Conductor / Administrator  Robert  Carter  Austin

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

austin A native of Tennessee, Robert Carter Austin is currently in his twenty-sixth season as Music Director of the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Austin has an unusually diverse educational background for a classical musician, including a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Diploma (with Distinction) in Computer Science from Cambridge University, and a Master of Musical Arts degree from Stanford University.

Maestro Austin’s first professional appointment was as Artistic Director of the Chattanooga Opera in 1974. He added the post of Artistic Director of the Southern Regional Opera in Birmingham, Alabama in 1978. Shifting his focus to symphonic music in 1981, he became Music Director of the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra in Wyoming, before coming to Texas in 1985 as Music Director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra in Tyler. He has served as Music Director of the Garland Symphony Orchestra since 1988, of the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra since 1991, and of Symphony Arlington since 2000.

In frequent demand as a guest conductor, Maestro Austin has led performances with opera companies and symphony orchestras in eleven states in the U.S. His international credits include performances with the Chursächische Philharmonie, Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie, and Orchester des Nordharzer Städtebundtheaters in Germany; the Florence Sinfonietta, Orchestra Sinfonica Regionale del Molise, Milano Classico, and L’Offerta Musicale in Italy; the National Orchestras of Ukraine, Ecuador, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines; and orchestras in France, Spain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, and China. Upcoming engagements for Maestro Austin include the Orchestra Sinfonica Città di Grosseto in Italy and the Amazonas Filarmonica in Brazil.

Off the podium, Maestro Austin describes himself as an avid skier, a closet country music fan, and a notorious oenophile. His wife, Dr. Kathryn Gamble, is the Director of Veterinary Medicine at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.

In May of 1982, Robert Carter Austin was conducting the Chicago Opera Theater
s production of The Daughter of the Regiment by Donizetti.  After the first performance, Austin agreed to sit down for an interview.  Portions were used on WNIB, Classical 97, to promote the rest of the run.

Now, as we head into 2024, and the 50th Anniversary of COT, I am pleased to present the entire conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   I was looking over your résumé and you’ve done quite a bit with regional opera.  Is
regional opera the correct term?

Robert Carter Austin:   It’s the more or less accepted term for all those companies below the top half-dozen in the country, ones that have a genuine opera season, of which there are very few.

BD:   Let’s talk about regional opera.  You’ve been on a national committee?

Austin:   I was on the National Endowment panel for small groups, which included most of the regional opera companies.

BD:   Where is regional opera going today?

Austin:   That’s rather a broad question.  I would say simply that the National Endowment has identified opera as the fastest growing art form in the country.  The number of cities which have established successful opera companies in the past ten years, is quite amazing.  Some of the best companies in the country are less than ten years old.  For example, the Virginia Opera, and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which is a national treasure now.  It’s only in it’s ninth or tenth season.   

BD:   What makes a group like that so special?  Why do you single that out, and put that aside in a different but maybe a balanced class with the Lyric, and San Francisco, and the Met?

Austin:   One must keep in mind that Lyric, and San Francisco, and the Met, are in a category by themselves.  Even though they don’t produce all year-round, except for the Met, they are major international houses, which have a season of quite a few operas, with a great many performances, with international stars of the highest level.  This is the exception, not the rule, in this country.  Most opera houses in the country produce three or four operas per season.  They use primarily talented American artists, and are aiming to produce at a different level.  This is not necessarily a different level of quality from the Met, and the Lyric, and San Francisco, but a different level of quantity.  For the most part, these are not houses which could ever tackle The Ring [Wagner], or an adequate production of Le Prophète [Meyerbeer], or even an adequate production of Aïda [Verdi], although God-knows it gets tried now and then!  [Both laugh]  Rather, they are companies who are striving for excellence within a smaller framework.  The most outstanding example of this is the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.  Their theater seats all of 900 people [shown below-left], and in that kind of economic situation, much less the limitations of the staging area that goes with it, they simply can’t contemplate the kind of opera productions that one sees when you turn on the television and see Zeffirelli’s La Bohème [from the Met].  It’s simply not physically, much less financially, possible.  The budget at the Metropolitan Opera is roughly equal to the budgets of all the other opera companies in the country combined.  So what we’re talking about is excellence within a smaller framework.  St. Louis has achieved great critical acclaim, and explored some fascinating repertoire, and opened it up and made it available to the rest of the country.  [The Athenaeum Theater, where COT played at that time, also had about 900 seats, and is shown farther down on this webpage.]
st. louis
BD:   Is this one of the primary areas that regional operas should go
interesting repertoire, rather than the big old war horses?

Austin:   It depends on the city really.  If you’re in a city like Chattanooga, Tennessee where my company is located, if we don’t do La Traviata and La Bohème, they won’t be seen.  The audience will be totally unaware that these works exist.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  They wouldn’t have seen them on the television, or heard them on the radio?

Austin:   More recently they do have access by television, but certainly not to the experience of a live performance, which is after all, what opera is all about.  Otherwise we can all just put a record on, mix a cocktail, and stay home for an evening which costs a lot less.

BD:   Then how do you get people in Chattanooga or in New York to put the record away for the evening, and come to the theater, where it will admittedly be a little more inconvenient and cost more?

Austin:   I can only speak for Chattanooga.  It’s not difficult to get people to come out and see a live performance.  What’s difficult is to get past the notion that the layman has that opera is some sort of very abstruse, difficult-to-comprehend art form for the chosen few.  They feel that it’s a bunch of 300-pound broads screaming in German with helmets on their heads and carrying spears around.  When you see operas depicted in cartoons, it has an image that’s right in there with Richard Nixon when it comes to the public at large!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Maybe someday someone will write an opera about Richard Nixon!  [Remember, this interview took place in 1982, and Nixon in China by John Adams premiered in 1987.  (Names which are links on this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.)]

Austin:   It would be a fascinating libretto.  I really think it may happen someday.  But what we are trying to do is stress the fact that the performances are in English, thereby making the drama and the plot accessible, which is a hallmark of regional opera.  While it’s not a rock concert, it’s not that formal an occasion.  People are encouraged to come, even if they don’t necessarily want to wear a tuxedo.  In fact, very few people do wear evening clothes in a city like Chattanooga.

BD:   Very few people wear tuxedos to the opera in Chicago any more!

Austin:   Even in New York that’s disappearing.  In short, it’s an entertaining evening of musical theater.  I must confess at times we even try to avoid the word ‘opera’.  When we’re doing an operetta, we will bill it as a musical comedy.  Once we get people in, they find out indeed they are entertained.  The Daughter of the Regiment is an outstanding example for the kind of show that’s absolutely irresistible.  It’s got singing, and dancing, and soldiers, and tunes.  It’s a formula that assures our success, but if you ask people if they would like to come to the opera, in many cities in the country they’ll say it’s not for them.  But once you get them in there, then you can make subscribers out of them.

BD:   You lure them in, and hope that they will have a good experience, and come back?

Austin:   Yes, that’s the second half of the formula.  Once you’re lured them in, you’ve got to make sure that you do have a sparkling performance.  This is the reason why most of the good regional opera companies have stuck with the repertoire that they can do well, which does not include some of the very biggest and most famous operatic vehicles.  I think the Chicago Opera Theater is an outstanding example of intelligent artistic planning in a regional company.  If you look over their repertoire, it includes both the familiar and the unfamiliar in a well-balanced mix.  But they always pick works that are within the artistic, financial, and severe limitations of their theater situation.  These are things they can do well.

BD:   Alan Stone’s been very good about that.  [As an example, the other two works in that 1982 season were Abduction from the Seraglio [Mozart] with Sheryl Woods and William Eichorn, conducted by Joseph de Rugeriis and directed by Dominic Missimi; and Regina [Blitzstein] with Judith Erickson and Robert Orth, conducted by Steven Larsen.  There were five performances of each of the three operas.]

Austin:   Yes, and it takes a great deal of intelligence and restraint to do that in a situation where there’s always the temptation to want to do something terribly grand to show up everybody else.  If you try that, unfortunately all you wind up doing is showing up the limitations of your own situation.  [Both laugh]

BD:   So, there’s more emphasis on opera-as-theater in a regional opera?

Austin:   Absolutely!  The English-language decision is an important part of that.  The importance of the stage director in regional opera is every bit as important as the role of the conductor, which is generally not the case in the big houses.

BD:   [Thinking of the outlandish productions and staging being done especially in Europe]  Really???

Austin:   [Laughs]  I can only speak of the productions I’ve seen recently at the Met and San Francisco, and while there were stage directors’ names in the programs, it was very much the old Clutch-and-Spank-Her School [also sometimes known as the ‘park and bark’ school].  It’s difficult to imagine what in Heaven’s name they rehearse, as everybody just comes out, and sings, and gestures, which is part of what’s made opera a bit of a cliché.

BD:   Can opera be over-rehearsed?

Austin:   I’m not really sure what that term means, but I would say no.

BD:   Walter Felsenstein [at the Komische Oper in East Berlin] often used to take several months for a production.  I was just wondering if that could get to the point where the chorus, and even the principal singers, are just bored.  [See box below.]

felsenstein Walter Felsenstein (30 May 1901 – 8 October 1975) was an Austrian theater and opera director.  He was one of the most important exponents of textual accuracy, and gave productions in which dramatic and musical values were exquisitely researched and balanced.  In 1947 he created the Komische Oper in East Berlin, where he worked as director until his death. 

