria Callas.

DN:    I have lately been giving considerably more lectures about her than in the past because this year’s been the Maria Callas year, her 75th birthday. 
I presided as the press agent over her American debut in 1954.  She was with us for two seasons1954 and 1955during which she appeared in six different operas, which was quite a number.  Her American career was launched with Lyric Opera because she was the centerpiece artist really of our first season in the fall of 1954.


Maria Callas at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Two Performances of each opera, all conducted by Rescigno

1954   Norma [Opening Night] with Simionato, Picchi, Rossi-Lemeni
           Traviata with Simoneau, Gobbi
           Lucia di Lammermoor with Di Stefano, Guelfi, Stewart

1955   Puritani [Opening Night] with Di Stefano, Bastianini, Rossi-Lemeni, Wildermann
           Trovatore with Bjoerling, Stignani, Bastianini, Wildermann
           Madama Butterfly with Di Stefano, Weede, Alberts  [Third performance added, which sold out in 98 minutes!]

She was an astonishing artist of an almost incredible dramatic validity in her performances.  She was theatrically enormously effective in a way that was then really very unusual where opera singers were concerned.  She had the capacity not only to sing startlingly well and thrillingly, but she was the theatrically extraordinarily effective.  She had been coached by Luchino Visconti, who was at La Scala, one of the great stage directors of that time, and later, somewhere along the line, the young Zeffirelli.  She, like Tito Gobbi, did something that no other opera singers of that time did
— they acted through their voices.  They didn’t just make a beautiful sound.  Sometimes even the sound wasn’t so beautiful, but it noted character.  It told a story, and I felt that.  For instance, I was astonished when she did Traviata in the 1954 season.  She brought a freshness to it that was astonishing to me because I felt that it was a new story, even though I’d seen many Violettas by this time and had attended many performances of La Traviata with different companies and different circumstances, and had promoted different performances of the work.  It was as if it was a completely new story.  I was wondering how it was all going to come out!  This was a great ability on her part.  Tito Gobbi had the same approach, and really excited and thrilled audiences in a very special way.

BD:    Another reminiscence, if you would
Jan Kiepura.

DN:    Jan Kiepura goes back for me to 1945, which is almost 55 years ago.  When I came out of the army, one of my first assignments was to promote the Chicago engagement at the Studebaker Theater of a musical show called Polonaise, a Chopin musical in which the great Polish tenor, Jan Kiepura, and his wife, Martha Eggert the Hungarian operetta star, appeared.  We had a pretty long run at the Studebaker Theater, and this set off, for years to come, a connection with myself and the Kiepuras.  I publicized him in a number of recitals and concerts, and I visited with him in Paris, London and New York.  He was a very colorful man.  He had a very thrilling tenor voice with the capacity to sing D over high C very easily, which he did at the slightest provocation.  He was very good-looking, and he was a very famous movie star in Europe.  Pictures which he made were mainly with his wife in Germany before World War II began.  One of the great hits was called Be Mine Tonight, and was shown all over the world.  He was a colorful, wonderful, really in some sense an amazing artist, who gave everything he had.  


BD:    Two others you have cited are Italo Tajo and Ferruccio Tagliavini.

DN:    It was 1946, and at that time the artists rarely came by plane.  They all came from Europe by boat and tram, and then transferred in New York to the train.  So here these two came in together from Italy boat into New York and then flew into Midway Airport.  This was long before we had the O’Hare Field.  Tagliavini was very tiny and Tajo was about 6' 4", or more.  I called them the long and short of it!  Tajo was a major bass, a brilliant performer and stunning actor.  Tagliavini was a sort of crooning tenor with an extremely beautiful sound.  So they arrived together for the 1946 season of the Chicago Opera Company, which was headed by Fausto Cleva, later to become the head of the Italian wing of the Metropolitan Opera.  He was the general director of the Chicago Opera Company, which was a successor to the Chicago Civic Opera.  People don’t realize that we had probably half a dozen Chicago opera companies before Lyric Opera began, beginning with the first one in 1910.  There was a Chicago Grand Opera company, a Chicago Opera Association, and then there was a Chicago Civic Opera, a Chicago City Opera, and a Chicago Opera Company.  I went down with that ship at the end of the 1946 season, which by the way, converted me very strongly where opera was concerned, to the concept that if you didn’t have a subscription, you had no way to survive in the opera world.

dannynewmanBD:    So your experience with those companies, and that company in particular, made the success of Lyric Opera possible?

