Frank Little, 69, Met Tenor and Educator, Dies
By Anne Midgette
· March 6, 2006 The New York Times
Frank Little, a tenor who sang at the Metropolitan Opera for five seasons but ultimately left the stage for a career as an arts administrator and educator, died on Feb. 22 at a palliative care center in Skokie, Ill. He was 69.
He died of complications of cardiac arrest, said his son Courtney Little.
Mr. Little began singing at Chicago Lyric Opera in 1968, and made his debut at the Met as Narraboth in "Salome" in 1977. Other roles at the Met included parts in the world premiere of the three-act version of Berg's "Lulu" in 1977 and several turns as Cassio in Verdi's "Otello," which he also sang on the RCA recording with Plácido Domingo and Renata Scotto. At Chicago Lyric, he sang in the world premiere of Krystof Penderecki's "Paradise Lost." His appearances in Italy ranged from La Scala to a private performance for Pope John Paul II.
Mr. Little returned to teaching as early as 1970, and in 1981 decided to leave performing altogether. His performing schedule kept him on the road for as much as nine months a year, and he wanted to spend more time with his family.
After working as
chairman of performance studies at DePaul University in Chicago
and chairman of the music department at Furman University in Greenville,
S.C., he became president of the Music Center of the North Shore
in Chicago, later renamed the Music Institute of Chicago, a school
for young, gifted musicians. He remained there for 17 years, until
retiring in 2003.
Little was born on March 22, 1936, in Greeneville, Tenn., in the
Smoky Mountains, and began studying voice in high school. He worked
his way through East Tennessee State University (with, among other
things, stints in a vaudeville show), joined the Army and subsequently
received a master's degree from the Cincinnati College Conservatory
of Music (in 1960) and a doctorate in vocal performance from Northwestern
(in 1971). Described by friends as a Southern gentleman, he remained
true to his roots, with a passion for Civil War history and bluegrass
music. Two of his sons, Courtney and Carter Little, are musicians in
He met his wife,
Carolyn, on a blind date in 1962; they were married the next year.
At the Music
Institute of Chicago, Mr. Little tripled the enrollment, expanded
the facilities and helped lead a number of students toward international
"I think he
felt children's education in music was as, or more, important as
education at the collegiate level," said his son Courtney.
Mr. Little also
helped develop the school's Institute for Therapy Through the Arts, one
of only a few such programs in the country.
addition to his wife, of Winnetka, Ill., and his sons Courtney
and Carter, he is survived by a daughter, Caroline Degenaars of Kenilworth,
Ill.; another son, Kent Little of Santa Fe, N.M.; five grandchildren;
and a sister, Winnie Pruett of Picayune, Miss.
* * * *
Frank Little at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1970 - [Opening Night] Rosenkavalier (Animal Trainer) - with Minton, Ludwig, Berry, Brooks, Gutstein, Garaventa, Zilio, Andreolli, Voketaitis;
Dohnányi, Neugebauer, Schneider-Siemssen
Lucia di Lammermoor (Normanno) - with Deutekom, Tucker, Mittelmann, Washington; Votto, Frisell
1971 - Rheingold (Froh) - with Hofmann, Hoffman, Neidlinger, Holm, Nienstedt, Rundgren, Sotin, Boese; Leitner, Lehmann, Grübler
Salome (Narraboth) - with Silja, Nienstedt, Cervena, Ulfung, Johnson, Meredith, Drake; Dohnányi, Lehmann, Pizzi
1972 - [Opening Night] Due Foscari (Barbarigo) - with Cappuccilli, Ricciarelli, Tagliavini, Voketaitis; Bartoletti, DeLullo, Pizzi
Wozzeck (Drum Major) - with Evans, Silja, Meredith, Manno, Herrnkind; Bartoletti, Puecher, Damiani
1973 - Rosenkavalier (Major-Domo of the Marschallin) - with Berthold, Ludwig/Dernesch, Sotin, Blegen Gutstein, Merighi, Zilio, Andreolli, Voketaitis;
Leitner, Neugebauer, Schneider-Siemssen
1974 - Peter Grimes (Bob Boles) - with Vickers, Kubiak, Evans, Nolen, Chookasian; Bartoletti, Anderson, Toms
1975 - Elektra (Aegisth) - with Roberts/Schröder-Feinen, Boese/Dunn, Neblett, Stewart/Tyl; Klobučar/Bartoletti, Heinrich