Preparations for each new production could last two months or longer.  If singers meticulously coached and trained in their parts fell ill, performances were simply canceled.  Since the glamorous superstars of the day could never spare the time Felsenstein required, he worked with his own hand-picked troupe of devoted singers, most from Eastern Europe and virtually unknown in the West.  Everything was sung in German, usually in his own translations.  Whoever wanted to experience this singular operatic mix had to make the pilgrimage to East Berlin, a trip that became even dicier after the wall went up.

Together with the Komische Oper troupe he visited the USSR a few times.  In Moscow it was stated that his way of the opera staging was similar to the principles of Konstantin Stanislavsky.  His most famous students were Götz Friedrich and Harry Kupfer, both of whom went on to have important careers developing Felsenstein’s work.

Austin:   But it’s nothing compared to a Broadway show, which is musically far less difficult than a typical opera.  A Broadway show will rehearse for six months, be out of town for try-outs for another three or four months, and then have several weeks of previews in New York before it opens, and that’s not considered over-rehearsing at all.  So, I would say that the very misfortune of opera is that it’s so expensive, so there is rarely adequate rehearsal time.

BD:   How much rehearsal time did you have here, about three weeks?

Austin:   Yes, and in this situation, with an extremely able and well-prepared cast, with a relatively short show, and with colleagues who all know what they’re doing, it was more than adequate.  But all too often, one or more of those elements is missing.  That’s a tribute to how well-managed and well-planned COT is.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   In general, are the young American singers today well-prepared?

Austin:   Extremely!  They can come in, and sometimes put together Carmen, or Traviata, or Rigoletto in four or five days.  These are not simple shows, and they sing them virtually note-perfect, and give a credible job of acting it in a situation where, quite frankly, they are lucky if they’ve had time to learn the names of the people who are on stage with them.

BD:   Are some of these young American singers that you work with destined for the big international careers, or would they be better and happier just staying doing first rate jobs in the smaller houses?

Austin:   There’s no set answer to that.  Every now and then, you’ll stumble over someone that you know is going to be a star.  For example, Gianna Rolandi!  I was twenty-four, and an assistant at the Brevard Music Centre in North Carolina, and she was seventeen, just out of high school, and was already singing Olympia in the Hoffmann there.  Admittedly it was a student situation, but the moment you heard that voice, you felt this person was going to be a star.  Two years later she was a lead in New York City Opera where she is to this day.  She is just a brilliant talent.  The same is true of Ashley Putnam.  She was another who just had that mark about her.
BD:   Does the regional opera in America nurture this kind of talent?

Austin:   To a certain extent, yes, because it gives people like these a chance to try out major roles in circumstances that are not going to harm their careers if indeed, as is often the case, it takes two or three productions to really understand the role, and how to pace yourself.  One needs to get enough different input from directors and conductors, and others so that they have a viable interpretation.  I would say quite frankly that talent of that rank is going to find a way to get to the top.  But these singers are the exception.  Most of the young Americans who are singing in regional opera, are not going to go on to the big international houses.  This is not because they don’t sing as well, or act as well, or look as good, but it’s because of the sheer size of the international houses in this country.  They are 3,000- or 4,000-seat houses, so that means only the very largest voices can even be considered.  Often other factors, such as acting ability, and musical sensitivity, are sacrificed because you’ve got to have a voice big enough to be effective in that kind of situation.

BD:   So, a lot of these artists who sing in regional opera companies, really are as good.  It’s just that they’re not of the same size?

Austin:   Yes, and in many cases their musicianship and training are better, but they don’t have this enormous projection that’s necessary to make an effect in a house the size of the Metropolitan Opera.

BD:   How does that affect a conductor?  You’re often working in smaller houses.  How would it affect you to be in a larger venue?

Austin:   I’d say not really.  I have worked in houses of 1,500 or 1,800 seats, but that’s only half the size of the Metropolitan.  The ones who are doing the casting are the persons who have to be careful.  If I’m brought in as a guest conductor, I do the best I can in any given situation.  Certainly, if it’s a situation where a voice or two in the cast was really smaller than that house and that orchestra really needed, in that case the conductor does the best he can to keep things under control, so the singer can be shown off to the best advantage, and compensate as best one can for what’s basically a mistake in the casting.

BD:   You’re the Music Director in Chattanooga?

Austin:   I’m the Artistic Director.  That’s a term in opera which means I’m in charge not only of singers and orchestra, but also selection of sets, directors, lighting designers, the entire artistic breadth.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  All of the blame falls on you?

Austin:   [Smiles]  Yes, it’s very easy to find out where the buck stops.

BD:   Do you have more fun or more enjoyment working in your own company than guest conducting?

Austin:   I will have to say that I probably have more fun guest conducting because the responsibilities are so much less.

BD:   You can come in and do the fun part, and leave the work to somebody else.

Austin:   Yes... on the other hand, there’s the great satisfaction when one puts together a production from its inception, and plans every phase of it, and it is a success.  When it turns out to be a valid statement, there’s a level of satisfaction which is much higher than simply conducting a good performance.  It all boils down to the more you’re willing to tackle, the happier it makes you want to succeed... although there are fewer chances of it succeeding!  [Both laugh]
BD:   Do you enjoy doing opera in English?

Austin:   Yes, but since I have an adequate background in languages, it makes very little difference to me personally.  I certainly don’t subscribe to the theory that the work must be done in the original language if it’s to be valid.  A great many composers want their works translated.  Poulenc is one who would not allow his operas to be done in French in other countries.  He insisted that they be made so that people could understand what was going on.  The work was a music drama.  It wasn’t a concert.  It
s one thing if the audience is sophisticated enough to understand the drama, or speak the language, and it’s absolutely true that language does affect the musical performance.  In particular, certain Italian comedies have tempi [speeds] that I would like to take as a conductor, which I simply can’t if people are singing in English, because the words can’t otherwise be understood.  What’s the point in singing in English at all if you can’t understand what people are saying?  Here at COT, I was very pleased since I’ve been insistent with the cast and chorus about diction.  One of the critics did say that virtually every word was understandable.  That’s always my goal in an English-language performance.

BD:   Have you conducted some works in the original language?

Austin:   Oh yes, particularly the university groups where you don’t have to worry about the public.  Ideally, The Barber of Seville should be in Italian because the tempi work best that way.  But given a choice between having it in Italian and closing the comedy off to your audience, and turning it into, at best, an entertaining concert in costume, to me that’s a bad decision.

BD:   Do you work as hard at the Italian diction as you would with the English diction?

Austin:   Absolutely, although it’s hard to measure whether we’ve succeeded because so few people in the audience understand it, and know whether it’s good or bad.

BD:   In a university situation, you say you don’t have to worry about the audience.  Is this a good thing for the production personnel
the cast, the crew, the managementto be able to put something on and yet not have to worry about the box-office?

Austin:   It is unfortunate for most American universities, as a result of the fact that they’re insulated from commercial concerns, although increasingly that’s less so as the costs rise.  First of all, many of them tend to choose repertoire which does not give a young singer very many useful roles when he or she gets out of college, because they produce more unusual things.  Secondly, it’s not really effective training for what they’re going to face when they get out in the real world, because their rehearsal time doesn’t cost anything.  Singers are free, the orchestra is free, the stage crew is free, so there tends to be a very long rehearsal period, and singers are coddled quite a bit.  They have all the time in the world to learn the role, and if they show up with it not under control, there’s time to take care of that, and the teachers will coach them.  Then they get out in the real world and find that they have ten days from the time they arrive to that opening night, and if they don’t have every note and every word completely memorized, and have a fairly good idea in their heads of what they want to do with the role when they arrive, there’s a whirlwind of rehearsal and they are still in the dark when the curtain goes up on opening night.  What I’m saying is if these colleges are supposed to be preparing them for a career, they should learn while they’re in college.  Some survive the process
or the shockof total immersion.  The ones who are smart enough and fast enough catch on, though I know several singers who damaged their early careers by being not adequately prepared simply because they didn’t realize what was expected, and it took them a while to catch up.

BD:   Where does the blame for this fall?

Austin:   I would say there is a very, very poor understanding in most universities of what a singer has to have in this day and age in order to even be able to compete for a career in professional opera, must less succeed in that competition.  There are exceptions.  Here in Chicago you have a few rare instances where people who are operatic performers, wind up in charge of departments, like Frank Little at DePaul.  He knows what’s necessary, and he knows how to make sure students get it.  But that’s the exception, not the rule.  That’s why as you look over the American opera scene, maybe a half-dozen universities turn out the vast majority of successful opera singers in the country.  It’s not because the teaching is so much better, or the programs are so much better.  It’s just that the people in charge of those programs have an understanding of what professional life is like.
BD:   Can masterclasses help that at all?

Austin:   Masterclasses will help a student’s skills, but I’m not sure they really do anything to prepare a student for the process of participating in a professional production.  This is because masterclasses tend to be in voice, or diction, or acting skills.  It’s very difficult to give a masterclass in how to prepare oneself to participate in a leading role in a regional opera production.  That would be a damn useful masterclass.  I might actually think one up!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Would that be for the singers, or would it go to managers of the university concert halls?