DN:    Well, in some sense it did convince me that something would not be able to survive unless you had a committed audience that would go regularly and would also become your contributors.

BD:    Did you have to teach this to Carol Fox?

DN:    Actually, no.  She knew about subscription, and it was her intention and that of her partner, Larry Kelly, to start a subscription, which in fact they did in the second season of 1955.  However it was a minor effort, and nothing really happened for subscription until a few years later, after I’d had some stunning successes with theater companies such as the Studebaker Theater Company and the Goodman Theater back in the ‘50s.  I was able to transfer that experience to the needs of Lyric Opera, and once we got going we did beautifully, and we built up to about 25,000 subscribers around the time we ran into a lot of difficulties in the ‘80s.  That was because the musicians had demanded more performances, which was understandable, and we just had to add performances that we didn’t have an audience ready for yet.  So we had a setback for a couple of years.

BD:    There was one year, 1980, when you only did five productions.

DN:    That was the final year of Carol Fox’s regime.  In January of 1981, Carol Fox retired and Ardis Krainik took over within a few days.  At any rate, we got out of the box a little because the subscription, which had been growing steadily, was stopped and didn’t grow for a couple of years.  Then we made up for lost time and it has gone well ever since.

BD:    One last recollection, please.  Tell me about Luciano and the Pope!

DN:    Back a good many years ago, perhaps the beginning of the 1980s, the newly elected Pope visited Chicago, because after all, it’s one of the great Catholic dioceses of the world.  The Archdiocese called me and asked that Lyric arrange to have Luciano Pavarotti, who was singing with us at that time, sing for him from the choir loft during his visit at Holy Name Cathedral.  The Pope was to be down at the altar.  I brought Luciano and Frank Little, who was a Chicago tenor, to rehearse with the choir and the musicians on the day before the Pope arrived.  We returned the next day for the actual performance, and I was astonished at how nervous Luciano was.  Not that he’s absolutely cold-blooded when he goes into any performance, but he’s a pretty confident artist, and aside from his little superstition of looking for a crooked nail on the stage before the performance, he just went ahead and did what he needed to do.  But he was patently terribly nervous, and I remarked about this to him.  He said,
Danny, you don’t understand.  This is the Papa!  He really was deeply moved spiritually by what he was called on to do.  As a matter of fact, when he began the Ave Maria, I detected that he almost stumbled at the beginning for a moment as if he was nervous, and then quickly recovered.  Then he sang it so touchingly beautifully.  He also sang a duet with Frank Little, who was marvelous.  I’ll always remember that connection with Luciano.  We had some very glorious years with him, and there is no question he is a great artist, a voice of the century.  Lyric audiences have always had the best, and they continue to have the best.

BD:    All I can do is just thank you for making sure that opera and all the other arts organizations that you’ve helped survive and thrive all these years. 
You’ve spoiled us!

DN:    Well, I’m a member of a team, and I’ve always been happy to be a member of that team.  I hope to remain on the team.

BD:    As long as you want, I’m sure that you will.

DN:    Well, I’m so happy that the promotional principles which I have advocated, have been really so consistently and brilliantly carried out by my colleague.  Miss Mathieson deserves every credit for the unprecedented size of the present subscribership. 

BD:    I’m glad we have you.

DN:    Thank you, my friend.
  Thank you very much.

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© 1999 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 18, 1999.  It was the second of two interviews I had done with Newman; the previous one had been held on November 26, 1984.  Portions of the first one were broadcast on WNIB in 1989 and 1994.  A brief portion of this second interview was included on the Lyric Opera website during their 50th Anniversary Season in tribute to him as a Jubilarian.  This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.