Lucia di Lammermoor (Arturo) - with Sutherland, Pavarotti/Theyard, Saccomani, Ferrin; Bonynge, Copley, Bardon
1976 - Khovanshchina (Andrei Khovansky) - with Ghiaurov, Cortez, Trussel, Mittelmann, Shade, Lagger; Bartoletti, Benois
Love for Three Oranges (Prince) - with Barlow, Dooley, Trussell, Titus, Gill, Tajo, Kuhlmann; Bartoletti, Chazalettes, Santicchi
1977 - Idomeneo (Arbace) - with Tappy, Ewing, Neblett, Eda-Pierre/Shade, Shirley; Pritchard, Ponnelle
Peter Grimes (Bob Boles) - with Vickers, Kubiak, Meredith/Evans, Nolen, Bainbridge; Bartoletti, Evans, Toms
Maria Callas Tribute (concert)- with (among others) Neblett, Vickers, Kuhlmann, Stilwell, Carol Fox, Gobbi; Bartoletti, Fournet
Meistersinger (Vogelgesang) - with Ridderbusch, Evans, Johns, Lorengar, Howell, Walker, Riegel, Dooley; Leitner, Merrill, O'Hearn, Tallchief
1978 - Salome (Narraboth) - with Bumbry, Bailey, Dunn, Ulfung, Kunde, O'Leary; Klobučar, Poettgen, Wieland Wagner
[World Premiere] Paradise Lost [Penderecki] (Michael) - with Stone, Shade, Van Ginkel, Ballam, Powers, Esswood; Bartoletti, Perry, Tallchief
1979 - Love for Three Oranges (Prince) - with Souliotis, Nolen, Trussell, Tajo, Kuhlmann, White, Sharon Graham; Prêtre, Chazalettes, Santicchi
1981 - Macbeth (Macduff) - with Cappuccilli, Barstow, Plishka, Kunde; Fischer, Merrill, Benois
Frank Little with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
March, 1976 - Symphony #9 [Beethoven] - with Faye Robinson, Claudine Carlson, Raymond Michalski; Carlo Maria Giulini
April, 1976 - Passion [Alan Stout] - with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, John McCollum, Leslie Guinn, LeRoy Lehr, Monroe Olson; Margaret Hillis
[The premiere of Stout’s Passion, on which the composer worked for over twenty years, was a “monumental undertaking [and] provided the most difficult music the Chorus has undertaken since Fritz Reiner brought Margaret Hillis here in 1957 to found the now internationally known ensemble,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Stout fashions his church Latin text into curtains and tapestries of sound. Like a sonic aurora borealis, they expand and contract as needed, supplying intimate but still objective commentary on an emotional-laden event, creating towering climaxing as the peak points of the action, or providing canopies of tightly woven, often contrapuntal sheets of sound against which other portions of the action can take place.” (Part of a tribute to Stout, from the CSO website.)]
February/March, 1980 - Elijah [Mendelssohn] - with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Linn Maxwell, Dale Duesing; Margaret Hillis
== Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
|Founded in 1980, Light Opera Works (later called
Music Theater Works) is a resident professional not-for-profit musical
theatre company in Evanston, Illinois.
The company has presented over 75 productions of operetta and musical theatre at Northwestern University's 1,000-seat Cahn Auditorium. Since 1998, in addition to its three annual productions in this theatre, Music Theater Works also produces a fourth, more intimate show, in the 450 seat Nichols Concert Hall. The company performs all of its productions in English with orchestra.
Philip Kraus was the first Artistic Director of the company, serving from 1981 through 1999. The first production of the company occurred in 1981 with a staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. Under Kraus' leadership, the company's main emphasis in programming centered on American, French and Viennese operetta, and in its early years, the company staged all twelve of the full-length extant Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy operas.
|Since its founding in 1943 by Mayor Fiorello
LaGuardia as “The People’s Opera”, New York City Opera (NYCO) has been
a critical part of the city’s cultural life. During its history, the company
launched the careers of dozens of major artists, and presented engaging
productions of both mainstream and unusual operas alongside commissions
and regional premieres. The result was a uniquely American opera company
of international stature.