Austin:   Both, I guess.  The principal problem is that most American universities are historically geared to produce teachers, and the trouble is the market for teachers is shrinking, because the population base in that age range is going down while the opportunities for good singers are actually expanding, recession or no recession.  As I already noted, there are many, many more opera companies than there were ten years ago.

BD:   Are these opportunities for singers to make a regular living, or just a part-time living?

Austin:   Actually, a regular living, in that is the way regional opera companies operate.  The principal singers are are paid fairly well for their time when doing leading roles.

BD:   How many leading roles would a singer have to do to in a year to make an adequate salary?

Austin:   I’d say about a dozen in the course of a year.  That would give his or her earnings somewhere in the $20,000 range.

BD:   That would be enough to include paying for living expenses away from family?

Austin:   I should clarify that most regional companies either pay living expenses, or provide housing.  They also pay for transportation for a singer to come in.  So most of what a singer earns is take-home pay.  It’s not a luxurious way of life, but it is a very satisfying thing to do.

BD:   That means one new role, or a different production every month.

Austin:   We’re talking about someone working thirty-six to forty weeks out of the year, and a great many singers are able to do this because there’s so much opportunity around now.

BD:   I’m trying to budget that into rehearsal time, and a week of performances.  It really isn’t very much rehearsal time.

Austin:   No, the average is about ten days to two weeks.  Some companies have the luxury of two-and-a-half weeks rehearsal, but when you consider a work of the length and complexity of, say, The Tales of Hoffmann, two-and-a-half weeks is nothing.  This is why I say young singers don’t understand how incredibly well-prepared they must be when they begin rehearsals in a situation like that.  You cannot learn it in rehearsal.

BD:   Do the colleges teach them that they can learn it in rehearsal?

Austin:   That’s the way the colleges operate, and it doesn’t occur to anybody to point out that the real world is not like that.  Not all universities.  This is not a blanket indictment.  It’s just if you look at the singers’ résumés, you begin to realize how few places give them the kind of training that’s going to enable them to even sing a good audition.  They never get any training on how to give an audition, and that’s the most important ten minutes they’ll get.  They stand up in front of someone who can give them an important opportunity with income, and they have only ten minutes to try to express their abilities and something of their personality.  It’s very unfair, of course.

BD:   It’s basically just two arias?

Austin:   Yes, and they’re very lucky if they get to sing the second one sometimes.  There are many impresarios in the country who, if they don’t like the person, won’t hear the second one.  I am of the opinion that anybody can be nervous
as I am when I auditionso I always at least hear two.  But still, that’s such a specific skill of how to present yourself in an audition, yet very rarely are the young singers ever trained.

BD:   This brings up an interesting point.  How does a conductor audition?  Do you wave your hands a little bit, or demonstrate rehearsal technique?

Austin:   In the early stages, you often wind up auditioning to be an assistant by conducting a piano.  You can tell a pretty fair amount just from that, about a conductor’s ability as to whether there’s any clarity of beat, or any understanding of the musical style.  Then, as you start getting on to being considered for more important things, people insist on an audition with the orchestra.  Even for a fellowship at a good graduate school in orchestral conducting, you have to actually get in front of the orchestra nowadays, which didn’t always used to be the case.  When you’re talking about professional work, then you’re in the realm of people either coming to see something that you
re conducting, or possibly relying on recommendations from people they have confidence in.  It is a problem, and the same problem exists for directors.  I know talented young directors who have been very highly recommended to me.  Obviously they have ability, yet I would hesitate to hire them because I’ve never personally seen one of their productions, and this is horrible on the young people.

BD:   Would a video tape suffice?

Austin:   I would certainly say for a stage director it would be of great importance.  It would be less relevant for a conductor because of the fact that the video tape would probably not show anything that he or she is doing.  The sound of the orchestra depends not just on the conductor’s ability, but on the level of the orchestra, how much rehearsal time there’s been, and maybe other factors.

BD:   I don’t usually ask for names, but I want to ask for some specifics.  What are the good universities?
Austin:   The most famous opera department in the country is probably Indiana University.  Their level of production is such that the critics often come from New York to review what they’re doing.  Many young singers have gotten their first important review that way.  Cincinnati College Conservatory is another.  I don’t know what they do there but they must do it well, because an awful lot of their singers are out on the circuit.  The Juilliard School, of course, is an enormously high-level operation, so that by the time anyone actually gets there, they’re already an accomplished artist.  They also have the advantage of having exposure in New York.  Manhattan School of Music is gaining some attention now with their opera productions.  I’m sure there are many others that I’ve left out, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.  I was a student at Indiana, and I can testify that students get far, far more attention and rehearsal than they would in professional life.  But it’s also very clear to them from the inception that they are expected to meet a certain standard, and they’re expected to come to coaching sessions prepared, and they’re expected to learn it on their own.  People are not going to teach it to them, note by note.  As a result, it’s a lot closer to professional life.  Playing devil’s advocate, you can hardly argue that the university should treat students exactly like professional companies.  They are there to learn, and they do deserve a little extra attention and time.  It just must be gotten across to them how much of their success depends upon them and their own effort.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What’s the place of new works in the university, and in the regional opera company?

Austin:   Frankly, the chances of new works being produced are a lot larger at a university situation because it is unfortunately true everywhere in the country, not just in the small towns, that only the familiar works sell well.  Tickets are so expensive and productions costs so high, that you almost have to be able to guarantee a certain amount of box-office return.  If this is not for every single production, at least within a season.  So, it doesn’t leave you a whole lot of room to experiment.

BD:   Is subscription a part of the answer?

Austin:   Yes, but subscription doesn’t really work that well for regional companies who want to experiment.  Suppose you’re doing three operas a year, and you give a one-third discount for people who buy a subscription.  They look and see we’re doing Madam Butterfly, and Don Pasquale, and we’re also doing Transformations (1973) [one of the most frequently performed operas by an American composer] by Conrad Susa (1935-2013).  They might think he
s the guy who wrote all those marches!  [That, of course, would be John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).]  So rather than buy a subscription, since they don’t want to see that one anyway, they’ll just buy singles to the other two.  You lose the subscription sale if you program even one unfamiliar work that people aren’t sure they want to see.

BD:   I guess we have it easier here in Chicago.  This season COT had a Mozart opera, a Donizetti opera, and Regina in the middle.

Austin:   Right.  As I say, Alan Stone is a master at planning that sort of thing, and, of course, here in Chicago, you’ve got an urban area that’s bound to include a relatively large number of people who are sophisticated enough to appreciate that sort of programming.

BD:   Our COT season of three wouldn’t work in Chattanooga?

Austin:   No!  This sort of season would not succeed in a situation where it is the town’s primary (or only) source of opera.  COT is able to succeed because the community is large enough, and musically knowledgeable enough for there to be a market for this kind of very intelligent, very intriguing musical fare.  Frankly, if I lived in Chicago, considering the price of the subscriptions, I might think twice about buying a Lyric subscription, because several of those works are so familiar to me that I’m really not sure it’s worth it to go see them again, even if they are produced at a high level.  Whereas COT, at a very reasonable price, offers the sort of the thing that I can’t see very often.  But I am the exception, not the rule.  There are maybe fifty people in Chattanooga, Tennessee like me, but you can’t run a season on fifty subscribers.  So it’s always very difficult to program a contemporary work.  Now there are ways it can be done, especially if there are grants.  We just produced The Village Singer of Stephen Paulus as part of our season in Chattanooga.

BD:   Wasn
t it also done in St. Louis?

Austin:   Right, they premiered it, and Minnesota did a production, and Chattanooga did the third production.

BD:   They used to do a very interesting season at Minnesota, and then all of a sudden, they seemed to shrink a bit.  Is that because of economics?

Austin:   They’re an interesting company because they work harder than any other company in the country to serve contemporary opera, and an astounding number of premieres were done there.  Dominick Argento
s The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe comes to mind.  The list goes on, and on, and on, and the service that they’ve done to contemporary opera is beyond price.  But as a result, their subscription list has not grown appreciably.  There are other problems.  They don’t have their own theater, so they move around from one place to another in a single season, which makes it hard to keep subscribers.  But they have had to go from four big productions a year to three, and they have had to begin producing the Bohèmes, and the Traviatas, and the Pasquales, which they never used to do in any appreciable amount, and cut back a little on the amount of time and effort that they give to contemporary opera.  Even they couldn’t do what they do were it not for grant support.  Also, clever marketing helps.  Virginia sold out every performance of Thea Musgrave’s Mary, Queen of Scots.

BD:   [Pleased, but surprised]  How did they do that?

Austin:   Just by a tremendous marketing effort.  They even had a vast Victorian Fayre held in the town square.  They went totally Scottish.  The whole town was done in plaid.  People were coming over from Scotland, including important officials, and the cultural exchange made for a tremendous hoopla.

BD:   So, they got the whole public involved in the fact that this opera was being done?

Austin:   The whole town got excited about it, right!

BD:   Did the public who went to the performances like it?

Austin:   I gather that the response was very positive.  It’s a good work.

