From Development server
16 June 2016

Robert O'Hearn, 94, Designer Whose Aesthetic Shaped Opera Productions Over a Sixty-Year Career, has Died

ROBERT O’HEARN
Elkhart, IN, July 19, 1921—Bloomington, IN, May 26, 2016 

A DESIGNER WHOSE handsome, traditional designs shaped the aesthetics of opera production in the U.S. during his sixty-year career, O'Hearn worked at the Brattle Theater Company in Cambridge, MA before making his Broadway debut in 1950, with the designs for the Brattle’s production of Vanbrugh’s Restoration comedy The Relapse. O’Hearn worked as an assistant to Lemuel Ayers, Oliver Messel and Oliver Smith on several Broadway productions in the 1950s, including the original runs of Kismet, The Pajama Game, House of Flowers and West Side Story.

In 1958, O’Hearn designed the Washington Opera Society’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Nathaniel Merrill, a member of the staging staff at the Metropolitan Opera. After seeing their production of Don Giovanni, Met general manager Rudolf Bing asked Merrill and O’Hearn to direct and design a new production of L’Elisir d’Amore at the Met in 1960. The new Elisir, which marked O’Hearn’s Met debut, staged Dulcamara’s entrance in a hot-air balloon, creating an iconic moment in Donizetti’s comedy that delighted Met audiences for decades. Merrill and O’Hearn were frequent collaborators at the Met, re-teaming for new stagings there of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1962), Aida (1963), Samson et Dalila (1964), Hansel and Gretel (1967), Der Rosenkavalier (1969) and Parsifal (1970), as well the company premieres of Die Frau ohne Schatten (1966) and Porgy and Bess (1985). Several of the Merrill-O’Hearn productions endured in repertory for a generation; in addition to L’Elisir, the O’Hearn-Merrill realizations of Hansel and Gretel and Der Rosenkavalier were especially beloved. O’Hearn and Merrill also collaborated on twenty-five productions in other venues, including Central City Opera House, Miami Opera, the Bregenz Festival, the Vienna Volksoper and Opéra du Rhin in Strasbourg. 

O’Hearn designed the Met’s 1965 production of The Queen of Spades, directed by Henry Butler; the company’s 1967 realization of the Bournonville ballet La Ventana; and the Met’s 1975 Günther Rennert staging of Le Nozze di Figaro. Away from the Met, O’Hearn was welcomed as a designer by New York City Opera, New York Shakespeare Festival, New York City Center, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Canadian Opera Company, Boston Lyric Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Ballet West, Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, Opera Colorado and Michigan Opera Theater, among other companies.

O’Hearn served as professor at the New York Studio and Forum of Stage Design from 1968 to 1988, when he joined the opera studies faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington. In his twenty years at the Jacobs School, O’Hearn created more than thirty opera and fourteen ballet designs for IU Opera and Ballet Theater, many of which remained in current rotation at the time of his retirement from teaching, in 2008. O’Hearn was a professor emeritus at I. U. at the time of his death. spacer 

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