OPERA NEWS - Obituaries
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Distinguished singing actress Brenda Lewis, who created roles in two iconic American operas; director Peter Hall; basso buffo nonpareil Enzo Dara; director Lee Blakeley; veteran voice teacher and vocal coach Claudia Pinza Bozzolla; arts manager Bruce Zemsky; former Paris Opera President Pierre Bergé.

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Lewis, whose long career included roles at the Met, New York City Opera and on Broadway
Opera News Archives
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Brenda Lewis as Lizzie Borden at New York City Opera
© Beth Bergman


A FEROCIOUSLY INTELLIGENT singing actress, Brenda Lewis came to prominence during a fertile time in American opera. She was most closely associated with two successful works—Marc Blitzstein’s Regina (1949),in which she created the role of the alcoholic Birdie before graduating to the scheming Regina, and Lizzie Borden, Jack Beeson’s searing 1965 masterpiece about events leading up to one of America’s most baffling murder cases.

Lewis was in the premed program at Pennsylvania State University before she got a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music. She was a very proficient musician who could play any role at the piano well enough to teach it to herself. As a young singer in Philadelphia, she sang with a contemporary music group. She later told opera news that whenever someone was needed to learn a new piece, “I would be their sucker.” She sang her first major role at nineteen—the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. (Her age wasn’t the only thing unusual about the performance; her Octavian was a man—baritone David Brooks.)

Lewis’s New York City Opera debut came in 1945, as Santuzza. She remained with the company through 1967, appearing as Marguerite in Faust, Marˇenka in The Bartered Bride, Tatiana, Donna Elvira, Salome and Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann. In 1948, Lewis appeared briefly on Broadway as the Female Chorus in Benjamin Britten’s Rape of Lucretia. Kitty Carlisle had the title role, but the supporting cast included several City Opera talents—Lewis, Adelaide Bishop, Patricia Neway and Emile Renan. It was a period when a number of new English-language operas were being produced on Broadway, and Lewis followed Lucretia with her acclaimed portrayal of Birdie in Blitzstein’s Regina, which bowed at New York’s 46th Street Theatre in 1949. Regina ran for only fifty-six performances, but it became a success when New York City Opera revived it in 1953, this time with Lewis playing Regina. NYCO presented a heavily revised version in 1958; this performance was recorded and is still available on Sony. Lewis’s intense performance of Regina’s credo, “The best thing of all,” is one of the most exciting moments in twentieth-century American opera.

In September 1951, Lewis made her first appearance with the Met, as Rosalinde in a national company of Garson Kanin’s Fledermaus production, which toured the U.S. until February 2. Later that month, on February 26, 1952, Lewis made her official company debut in New York, as Musetta in La Bohème. She appeared with the Met in New York and on tour through 1965, in roles that ranged from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa to Marina in Boris Godunov. In 1953, Lewis sang Rosalinde and Musetta with the Met in live studio telecasts for CBS television’s Omnibus series. 

Salome served as Lewis’s debut role at San Francisco Opera in 1950; six years later, she opened Houston Grand Opera in the same role. She was also noted for Marie in Wozzeck, which she sang for both the Met and NYCO. She was scheduled to sing the San Francisco Opera premiere of Wozzeck in 1960 but was forced to withdraw because of illness. (She was replaced by a young unknown, Marilyn Horne.)

It was another triumph at New York City Opera that eclipsed these successes. Lewis made Beeson’s Lizzie Borden a chilling and unforgettable study in repression and pent-up rage. She later remembered that the score looked like “an Etruscan discovery. Blotch after blotch—chords that were about three inches tall.” As an actress, she brilliantly served Kenward Elmslie’s scorching libretto; the edge she gave to Lizzie’s great mad scene at the close of Act I—“Lizzie has a body / Lizzie has a head / Lizzie’s cut to pieces / Lizzie must be dead!”—was hard for audiences to shake off. Lewis looked back on the weeks of the original Lizzie Borden run as a time of great emotional turmoil. Perhaps her performance was so overwhelming because she “just wanted to get up there and get it out of my guts.” Elmslie later told opera news, “She took it and ran.... Brenda wanted to go through every line of the text, and to know what I thought was going on inside and underneath the scenes—the subtext.” The opera was commercially recorded and also taped for public television. 

Lizzie was Lewis’s final role at New York City Opera. Throughout her career, she also appeared extensively in musical theater—touring in Call Me Madam,starring in Vienna Volksoper productions of Kiss Me, Kate and Annie Get Your Gun and returning to Broadway in Sigmund Romberg and Leo Robin’s Girl in Pink Tights (115 performances, 1954) and Albert Hague and Marty Brill’s Cafe Crown (three performances, 1964). 