BD:   Yes.  They did it here last year (1981) in Hinsdale [a suburb 20 miles west of downtown Chicago].  It was an excellent production, conducted by Pier Giorgio Calabria.

The Hinsdale Opera did not perform during the current season because of financial difficulties. The company has announced a reorganization and a change of name to OPERA THEATRE OF ILLINOIS to reflect plans for next season’s performances in Hinsdale and other Illinois communities. American companies are not alone in finding a need for retrenchment, although it should be added that most opera companies are scheduling the same amount of productions and performances for the coming season as had been their custom in the past.

==  From the Central Opera Service Bulletin Volume 24, Number 3, Spring/Summer (1983)  

Austin:   A successful marketing promotion can do a lot.  Whoever would have believed that there would be a very successful Ring cycle in Seattle, Washington?  [A publicity photo showing Glynn Ross, General Director of the Seattle Opera, with two cast members of their first Ring cycle is seen farther down on this webpage.]  So, on the one hand I’m saying it’s very, very difficult, particularly for a regional company.  On the other hand, I’m admitting it can be done if enough time and energy is given to it.  Of course, there is the fact that Thea Musgrave’s husband is head of that company, which has a great deal to do with the frequent production of her works there.  They feel she’s one of their own, and maybe that’s part of the solution.  Composers should try to establish ties with the smaller companies, just as Pasatieri is doing with the Atlanta Opera.  He’s the Artistic Director, and I’m sure they’ll be producing some of his works in the next few seasons.

In the late 1970s, the Metropolitan Opera stopped touring to Atlanta, leaving a void in the region. Volunteers and civic leaders joined forces to continue opera in Atlanta. In 1979, the Atlanta Civic Opera was formed, a result of a merger between two competing entities, Atlanta Lyric Opera and Georgia Opera.

The first artistic director was noted composer Thomas Pasatieri. In 1985, the company was renamed to The Atlanta Opera. The company’s first production was La Traviata on March 28, 1980, at the Fox Theatre. The following December, a festive gala was held in Symphony Hall with such noted young artists as Catherine Malfitano, Jerry Hadley and Samuel Ramey.

Atlanta Opera has a number of home venues. In 1990 it moved to the Atlanta Symphony Hall, in 1995 to the Fox Theatre, in 1998 to its own building, the Atlanta Opera Center at 728 West Peachtree St., in 2003 to the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, and finally in 2007, The Atlanta Opera moved into its new performance home at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, just outside the city and county limits.

The current Music Director and Conductor is Arthur Fagen, Professor of Music (Orchestral Conducting) at Indiana University. In 2013 the company hired the internationally recognized stage director, Tomer Zvulun to be its General and Artistic director. Zvulun directed over 15 new productions in Atlanta, including Dead Man Walking, The Flying Dutchman, Soldier Songs, Silent Night, Maria de Buenos Aires, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Lucia di Lammermoor, Magic Flute, Eugene Onegin. The company’s innovation initiatives garnered national attention and resulted in a Harvard Business School case study, an International Opera Awards nomination and an ArtsATL luminary award.

The company currently is performing six productions per season.

*     *     *     *     *

Atlanta joins opera’s top 10.

 By Norman Lebrecht    December 14, 2023

Opera America ranks US companies by budget, with a baseline of $15 million annual budget to make the top ten (among 180 ensembles).

Atlanta Opera has just broken through.

The list now reads: The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Seattle and Atlanta.

Atlanta chair Rhys Wilson said: ‘General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun was selected to lead the Atlanta Opera in 2013 and he immediately went to work innovating and celebrating the art of opera in our city. We’ve created new ways of thinking about opera and supporting the next generation of creatives, artists and audiences through our programs. Strong fundraising efforts and tight spending controls have stabilized the financial structure of the company while the caliber of the productions and the artists, both singers and musicians, has increased. We found a way to continue producing opera safely through the pandemic, which allowed us to keep our staff, donors and patrons; to provide needed jobs to more than 150 artists; and to raise our profile internationally. As a result, for the last eight seasons, we have operated in the black.’

BD:   I’d love to ask him how much being Artistic Director interferes with his writing notes down on paper.

Austin:   He’s certainly a busy fellow.  So coming back to your question, I don’t have any real answer for you except to say that despite what for us was an extraordinary publicity effort
although not as much as we would have likedthe attendance for that contemporary opera in Chattanooga was very poor, not only among single ticket sales, but even many of our subscribers did not come, and that’s discouraging.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Which is better for America as a whole
major companies on tour, or lots of regional companies?

Austin:   I’m not sure I’ve got a pat answer for you.  We have both, whether we like it or not.  [Pauses]  After a moment’s thought, my answer is no.  That’s like saying we should have no more than a dozen orchestras in the country, which would then tour to all the cities and give concerts.  In addition to providing full-time careers to a contingent of singers who basically live in New York and do it for a full-time living, regional opera companies also offer tremendous part-time opportunity to regional singers who sing the supporting and smaller roles, and even are the choristers in the various cities.  Some of them are paid, some are not, but all of them certainly get a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction out of participating in the productions.  What you’re basically saying is that none of these people should have a chance to perform if you say that we should only have these few huge national companies.  Then there’s the further factor that, while the Met does generate tremendous national support, there are many people who will give to something that is their own, namely their city’s own orchestra or art museum or opera company.  But they are not going to contribute to the Met, no matter how fine a company it might be.  It’s not theirs.  It doesn’t belong to them.  They have no emotional attachment to it.  The network of regional companies in terms of both the resources that they raise for the arts, and the opportunity that they give to regional as well as national artists is something that could not be replaced by touring, especially since, in all honesty, most regional opera productions are better than most touring productions, as a general rule.  In fact, there are very, very few opera tours anymore which can measure up to the average level of production in smaller cities now.  There was a time when touring was the only access people had to opera.  If it hadn’t been for Boris Goldovsky and his tour, and whatever his limitations there may have been, opera as an art form in many parts of the country would simply not have existed.  The country owes a tremendous debt to pioneers like that.  Thanks to him, there are now companies virtually in every city in the country, and the need no longer exists for that.  Companies which tour are having increasing difficulty, because their costs are rising even faster than fixed-base companies, and the quality level that they are offering is increasingly difficult for them to compete.
BD:   You’re also the director of a symphony orchestra in Cheyenne, Wyoming?

Austin:   Right.

BD:   Is it easier for the Chattanooga Opera to compete with other opera, than the Cheyenne Symphony to compete with other symphony orchestras?  People who come to the Cheyenne Symphony might have heard records of the Chicago Symphony, but the Chattanooga Opera patrons might not have seen productions of other companies.

Austin:   I would say that’s not so much the case anymore because of the television.  People all over the country now have access to both opera and symphony at the highest level through public radio and public television, and I don’t think it does any harm to a small company or a small orchestra for people to be aware of what quality is.  Certainly, it hasn’t hurt the Cheyenne Symphony success that the Denver Symphony and Utah Symphony come through and play a concert every year.  It simply turns our subscribers on to ask what they can do to make the Cheyenne Symphony sound like that.  That’s why I do not buy the excuse which prevailed in Atlanta, that the reason they did not have a successful opera company was that the Metropolitan Opera came through, and took everybody’s support, so there was no room for the city’s own company.  That’s not the case at all.  Indeed, the presence of that much interest in opera, even if much of it was socially inspired by the Met tour, is evidence that there can be, and hopefully will be, a very successful local company.

BD:   Is there social interest in coming to the Chattanooga Opera, or is it interest just in seeing the productions?

Austin:   I would have to be honest and say that it’s primarily interest in seeing the productions.  In a city like Chattanooga, social prestige is not a major factor in people’s decision to attend symphony, or opera, or anything else.  It’s simply not that sort of community.  Certainly, you don’t get the kind of glittering black tie, diamond, and designer-gowned affairs that I would presume happen on occasion in Chicago with Lyric and with the Symphony.  The price-range involved would be not be feasible in a city like Chattanooga.  I remember listening to the radio last weekend, saying what a bargain $500 was for a box seat at the Symphony to hear Jane Byrne [mayor of Chicago 1979-83] reading Lincoln Portrait [by Aaron Copland, with the Chicago Symphony on October 1, 1982].  It included dinner and everything, and actually when you stopped and broke it down in terms of what it cost to go out and eat a good meal in a restaurant here and everything, it was not unreasonable at all.  But if we attempted to sell a box seat in Chattanooga for a price like that, we would have an empty theater.  It’s a different situation.

BD:   Do regional companies then of necessity have to keep the prices as low as possible, or maybe even a little lower than they should?

Austin:   Pricing is a very difficult decision to make.  The opera is certainly the most expensive ticket in Chattanooga.  Unfortunately, I have very little way of measuring what economists call ‘elasticity’, that is the variation in demand which changes in price.  We proceed on the assumption that opera is fairly in elastic, which is the decision as to whether or not to go is primarily based on factors other than price.

BD:   Because if they want to go, they pay the price?

Austin:   Yes, but obviously there’s a limitation on that.  Whether it was due to the publicity generated, actually due to the price reduction, it’s a fact that when the New York City Opera announced a slash in their prices for their spring season this year, sales took off.  But there was some support from the rental companies, who said they’d give the company ten per cent off their rental fees.  In this case, cutting the ticket prices actually increased revenues.