Laszlo Halasz was the company's first director, serving in that position from 1943 until 1951. Given the company's goal of making opera accessible to the masses, Halasz believed that tickets should be inexpensive and that productions should be staged convincingly with singers who were both physically and vocally suited to their roles. To this end, ticket prices during the company's first season were priced at just 75 cents to $2 ($29 in current dollar terms), and the company operated on a budget of $30,463 ($4,400,000 in current dollar terms) during its first season. At such prices the company was unable to afford the star billing enjoyed by the Metropolitan Opera. Halasz, however, was able to turn this fact into a virtue by making the company an important platform for young singers, particularly American opera singers
For more than seven decades, New York City Opera has maintained a distinct identity, adhering to its unique mission: affordable ticket prices, a devotion to American works, English-language performances, the promotion of up-and-coming American singers, and seasons of accessible, vibrant and compelling productions intended to introduce new audiences to the art form. Stars who launched their careers at New York City Opera include Plácido Domingo, Catherine Malfitano, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, Beverly Sills, Tatiana Troyanos, Carol Vaness, Jerry Hadley, Gianna Rolandi, and Shirley Verrett, among dozens of other great artists.
New York City Opera has a long history of inclusion and diversity. It was the first major opera company to feature African-American singers in leading roles (Todd Duncan as Tonio in Pagliacci, 1945; Camilla Williams in the title role in Madama Butterfly, 1946); the first to produce a new work by an African-American composer (William Grant Still, Troubled Island, 1949); and the first to have an African-American conductor lead its orchestra (Everett Lee, 1955).
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2013, and then a revitalized City Opera re-opened in January 2016 with Tosca, the opera that originally launched the company in 1944.
Dave Wischnowsky, Tribune
staff reporter Chicago Tribune
Frank Little may be gone, but the powerful voice that he long made soar to the ceiling of the Lyric Opera of Chicago still lingers, his daughter said.
"Professionally and in his public life, my father was known for his singing voice," Caroline Degenaars said about a man who spent 13 seasons in the 1960s and '70s making more than 140 performances as a leading tenor for the Lyric. "But in his private life he also had an incredible ability to tell stories and an unbelievable sense of humor. His voice and personality could light up any room.
"As his only daughter and his firstborn, my father also had an unbelievably comforting voice. What I'm going to miss the most is just his voice, in every aspect."
Francis Easterly Little, 69, of Winnetka died Wednesday, Feb. 22, of complications from cardiac arrest and a stroke in Rush North Shore Hospice in Skokie.
A former educator with DePaul University and the Music Institute of Chicago, Mr. Little also spent five seasons singing major roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Preferring to perform in contemporary operas over traditional ones, Mr. Little was the principal tenor in a number of world premieres, including Alban Berg's "Lulu" at the Met and Krystof Penderecki's "Paradise Lost" at the Lyric, his family said.
He also appeared at La Scala in Milan and Opera Communale in Florence and once conducted a private command performance for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, his family said.
Opting to spend more time with his wife, Lyn, and their four children, Mr. Little left his successful stage career during the late 1970s and made an equally successful foray into music education.
In 1978 he was named chairman of the department of performance studies at DePaul before moving to Greenville, S.C., in 1983 to become chairman of the music department at Furman University.
Mr. Little remained in that role until 1988, when he moved back to Illinois and became president of the Music Institute of Chicago, where he served until his retirement in 2003.
Born in Greeneville, Tenn., Mr. Little was influenced during his childhood by the voice of his mother, Mary, and the mountain hymns he sang each week at church, his family said.
In high school he began to fully recognize his vocal talents, which led Mr. Little to enroll at East Tennessee State College in Johnson City.
Paying his way through school with myriad jobs, including work in a traveling theatrical troupe, Mr. Little graduated from the college in 1958. Two years later, he received a master's degree in music from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. In 1971, Mr. Little completed his doctorate in vocal performance at Northwestern University.
Having emerged from such humble beginnings to become a critically acclaimed tenor provided Mr. Little with a treasure-trove of tales, his daughter said.
"There was such a contrast from where his life started in the Smoky Mountains to where his life went, with him traveling all over the world and performing," she said. "So you can imagine all the stories he had. He had historical stories, stories about growing up in the mountains, funny stories, everything."
Even with all his accolades and achievements, however, Mr. Little remained proudest of his family, his daughter said.
"He told us over and over and over again that we were his greatest accomplishment," she said. "And he's the reason that we're all incredibly close."
Other survivors include three sons, Kent, Carter and Courtney; a sister, Winnie Pruett; and five grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Kenilworth Union Church, 211 Kenilworth Ave.
© 1982 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on July 30, 1982. A copy of the unedited audio was given to DePaul University. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990. This transcription was made in 2020, 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.