For many decades, Lewis made her home in Westport, Connecticut. She directed operas for New Haven Opera Theater and spent many years on the voice faculty of the Hartt School of Music. A production of Die Fledermaus she directed was filmed for Connecticut Public Television and won a regional Emmy. Her first husband was conductor/violist Simon Asen; her second was engineer Benjamin Cooper. After her retirement from teaching, she still kept up with performances and had no qualms about voicing her opinions of them. Her no-nonsense wit never diminished; when she was honored at the 1997 Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundation gala, she drew a big laugh from the audience when she announced, “I feel resurrected!” —Brian Kellow 


A DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER who was a transformative force in the English-speaking theater for more than fifty years, Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, at twenty-nine, and led it to international acclaim. He was director of Britain’s National Theatre from 1973 to 1988, during which time the company moved from the Old Vic Theatre to a new home on the South Bank. In 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company, which presented shows in England and the U.S. He was also founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston in 2003. Hall directed the English-language premiere of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the world premieres of eight Harold Pinter plays, including The Homecoming and No Man’s Land.

A celebrated director of opera, Hall staged productions at Bayreuth, where he directed a complete Ring cycle in 1983; Lyric Opera of Chicago, where his credits included the 2005 company premiere of Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage; Los Angeles Opera, where he collaborated with designer Gerald Scarfe on a much-revived Zauberflöte; and Glyndebourne, where he was artistic director from 1984 to 1990. Hall’s two productions for the Metropolitan Opera were Macbeth (1982) and Carmen (1986).

MANTUA, ITALY, OCTOBER 13, 1938—AUGUST 25, 2017    

ENZO DARA'S four-decade career as a masterful interpreter of opera’s biggest basso buffo roles found him sharing the stage with some of the greatest singers of the second half of the twentieth century. Dara, who was born in Mantua, died at the age of seventy-eight in his hometown on August 25. 

Dara worked as a journalist before considering a career in opera and eventually studied with Bruno Sutti in Mantua. The bass made his professional debut in 1960 singing Colline in a production of Bohème in Fano, a commune on Italy’s northern Adriatic coast. Over the next four decades, Dara became one of the most famous Italian basses on the opera stage by portraying a cluster of touchstone roles that highlighted his natural gifts for comedy, rapid-fire patter and bel canto technique. 

He first sang Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’Amore in 1966 in Reggio Emilia and soon followed Donizetti’s dottore with Rossini’s in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, taking on the role of Bartolo at Spoleto’s Festival dei Due Mondi in 1967. Two years later, he repeated the role at La Scala under the baton of Claudio Abbado. He would go on to sing Bartolo more than 400 times, including forty-one performances at the Metropolitan Opera. Other roles included Cenerentola’s Don Magnifico, the title role in Don Pasquale and Dandini in La Cenerentola, which he sang on tour with La Scala and at the Royal Opera House in 1976. 

After retiring from singing, Dara directed a number of opera productions, including performances of Cimarosa’s Maestro di Cappella and 2015 performances of Don Pasquale at Venice’s Fenice. 


ONE OF THE MOST ADMIRED opera and theater directors of his generation, Blakeley delivered productions that were elegant, witty and richly intelligent, achieving success in a repertoire that ranged from Verdi and Mozart to Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Educated at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and at the University of Glasgow, Blakeley first attracted important attention in 2001, with his world-premiere production of an early Handel cantata, Clori, Tirsi and Fileno, offered in a sexually provocative staging at Heaven, a popular gay club in London. Blakeley began a long and happy association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as an assistant on the premiere of the 2003 staging of Die Zauberflöte by David McVicar, whom Blakeley had first assisted during his student days in Glasgow. Blakeley returned to Covent Garden to stage the McVicar Zauberflöte production in four subsequent revivals and performed similar duties for McVicar’s 2004 staging of Faust. Blakeley also directed the European premiere of Tobias Picker’s Thérèse Raquin at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio Theatre in 2006. Other European credits included Rusalka at the 2007 Wexford Festival, the show that Blakeley regarded as his career “breakout”; Judith Weir’s Night at the Chinese Opera for Scottish Opera in 2008; and a gritty Merry Widow, set in 1939 Europe, for De Vlaamse Opera.

Blakeley’s highest-profile projects in Europe were a successful series of American musical-theater works presented at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, beginning in 2010 with the French premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, its starry cast headed by Greta Scacchi, Leslie Caron and Lambert Wilson. Other Blakeley stagings at the Châtelet included Sweeney Todd, with Rod Gilfry as Sweeney (2011); Sunday in the Park with George,starring Julian Ovenden(2013); Into the Woods (2014); The King and I, with Wilson and Susan Graham in the title roles (2014); and Kiss Me, Kate (2016).