BD:   Would the Chattanooga opera company be more willing to cut prices a little bit if they also got this kind of support from the rental companies?

Austin:   If we had some way of cutting costs, of course!  As it is, as is typical, our income from tickets covers only a third of the costs of running the company.

BD:   Where do you get the rest?

Austin:   There’s an Allied Arts Fund in Chattanooga.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Coming back to your current assignment here in Chicago, tell me about The Daughter of the Regiment.  Is it a fun opera to do?

Austin:   It’s a delightful opera.  I will confess that conductors don’t generally care for it because
deservedly sothe soprano gets all the attention.  It’s an incredible role.  She’s on stage constantly with aria after aria, high note after high note, cadenza after cadenza.  It’s a killer, and I don’t see how anyone can do it.  Our soprano, Maria Lagios [photo and biography shown below-right], is just splendid.  She just knocks it out, and at the end of the opera she looks like she could just do it all again.  She is as fresh as a daisy, while I’m a wreck!  [Both laugh]
BD:   Would you be intimidated if you were asked to do it with Joan Sutherland?

Austin:   [Laughs]  I’d be very surprised, and wonder if she was divorced.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Lets assume that Richard Bonynge, [her husband and regular conductor], is out conducting a ballet.
Austin:   Oh, I see!  No, no, I don’t think I would be intimidated.  If one knows a work and is in command of it, that’s the situation regardless of whom one may be working with.  Even in the early days, when the pressure wasn’t quite so great on me because I was working in various small situations, and out-of-the-way places, I made it a rule to always prepare as if I were debuting at La Scala.  Fortunately that habit got developed, so now when I get the opportunities in very important cities, such as Chicago, which is one of the most important cities in the world musically, I feel quite confident as I step into the pit.  I know that at least I’m going to go do my best, and pass that on for people’s reaction, be they critics or audience.  It is, in a sense as much up to them as it is to what I am presenting.  Music is, after all, communication, and fifty per cent of it is what the musicians are saying, and the other fifty per cent is what people are able to hear, or are willing to hear.

BD:   In this particular case, are you competing against the Sutherland/Bonynge recording?

Austin:   No.  As a matter of fact, I have strongly different opinions from that recording.  Let me quickly say that if I had Joan Sutherland singing the role, I am perfectly aware of some of the things that work splendidly for her, and I would therefore do them the same way if I were working with her.  However, they wouldn’t necessarily work well for a voice which is totally different.

BD:   How much do you alter your conducting conception by the dictates  and abilities of the cast?

Austin:   I would say substantially.  Obviously when I arrive at a production, I have specific tempi in mind, and specific musical decisions about cadenzas, and altered notes, etc.

BD:   Do you force your ideas on whoever is there?

Austin:   The way you phrase that question, the answer is no, but I usually insist that singers try it my way, particularly as I’ve gotten older and I’ve done productions for the second, and third, and fourth time.  I often have young casts who are less experienced than I, which is the reverse of the situation ten years ago.  [Both laugh]  But the reason that opera is such a fascinating art form, and why I prefer conducting opera rather than symphony, is that it is such a collaboration.  Quite aside from the extra-musical collaboration with the lights, and the costume designer, and the stage director, and even the wig and make-up people who make a tremendous contribution, even just within the musical collaboration there has to be the understanding on everyone’s part that the best product is reached by finding the tempo at which everyone can do their best.  That is the way the conductor can draw the best from the orchestra, the singers can sing at their best.  Therefore there is no one right way to do it.

BD:   Sometimes when I’m talking with international singers, they will lament that so-and-so producer or so-and-so stage director, has a certain conception, and they force everyone into that.  It doesn’t matter what the singer would feel better doing, or what might look better.

Austin:   I would like to think that’s more true for stage directors than conductors.

BD:   When you have a disagreement with either a singer or a stage director, or even the management, who has the last word?

Austin:   [Has a huge laugh]  That’s three different questions, and the situation varies considerably!  For one thing, I certainly have more say in my own house, where I’m Artistic Director, than I would as a guest conductor.  In general, if it’s a purely music dispute, management will back the conductor unless it’s a situation in which there is a star singer in the role, whose co-operation and continued goodwill is going to affect the box office.  If I were conducting for Joan Sutherland, and got into a tangle with her, I can assure you that she would have the last word, and deservedly so.  [Pauses]  Now that I’ve had a moment to think about it, a better way to answer your question is to say that if the situation ever gets to the point where someone has to have the last word, then it’s not been handled correctly.  For example, I arrived here for this production with a very, very different conception of the tempo in Il faut partir than Maria had.  I was taking it in six, as we conductors say.  That is, one beat to the eighth note, and treating it like an enormous arching melody, more or less as I would treat a Bellini aria.  I feel it’s much more related to Bellini than very late Donizetti and some of his own melodies.  It’s a very schizophrenic work because it veers back and forth between this music of tremendous emotional depth and power, true dramatic bel canto singing, and this very farcical Rossini-esque pattering.  As a result, the work musically has a very indistinct profile.

BD:   Does that make it go in fits and starts?

Austin:   It’s just that there’s a lack of unity in the musical style.  Maria’s voice is extremely flexible, and has a beautiful sound, but it’s a reasonable size for the kind of voice it is.  It’s certainly not a big voice, and it’s certainly not a voice that would be singing Bellini as Joan Sutherland does.  So she did what I asked singers to do, which is to try it once my way and hear how it sounds.  She wanted it in two, that is with the beat to the dotted quarter, which is considerably faster.  So I tried it that way, and I listened, and even though I had very different opinions on the subject, I had to honestly admit that she sounded better at that tempo, because her voice needed the additional support and the slightly shorter lines which were not stretched out over so much time.  The sound was better, so in that situation, it was time to abandon my preconceptions about how the music ought to go, and find the solution that was best for this particular performance situation.  If it had come to being a problem, the decision would have eventually been made by Alan Stone, who is the Artistic Director, and therefore the person who should arbitrate those kinds of disputes, and that’s the way it should work.

BD:   Is it good that he is a musician, too?

Austin:   [Diplomatically]  It’s good that he’s everything that he is.

BD:   In some cases a company could get an administrator who doesn’t know so much about the actual music.

Austin:   Hopefully such people are not made Artistic Directors.  Maybe managers and directors, but surely not Artistic Directors.  Alan’s amazingly observant about every detail of a production.

BD:   Does he interfere too much?

Austin:   I’m not sure I would ever use the world ‘interfere’.  I would say he passionately cares about every detail of a production in a way that is rare.  There are Artistic Directors who are with major companies
certainly not here in Chicagowhere their idea of looking after a production is to come in at the final dress, and say whether they like it or not!  [Both laugh]  That’s an abdication of responsibility.  Every word in the text, every note, every detail of a costume, every lighting cue are all important to Alan, and I admire that kind of devotion.  I enjoy working with someone who is that committed.

BD:   Do you give that kind of support in Chattanooga when you’re not conducting?

Austin:   I have thus far.  I’m trying to arrange for some guest conductors, because my own conducting career is now making it impossible for me to conduct all the productions there.  It’s time for the company to begin getting some other musical ideas in the course of the season.  I hardly have the final word on these matters, and it’s healthy for a company to get a variety of artistic input.  The principal problem at Chattanooga has not been me, but my Board which cannot understand why, if they’re paying me to conduct, they should also occasionally bring in a guest conductor at an additional expense.  But I think they’re finally beginning to understand what I’m saying about the orchestra, and the singers, and the audience needing to have more than one interpretation.

BD:   Especially when coming back to the same work again?

Austin:   Yes.  We’re beginning to repeat works that I conducted there several years ago and, especially for those works, I would like to use other conductors.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is there lend-lease program among regional companies for settings?

Austin:   Opera America has a directory of sets and costumes, which is used by most professional regional companies around the country.  Opera America really is considered to be the definition of professionalism, and their directory is very helpful. The problem is transportation costs are generally much greater than the cost of the set rental, therefore, regional companies are often effectively limited in the sense that they choose by distance.  There is a beautiful set in Vancouver for Eugene Onegin, but we can’t contemplate bringing it to Tennessee because it would cost tens of thousands of dollars.  It’s always a tremendous problem in choosing repertoire to find adequate sets and costumes.  We try to build one production a year, which helps because that frees us up.

OPERA America leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation, and enjoyment of opera.

Founded in 1970, OPERA America has a membership that includes over 600 opera companies, educational institutions, affiliated businesses, and other entities. More than 40,000 staff members, artists, and trustees at these organizations join nearly 3,000 individual members in empowering us as the national champion for opera.

Through national convenings, research, advocacy, granting, thought leadership, and a variety of programs for artists, administrators, educators, trustees, and appreciators, we move opera forward as an industry and an art form. 

The quarterly Opera America Magazine highlights the progress of the sector and the impact of more than $15 million in strategic grants we have awarded to increase new work, audience engagement, civic practice, business innovation, and inclusivity.

The National Opera Center, our custom-built rehearsal and performance facility in New York City, serves as the centralized home for the industry, welcoming 80,000 visitors each year.

==  From their official website  

BD:   Then where does that set go?  Do you store it for years and years, or do you sell it, or loan it out?

Austin:   Up until now, we’ve been able to store them and rent them out, but increasingly our storage space is running out, and also, it’s not good storage.  It’s very poorly protected, with changes of temperature and humidity.  We often have to repaint sets as a result, so it’s not the most fortunate of situations.

BD:   How often does an opera come back in a regional company?

Austin:   It depends on the opera.  We try not to repeat any work more often than every four years, and the works that are repeated that often, while great, are ones that I tire of.  I do wish people were more willing to enjoy the unusual and off-the-beaten-track material.  That’s why COT is such a blessing.
BD:   When you’re thinking about doing any opera, do you consider if it will be done in multiple years, or do you inquire about doing the production with a couple of other companies?

Austin:   Several approaches are used.  Clearly, we don’t generally build a production unless we think we’re going to do it more than once, although there are exceptions.  We had to build The Village Singer.  There were no others around.

BD:   You couldn’t borrow the one from St. Louis?

Austin:   It had been destroyed.  Minnesota has sets, but the cost of shipping them was again more than the cost of building new ones.  If we want to do something a little bit unusual, a very good route is the joint-production.  The problem there being that if you get four companies going in on the production, the four houses are going to be so different that the sets are going to wind up often being a poor compromise for all of them.

BD:   Are you aware of one or two other houses which are similar to yours, so there might be fewer technical problems?

Austin:   Oh, yes! The Kentucky Opera’s house in Louisville has many of the same problems as Chattanooga, and we’ve used several of their sets as a result.

BD:   Have they used some of yours, too?

Austin:   No, they haven’t.  That’s simply because we haven’t been very aggressive in letting them know that they’re there.  But it’s often worth the effort to develop a joint production, especially if it’s only two or three partners.  Although these days are passing, it’s difficult to get cooperation because everyone’s so busy jealously guarding their own interest that they fail to see that the common interests are, in fact, their interests.  [Austin then tells a story about the head of one of the nation
s smallest opera companies being incensed at not getting the same treatment and respect as the management of the Met!]  At the last Opera America conference, I remember being excited to walk down the hall and talk to David Gockley [a student of Margaret Harshaw, he was General Director of the Houston Grand Opera (1972-2005), and the San Francisco Opera (2006-16)], and Beverly Sills [after retiring from her singing career in 1980, she was General Manager of the New York City Opera, and later the Met, and was also Chairwoman of Lincoln Center], and Glynn Ross [General Director of the Seattle Opera (1963-83), and the Arizona Opera (1983-98), and shown below in a publicity photo for the first Seattle Ring], and Kurt Adler [conductor and General Director of the San Francisco Opera (1953-81)].

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Have you conducted any operas you don’t like?

Austin:   [Thinks a moment]  Hmmm... I’m not sure I would say what I don’t like.  I’ve conducted several that I would question whether they are worthy of professional productions in this day and age, as opposed to a university production.  For example, Haydn’s opera L’Infedelità Delusa.  It’s by the master, and is a very interesting piece because of who wrote it.  It has a spark or two of wit here and there, but when you consider the kind of resources that have to be devoted to producing any opera well, there are certainly much more stage-worthy works.

BD:   In other words, if it hadn’t been Haydn’s name on it, it would never have been considered?

Austin:   That’s fair to say.  I conducted it in a university, and it was, on its own terms and in that environment, a success.  The roles were singable for students, and it was playable by a student orchestra.  I certainly would argue strenuously against producing it in a professional environment where the possibility exists to produce The Magic Flute.

seattle ring

BD:   I would think it would be more difficult to get singers for The Magic Flute than for L’Infedelità Delusa.

Austin:   Oh, yes!  Absolutely!  There’s no question about it!  I love to make music, and the only piece I ever got tired of was Oklahoma, which I had to do at a summer theater once back in my student days.  I was desperate for money, and it got to the point that if anyone even sang the first three bars of ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning!’, I would [makes a terrible face].  [Both laugh]  To this day I hate that song...

BD:   So, now if a company asks you to do Oklahoma, you will say no?

Austin:   [Laughs]  Let’s just say I would hope that I could find a better opportunity.  But frankly I enjoy the whole process of opera, not just the conducting.

BD:   [Pressing the point just a bit]  If the Chicago Opera Theater offered you Oklahoma you would turn it down, but if Beverly Sills wanted you to make your debut at the New York City Opera in that piece, you’d have to say yes?

Austin:   It would probably be more the other way round, actually.  If I were going to make a New York debut, I would turn down something like Oklahoma for something that might get me better notices.  Whereas if Alan Stone were going to do it, I would at least know that it was going to be a fun show and a good cast!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Are there works that you’re itching to conduct?

Austin:   The repertoire is so vast, and I guess I’ve done about fifty different operas at this point, but basically anything that I haven’t done still fascinates me.  Anything, because it’s a challenge to tackle a new work, and try to figure out what makes it tick, and make it work.

BD:   Even something that you think might be disappointing?

Austin:   Absolutely.  In the case of works that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy doing, because I was not impressed with them, but as I began to study them and delve into them, I found a great deal there for someone to enjoy, appreciate, and learn from.  I do look forward to the day when I’ll be working in larger situations that are capable of doing some of the big works that I’m not doing now, such as Wagner, Strauss, Massenet, and the late Puccini.

BD:   Does conducting regional opera lead you into the pit of the Met or Chicago Lyric Opera?

Austin:   I would say by and large no.  The Met and Chicago still primarily look to Europe for their conductors.  That is less so since the advent of James Levine at the Met, and a number of fine young American conductors including Christopher Keene, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

BD:   What about the young conductor, Calvin Simmons?

Austin:   Oh, he’s a brilliant man.  I’ve never seen Calvin work as a conductor, but when I was at the San Francisco Opera many, many years ago, in 1971, I couldn’t help but be impressed to the point of being overwhelmed by his sheer musicality.  He has a quickness of the mind, and is a brilliant pianist.  A lot like James Levine, Simmons is someone who was born to make music.  I think he has gotten where he is because he is talented, not because he is black.  [Sadly, just three months after this interview took place, Simmons would be killed in a canoeing accident near Lake Placid, New York.  He was 32 years old.  See box below.]

Calvin Eugene Simmons (April 27, 1950 – August 21, 1982) was an American symphony orchestra conductor.

simmons Simmons was born in San Francisco, California. At the age of 9, he entered the Bay Area's musical scene and began living his dream of becoming a world-class musician. He had been taught the piano from an early age by his mother, Matty. By age 11, he was conducting the San Francisco Boys Chorus, started by Madi Bacon, of which he had been a member. Bacon gave him the early artistic freedom to assist with the chorus that would serve him and others for years. He was assistant conductor with the San Francisco Opera from 1972 to 1975, winning the Kurt Herbert Adler Award.

After working as assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, Simmons became Music Director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at age 28. He led the orchestra for four years, and continued to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, both at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and at the Hollywood Bowl. He would support Carmen McRae singing jazz one night, then conduct William Walton or Holst's The Planets a night or two later. He was the first African-American to be named conductor of a major U.S. symphony orchestra, and was a frequent guest conductor with some of the nation's major opera companies and orchestras (such as the Philadelphia Orchestra). He was the Music Director at the Ojai Music Festival in 1978.

He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 20 December 1978, aged 28, conducting Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. He returned the following season for the same opera, of which he conducted a total of 18 performances. He was on the musical staff at Glyndebourne from 1974 to 1978, and conducted the Glyndebourne Touring Opera, including Così fan tutte in 1975. He collaborated with the British director Jonathan Miller on a celebrated production of Mozart's Così fan tutte at the Opera Theater of St. Louis (USA) shortly before his death.

He remained active at the San Francisco Opera for all his adult life, first as a repetiteur and then as a member of the conducting staff. He made his formal debut conducting Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème with Ileana Cotrubas. His later work on a production of Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District drew national attention. In 1979 he conducted the premiere of Menotti's La Loca at San Diego.

His final concerts were three performances of the Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the summer of 1982 with the Masterworks Chorale and the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra.

Simmons died in a canoeing accident at age 32 near Lake Placid in New York. After a large public funeral at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, he was buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

The Oakland Symphony Orchestra was reorganized in July 1988 as the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra, and Simmons was honored by the naming of the Calvin Simmons Theatre at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, California. The Calvin Simmons Middle School in Oakland was named for him, but has since changed its name to United For Success Academy. Simmons is also the namesake of the grand ballroom of the Oakland Marriott Hotel.

His death inspired Lou Harrison to compose Elegy, To The Memory Of Calvin Simmons; Michael Tippett to compose The Blue Guitar, a sonata for solo guitar; and Robert Hughes to compose Sop'o muerte se cande, for high tenor and orchestra (1983, 2013). John Harbison wrote Exequien for Calvin Simmons. (Simmons conducted Harbison's Violin Concerto shortly before his death.)

[Austin continues]  What regional opera does lead to is hopefully better regional opera.  For example, Chattanooga, Tennessee is not historically a cultural mecca, but it says something for the artistic lines of communication of the country, that when a good job is done in a situation like that, and it has consistently improved, the productions begin to attract favorable notice.  Then one does get opportunities, as I have, with the Minnesota Opera, and the Chicago Opera Theater.  I’m currently talking to the people of the Boston Lyric Opera about working up there in 1983, and I would like to think there may be other cities in the country where I
ll eventually have an opportunity.  There are, of course, may talented people around...