Blakeley’s principal professional activity in North America was at Santa Fe Opera, where his productions included Madama Butterfly (2010); a spectacular Pêcheurs de Perles (2012); The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, with Susan Graham as the Grand Duchess(2013); and Rigoletto (2015). In 2015, Blakeley directed the U.S. premiere of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he returned to direct the company premiere of Macbeth in 2016. Both of Blakeley’s OTSL stagings were characterized by his typically keen attention to text and his masterfully swift, clean presentation of stage action. At the time of his death, from a heart attack, Blakely was scheduled to return to OTSL in a future season for a newNozze di Figaro. Other North American credits for Blakeley included Falstaff and Madama Butterfly at LA Opera, Orfeo ed Euridice at Minnesota Opera, Sweeney Todd at San Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera, The King and I at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Canadian Opera Company. In 2014, Blakeley directed the New York premiere of Jessica Walker’s play Pat Kirkwood Is Angry as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.

An associate director at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, The Royal Opera and English National Opera, Blakeley was also a translator, dramaturge and broadcaster. —F. Paul Driscoll 

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Bozzolla, in costume as Micaela, with her father, Ezio

Opera News Archives

, 1925—PITTSBURGH, PA, AUGUST 3 , 2017   

A VETERAN VOICE TEACHER and vocal coach, the soprano was the daughter of bass Ezio Pinza, one of the great opera stars of the twentieth century. Bozzolla was born in Buenos Aires, while her father was singing at the Teatro Colón; her godparents were soprano Claudia Muzio and conductor Tullio Serafin. After her parents separated, Bozzolla was raised in Italy, where she began her vocal studies at the Bologna Conservatory. She made her debut at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala at the age of eighteen, in Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In January 1947, at twenty-one, Bozzolla sang Mimì in La Bohème and Violetta in La Traviata for the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company. She made her San Francisco Opera debut, as Marguerite to her father’s Méphistophélès in Faust, in October 1947. The following month, she arrived at the Metropolitan Opera, as Micaela in Carmen. Bozzolla sang three more performances of Micaela and a single Mimì in La Bohème for the Met, all in the 1947–48 season.

Pinza gave up her singing career in 1958, when she returned to Europe and married Italian agronomist Rolando Bozzolla. The Bozzollas eventually settled in Bellevue, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Claudia Bozzolla began a second career as a voice professor at the University of Pittsburgh, where she joined the faculty in 1979, and at Duquesne University, where she was an adjunct professor of voice. In 1981, with the encouragement of her friend Luciano Pavarotti, Bozzolla founded the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera (EPCASO), an intensive training program for singers. Bozzolla also taught privately and was an active board member of Pittsburgh Opera.

BROOKLYN, NY, MAY 12, 1955—NEW YORK, NY,  AUGUST 6, 2017   

ZEMSKY WAS A SENIOR PARTNER of Zemsky/Green Artists Management, the firm that he and his business partner, Alan Green, founded in 2005. Zemsky and Green had previously worked together at CAMI, where they were managers on the roster for more than two decades, and at Shaw Concerts. Zemsky was a passionate lover of opera and vocal music who discovered, developed and mentored many of the top names in the classical field. The artists on the Zemsky/Green roster include Jonas Kaufmann, Charles Castronovo, Judith Forst, Hibla Gerzmava, Massimo Giordano, Anja Harteros, Hui He, Ermonela Jaho, Brandon Jovanovich, Yonghoon Lee, Nino Machaidze, John Osborn, Marina Poplavskaya, Anita Rachvelishvili, Paulo Szot, Hao Jiang Tian, Ramón Vargas, Eva Maria Westbroek and Pretty Yende. Zemsky died of complications from myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of cancer.


A VISIONARY BUSINESSMAN whose acumen made his onetime life partner, designer Yves Saint Laurent, one of the most important names in global fashion, Bergé was a prominent supporter of Socialist politics who was appointed president of the Paris Opera in 1988 by French president François Mitterand. Placed in charge of the Palais Garnier, the Salle Favart and the new Bastille Opera, Bergé was an autocratic executive whose tenure was controversial. In 1989, six months before the Bastille’s inauguration, Bergé summarily fired the house’s new artistic director, Daniel Barenboim, setting off a firestorm of protest in the international music community. Bergé was replaced as president in 1993, when a new Gaullist government was elected. spacer 

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