BD:   Is John Balme still in Boston?

Austin:   Yes.

john balme John Balme (born 1946) is an American conductor, opera manager and pianist. He served as general director of Boston Lyric Opera from 1979 to 1989 and the Lake George Opera Festival from 1988 to 1992. He was also music director of the Liederkranz Foundation of the City of New York from 1984 to 1998. He has participated as conductor, assistant conductor, and/or producer in over 300 productions and has appeared as a guest conductor throughout the United States. He is best known for producing and conducting of the complete Ring Cycle of Richard Wagner for the Boston Lyric Opera in Boston and New York City in 1982 and 1983.

His extensive performance history includes works by Mozart, Wagner, Strauss, Puccini, and Verdi, as well as operas such as Dialogues of the Carmelites, Der Zigeunerbaron, Der Freischütz, The Rake's Progress, and Die Tote Stadt.

As a pianist, Balme has accompanied many singers, including recital performances with Carlo Bergonzi, Nicholai Gedda, Jerome Hines, and Deborah Voigt. He has also served as production accompanist for Beverly Sills, Shirley Verrett, Sherrill Milnes, and Jon Vickers.

He has conducted at opera companies throughout the US and around the world, including Hawaii Opera Theatre, San Diego Opera, Welsh National Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Augusta Opera, Shreveport Opera, and Opera Theatre of Rochester. He was the manager of opera in New England from 1977 to 1978 and production coordinator for the San Diego Opera from 1978 to 1979.

Balme collaborated with Scott Brummit to found Longwood Opera in 1986 to give locally based performers a chance to establish themselves as professional artists. He was the director at Longwood Opera from 1986 to 1992.

Balme attended Oxford University, the Royal College of Music, the Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University. He has served on the faculties of the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Connecticut, New England Conservatory of Music and Northeastern University.

He is married to operatic soprano Cynthia Springsteen, who also worked for the Children's Opera Chorus and had vocal training from Armen Boyajian. John Balme was the director of music ministry for St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Long Branch's West End, New Jersey, and is now music director for Christ Episcopal Church in Middletown, New Jersey, and is director of Concordia Chorale, a chamber choir with performances around the world. He maintains a teaching studio for piano, violin, viola, and other instruments in Belford, New Jersey.

BD:   Does concert opera work?

Austin:   In the sense that it’s musically very interesting and exciting, yes.  In the sense that it’s what the composer had in mind, and we should be satisfied with it, of course not.  There are many works which are not being produced, which, by getting concert exposure, attract interest.  Eve Queler has done a great service for opera in this country by bringing many operas off the dusty back shelves in concert form, and showing that there’s a lot of life left in those old vehicles.  Some of them have then been given full productions.  So, there is a place for concert opera.  For that matter, a group like the Chicago Symphony now and then will play a full act of a Wagner opera just because they play so much better than any opera orchestra in the world.  In general, I would say that it is at best an acceptable substitute in those limited situations.

BD:   If the Chicago Symphony is doing an opera, why shouldn’t I just sit at home and listen to my recording?

Austin:   What you should do is go to the concert hall and hear it.  To compare the two experiences, it’s the difference between heating up a frozen meal, and dining at Le Français!  It may be the same dish, but it’s not the same experience.  [Much laughter]

BD:   I may steal that analogy.

Austin:   Oh, please, be my guest!  [More laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What opera have you perhaps conducted most?

Austin:   Inevitably Carmen, simply because it gets done the most.

BD:   Is it better with spoken dialogue or with recitative?

Austin:   I frankly think with dialogue, but then I’m a bit of a purist.  That’s the way it was originally written.  I will then quickly turn around and say if you’re in a big international house with singers who are probably physically not really right for the roles, and who’ve been selected because they have the voices that can communicate that opera in that situation, and their basic idea of acting is to plant themselves two feet upstage from the prompter’s box and sing, you’re better off with the recitatives, because even one line of dialogue requires acting ability.  I can assure you that in The Daughter of the Regiment, which has relatively little dialogue, tremendous amounts of time and effort were spent on coaching the dialogue again and again, and going through the little scenes that connect the musical numbers.  This is even though we have a cast which has an exceptionally high level of acting ability for opera singers.  It doesn’t come easily for opera singers to act without having the benefit of a musical line to help them communicate.  [With a wink]  Think how
easy it would be for Lawrence Olivier to sing opera!  [Both laugh]

BD:   That’s what the singers have trained for, and what they are experienced with.

Austin:   Yes, and with the right kind of cast, Carmen with the dialogue is a tremendously violent and powerful drama.

BD:   Is Carmen an opera that lends itself to being played in modern dress, perhaps more so than The Daughter of the Regiment?

Austin:   I would say only in the sense that it is so magnificent a work.  It is so successful a work that you can do incredible things to it, and it will still be a successful work.  I’ve read about a Carmen production with twelve instruments that’s the rage in Europe.

BD:   Do you mean Carmen Suite, the ballet by Rodion Shchedrin?


Carmen Suite
is a one-act ballet created in 1967 by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso to music by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin for his wife, prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya [both shown in photo at right]. The premiere took place on April 20, 1967, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The music, taken from Bizet's opera Carmen and arranged for strings and percussion, is not a 19th-century pastiche, but rather "a creative meeting of the minds," as Shchedrin put it, with Bizet's melodies reclothed in a variety of fresh instrumental colors (including the frequent use of percussion), set to new rhythms and often phrased with a great deal of sly wit. Initially banned by the Soviet hierarchy as 'disrespectful' to the opera for precisely these qualities, the ballet has since become Shchedrin's best-known work and has remained popular in the West for what reviewer James Sanderson calls "an iconoclastic but highly entertaining retelling of Bizet's opera."

Austin:   No, no!  Someone’s done a new production of Carmen in Europe.  It’s seventy-five minutes long, and uses twelve instruments, or something like that.  I wish I had the details for you...  [Perhaps Austin is thinking of the adaptation by the stage director Peter Brook known as La Tragedie de Carmen, done in collaboration with the writer Jean-Claude Carrière and the composer Marius Constant.  This 90-minute version focused on four main characters, eliminating choruses, and the major arias were reworked for chamber orchestra. Brook first produced it in Paris, and it has since been performed in many cities.]  But turning away from that, let’s consider the movie, Carmen Jones, which is very successful.  It has a certain elemental power about it that should not be an encouragement to young directors to therefore set the opera in an automobile factory in Milan in 1960!  Rather, all this should simply prove that the music is so communicative and so evocative.

BD:   Would The Daughter of the Regiment work like that?

Austin:   I would think it would not make any significant difference what era, or what army, or what nationality one used for that opera.  The music would still sparkle, the plot would still be utterly ridiculous, and it would still be a success.  My feeling is why bother since it works on its own terms?  Why attempt to force it into another mold just to show how clever you are as a stage director.  I part company with the more extreme productions simply because I fail to see that they are revealing anything about the work that was not already in it.

BD:   Do audiences, in your opinion, seem to respond more to a farce than to a tragedy?

Austin:   If you look at the operas that have historically been successful, not only here but elsewhere, it’s rather the other way round. 
People do enjoy the comedies, which is why The Barber of Seville, and Don Pasquale, and Cenerentola are very much with us, but they seem to prefer operas in which the heroine in particular doesn’t quite make it through the last act.  Everyone loves to watch poor Mimì cough herself to death!  [Both laugh]  Next year in Chattanooga will be what I’m calling The Year of the Dead Broads.  [Huge laugh]  We’re doing Traviata, Butterfly and The Ballad of Baby Doe.  Not a single soprano is going to be alive at the end the season!
BD:   How did you arrive at Baby Doe rather than, say, Wozzeck?

Austin:   First of all, Wozzeck needs resources past those which we can command in terms of our orchestra and singers, but principally orchestra.

BD:   So why Baby Doe instead of, say, Good Soldier Schweik [which the COT had produced the previous year]?  [For a discussion about Schweik from its second COT production (in 2001), see my interview with director Harry Silverstein.  The Athenaeum Theater, where COT played, is shown at right.]

Austin:   We wanted to produce an American work and a contemporary work which was still accessible to our audience. You must keep in mind that our audience is not the same as the COT audience.  Our audience consists primarily of people who are coming to be entertained, and who want to see a good musical show.  The fact that it is also an opera is something that they’ve decided to tolerate.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly is a very different sort of audience from the kind of audience which will come to see Good Soldier Schweik, which is a marvelous piece, but it is not mainline repertoire, even in Chicago.  I don’t apologize for the fact that we don’t often produce works of that kind.  The fact that we even do so occasionally means that we are in Chattanooga in the forefront of the regional companies.

BD:   Are there some regional companies that never get away from Donizetti, Puccini, Verdi?

Austin:   And the occasional foray into Mozart.  This is less true now than it used to be, because audiences are growing, and there’s more awareness nationally of what’s in the repertoire.

BD:   Is that because of recordings and television?

Austin:   A great deal has to do with television and radio broadcasts.

BD:   [Genuinely surprised]  More so than recordings???

Austin:   Far more so than recordings, yes.

BD:   Why?

Austin:   Whatever your opinion of the Met broadcasts, they have given opera an incredible shot in the arm all over the country.

BD:   More so than being able to go out and buy La Bohème for five dollars?

Austin:   It’s a lot more than five dollars, but people are not motivated to spend money on opera if they don’t already know something about it.

BD:   If you produce Carmen, then maybe next year they’ll go and buy a recording?

Austin:   Yes.

BD:   But not before they see the work?

Austin:   Exactly, yes.  The man in the street is not going to walk into a record store, and never having seen an opera in his life spend thirty dollars on a recording of Werther!  It just doesn’t happen!  But the broadcasts are putting that into people’s homes.  I found the statistics stunning, but more people saw La Bohème on that television broadcast than had ever seen Bohème before in all of history, in every performance ever given in the world!  That is staggering!  The power of that medium is unbelievable, and that’s what’s making the difference.  Then, as the repertoire begins to get hopefully past Bohème’s on these broadcasts, it’s really going to open things up for people to consider other works.  Even Lucia di Lammermoor is a little bit unusual... not in the big houses, but regionally.

BD:   Would you consider letting the local public television station in Chattanooga televise your Traviata, Butterfly, and Baby Doe?

Austin:   We’d be delighted, but unfortunately the money’s just not there for that.  It costs a great deal.  In fact, it would be more than the production to televise it.

BD:   But think of the exposure you would get!

Austin:   [Laughs]  We’ve given it consideration from time to time.  We even applied for grant support to televise certain productions, but somehow it has just never come together for us.  The broadcast of Summer and Smoke [by Lee Hoiby, and featuring Mary Beth Peil (who had created the role of Alma) and Robert Orth] is going to do a great deal for COT’s image in the community, because it’s a good production, and that kind of national exposure really gives a certain distinction to a company.

BD:   Are you happy with the Met telecasts?  If the Met decides to televise something, maybe you’ll do it in a couple of years, and people will remember and come see it?

Austin:   To tell you the truth, the subtitles help, but I’d be a lot happier with the Met’s broadcasts if they would do them in English.  Attempting to appeal to the nation at large, they are automatically turning off a vast portion of our audience that is not going to respond to a work in a foreign language even with subtitles.

BD:   Is Who’s Afraid of Opera the wrong kind of series for television?


Sutherland and Bonynge’s 1972-3 series, Who
s Afraid of Opera, presented works distilled into 30-minute, family-friendly performances, with dialogue in English, and musical numbers in the original language.

To move the sprawling plots along, Sutherland would step out of the performances to speak with three puppet friends — a lion and two goats — who served as a rapt audience to the musical dramas.

Austin:   I don’t think it does any harm, but I don’t really think it does any good either.  It was rather condescending, really.  I found that particular series unsuccessful as a marketing tool, perhaps because Sutherland failed to convince me that opera was fun!  [Both laugh]  She is perhaps not as successful a spokesperson as, for example, Beverly Sills.  Sutherland doesn’t exude the kind of warmth and enthusiasm over the medium of television that I think was needed.

BD:   Does it have anything to do with the fact that Sills is from Brooklyn?

Austin:   Hard to say.  She’s certainly an effective saleswoman.  Whatever her administrative success may be at City Opera, she’s certainly does a great deal for their image.

BD:   How do you like being an administrator?

Austin:   It’s a challenge.  I have to confess that by and large, I made a fundamental career decision a while back that I would be a performer, not an administrator.  When I was quite young, still in college, I was offered the Number Two position at Wolf Trap, which was just then being formed.  It was a position with a very high salary, and also responsibilities which would clearly lead me into the top ranks of artistic management in the country.

BD:   But no conducting?

Austin:   No conducting.  I agonized for a great deal of time, because at that moment I didn’t have any particular reason to believe that I would succeed as a conductor.  Finally I decided that I would never be happy if I didn’t at least try, and believe me, no one is more surprised than I at how well it’s gone... except possibly my parents!  They were quite sure that no one from Tusculum, Tennessee, who was an offspring of theirs, could do what Leonard Bernstein did on television.  [Both laugh]  The first time they ever came to a concert was one I did as a guest conductor with the Knoxville Symphony.  It was close enough for them to come, and they were so certain it was going to be a disaster, that they didn’t tell anyone who they were.  Finally, at the intermission, they overheard people in the lobby saying it was a fairly exciting concert, and at that point they began to timidly admit that they were, in fact, my parents!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Are they happy with what’s happened now?

Austin:   [Smiles]  I still occasionally get asked when I’m going to get a real job!  [More laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Are you coming back to Chicago?

Austin:   I certainly hope so!  I can’t afford to come very often because I gain three or four pounds a week in your city.  [Both laugh]  Therefore my visits have to be far enough between that I can lose it before I return!  But I don’t think Mr. Stone’s even announced his repertoire for next year, much less who’ll be working with him.  I will say he is perfectly aware that there are many, many talented directors, conductors and singers all over the country, and since he only has three productions a year, it is unlikely that he would want to offer consistent year after year opportunities to the same set of people, because one of his duties is to try to bring many different kinds of talent to Chicago to work with COT.
BD:   In other words, you might be back in two or three years?

Austin:   If I were in his position, I would certainly look at it in that kind of timescale.  It’s a very different situation for him.  If he had eight or ten productions a year, he’d almost have to have a resident Music Director simply to run the situation.  I have great respect for Joseph De Rugeriis, who was here earlier this year, and I would like to think that he and I represent the kind of musical talent that Alan is going to be presenting to the city.  Just off the cuff, I suggested to him that he bring Calvin Simmons here.

BD:   Do you think Simmons would come to the Chicago Opera Theater?

Austin:   Of course!  Chicago Opera Theater is no longer a small company.  There’s a $600,000 budget this year, and considerably more than that next year.  It’s very much in the forefront of the nation’s companies now, and certainly is increasingly attracting the kind of respect from critics and colleagues that are the hallmark of the best of regional opera.

BD:   Is it strange to find regional opera in such a major metropolis as Chicago?

Austin:   No, because it’s a different concept of opera production.  It has a different philosophy from that which prevails at the international houses.  It’s interesting to compare the situation here and in San Francisco, where Kurt Adler saw the vacuum that was there beneath the international house.  So, rather than have any of the city
s smaller opera groups grow up to fill it, and become perhaps not a rival but at least an alternative, he developed his own separate company, San Francisco Spring Opera, which fulfilled that role.  In Chicago, the Lyric, for whatever reason, chose not to develop such a company, and left this need unfulfilled.  They had their Opera School, which I’m sure did very good productions.  I’ve not seen them, but I know many fine singers who have come through there.

BD:   Where does something like Brown Bag Opera fit in?

Austin:   Brown Bag Opera is really only a PR tool to create interest in San Francisco Opera, and other activities.  They get grants to do that sort of thing.  COT is so young, and they’ve come so far so fast.  Eventually they surely will be getting into some things like that, because they’re in a much better position to do them than Lyric is.  It will also help COT subscription series a great deal, and enable them to go to more and more performances.  Already it’s very impressive, since they do six performances of each work.

BD:   A couple of years ago, it was just three or four.

Austin:   Yes, and there are very, very few regional companies that do that many performances, and sell that many tickets.  As I said, it is no longer a fledgling operation.  It’s a very, very professional, very smoothly running group.

BD:   Is that the biggest difference between COT and the Chattanooga Opera, that there are more performances of each production?

Austin:   COT is a little bit unusual in regional opera because it is the second company in a major city.  There are the differences in repertoire that we talked about earlier, and the difference in role from a company which is the only opera for a couple of hundred miles around.  So in that sense, COT and Chattanooga are not comparable.  However, in terms of the size of their season, the kind of singers that they use, the way they are structured and the philosophy of productions, they are quite similar, as they are to literally dozens of companies around the country from Arizona Opera to Anchorage Civic Opera to Kentucky Opera.  The list goes in nearly every state.

BD:   Is this what dictates that you would do Traviata rather than something else?

Austin:   Right.  The principal difference between COT and Chattanooga is really selection of repertoire, because of the difference in the two situations.  But, as I say, the kinds of artists we present and the philosophy of production
that is a unified ensemble of singing and acting; a true music theater; the philosophy of presenting a smaller work in a production of the highest quality as opposed for going for the big splash, regardless of what the consequences may beare the very essence of what I call regional opera.  That’s certainly very different from what the Lyric tries to do, which is to present the greatest singers in the world, in the greatest repertoire in the world, on the grandest possible scale.  I’m wild about it, but that’s not what regional opera companies are about.

BD:   [Musing without gloating]  We really have the best of both here in Chicago.

Austin:   Oh, yes.  Chicago is one of the richest places in the world to live.  I would give anything to be able to live in a city like this instead of traveling around the country.

BD:   More than New York?

Austin:   New York’s just as diverse, but it’s not really as accessible somehow.  It’s so easy to get around in this city.  Everything is so close together.  The old saying is
Chicago, the City that Works’  That’s one way of looking at Chicago, and I’ve always looked at it that way.

BD:   Thank you for all the music, and for speaking with me today.

Austin:   It
s a great pleasure.  Thank you.

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© 1982 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 24, 1982.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB a couple days later.  This transcription was made in 2023, 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.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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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.