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Obituaries

Obituaries

Soprano Inge Borkh, Michigan Opera Theatre founder and composer David DiChiera, stage director Tito Capobianco, Metropolitan Opera mainstay Alfred Hubay.

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Inge Borkh as Strauss’s Elektra
Fayer/Opera News Archives

INGE BORKH
MANNHEIM, GERMANY, MAY 26, 1921—STUTTGART, GERMANY, AUGUST 26, 2018  

SOPRANO INGE BORKH won postwar acclaim for her vocally and histrionically searing portrayals of some of the most challenging roles in the soprano repertoire—in particular Strauss’s Salome and Elektra.

Borkh was born Ingeborg Simon in Mannheim, Germany, on May 26, 1921. The daughter of a Jewish diplomat, Borkh and her family relocated to Switzerland in 1933, then to Austria in 1935 and, following the Anschluss, moved back to Switzerland in 1938.

Borkh initially endeavored to be an actress, studying at the Burgtheater in Vienna, before moving to Milan to study voice. She continued her musical studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum and made her professional debut in 1940 as Czipra in Lucerne performances of Der Zigeunerbaron; local performances of Agathe in Freischütz followed. The soprano remained in Switzerland during World War II and began to take on increasingly dramatic repertoire, including Senta in Der Fliegender Holländer, Elsa in Lohengrin, the title role in Strauss’s Ägyptische Helena, Turandot and Leonora in Il Trovatore and La Forza del Destino. After the war, Borkh went on to make appearances in Munich, Berlin, Stuttgart and Vienna.

Borkh received the first significant notices of her career in 1951 for her portrayal of Magda Sorel in Basel performances of The Consul that marked the German-language debut of Menotti’s opera. The role vaulted Borkh to international acclaim. Following performances as Freia and Sieglinde at the Bayreuth Festival in 1952, the soprano made her U.S. debut in 1953 as Strauss’s Elektra at San Francisco Opera. She returned to the company soon thereafter for performances as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth. Borkh sang in the U.S. premiere of Britten’s Gloriana in Cincinnati in 1956. In 1958, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Salome under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos. She would make her Covent Garden debut the following year in the same role.

In addition to Salome and Elektra, Borkh won international praise for her performances as the Dyer’s Wife and Leonore in Fidelio—both roles that she subsequently brought to the Met—as well as the title role in Turandot; she was also a compelling exponent of lesser-known contemporary roles such as Carl Orff’s Antigonae and Ernest Bloch’s Lady Macbeth.

Borkh retired from the opera stage following a 1973 run of Elektra performances in Palermo, but she continued to concertize and appear in cabaret. In 1977, she returned to straight acting.

Borkh’s presence on recordings is limited, but what was captured of her work in opera shows the soprano in a state near her prime. Her Scenes from Salome and Elektra, recorded with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is an incendiary example of the soprano’s musico-dramatic prowess, and two separate recordings of Elektra—an air check led by Dimitri Mitropoulos and a studio effort under Karl Böhm—remain nonpareil. While no commercially available recording of Borkh’s Salome exists, several live recordings have been issued on CD. Borkh also recorded her interpretation of the title role in Turandot under the baton of Alberto Erede, with a cast that included Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi and Nicola Zaccaria.

Following her retirement from opera, Borkh also documented her cabaret show with Inge Borkh Sings Her Memoirs, and in 1996 she published an autobiography, Ich Komm’ vom Theater Nicht Los … (“I Can’t Shake the Theater … ”).

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David DiChiera in Detroit
© John T. Greilick/The Detroit News

DAVID DICHIERA  

MCKEESPORT, PA, APRIL 8, 1935—DETROIT, MI, SEPTEMBER  19, 2018  

“AN OPERA COMPANY should not just do opera—it should be part of a community,” David DiChiera said in 2010, upon receiving a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The statement articulates the guiding principle behind Michigan Opera Theatre, the company “Dr. D” founded in 1971 and ran for more than four decades. Under DiChiera’s aegis, MOT built a reputation not only for mounting top-level productions but for forging lasting bonds to the city of Detroit and its diverse inhabitants. 

A composer and musicologist as well as an impresario, DiChiera was born to Italian-immigrant parents on April 8, 1935, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh; when he was ten, the family moved to Los Angeles. He attended UCLA with the aim of becoming a concert pianist but soon switched over to composition, studying with Lukas Foss. After college, he received a Fulbright scholarship to Italy, then returned to UCLA to earn a PhD in musicology.  

In 1962, DiChiera moved to the Detroit area to join the faculty of Michigan State University, Oakland, and he soon took the helm of Overture to Opera, a group that toured city schools performing opera scenes linked to the Metropolitan Opera’s annual weeklong Detroit stint. Overture to Opera soon outgrew its Met-centric origins and started staging an unusual array of one-act operas. In 1970, it mounted its first full-length opera (The Barber of Seville, with nineteen-year-old Maria Ewing in her opera debut); the following year, it established a board of directors and moved into the Music Hall with DiChiera as general director. In 1973, it changed its name to Michigan Opera Theatre.

As president of Opera America from 1979 to 1983, DiChiera was part of the team that launched “Opera for the 80s and Beyond”—a grant initiative that, at a time when American opera companies generally presented only European works of the past, supported the premieres of new American operas. In 1981, he was appointed artistic director of Dayton Opera, and in 1986, he became general director of Opera Pacific, leading to a period when he was dividing his time between MOT and his two other companies. The arrangement generated a number of coproductions, including a 1989 Opera Pacific–MOT Norma that marked Joan Sutherland’s farewell to the title role. 

DiChiera resigned from his other posts in the mid ’90s to concentrate on MOT and devote his attention to his most ambitious venture yet—the transformation of a derelict downtown movie palace into a permanent home for the company. The project restored the early-twentieth-century opulence of the theater’s public areas while creating state-of-the-art stage and backstage facilities. When the Detroit Opera House opened in 1996, with a gala program headlined by Luciano Pavarotti, it made MOT one of the few American companies to own its own performing venue, allowing it to become the city’s most prominent presenter of ballet and modern dance as well as opera. The openings of two nearby major-league sports stadiums have turned the company’s Parking Center, originally developed with opera patrons in mind, into a major revenue source, serving operagoers and sports fans alike, and generating $1 million in annual revenue. 

One of the great moments in DiChiera’s career came in 2007, when MOT mounted the world premiere of his own opera, Cyrano. He remained general director until 2014, when Wayne Brown was named CEO, charged with the company’s business responsibilities, with DiChiera staying on as artistic director. When he retired from that post in spring 2017, the company marked the occasion in grand style with a revival of Cyrano.

Throughout his nearly half-century tenure, DiChiera made community engagement a top priority. MOT’s productions of Moniuszko’s Haunted Manor and Szymanowski’s King Roger addressed the city’s large Polish population; its mounting of Tigranian’s Anoush engaged the Armenian community; and its production of Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s Frida toured Latino neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area. 

Most notably, DiChiera established strong, enduring ties to the city’s African–American community. Not only did he regularly program repertoire such as Porgy and Bess and Treemonisha; his color-blind casting policy gave performance opportunities to generations of African–American artists. The high-water mark of his efforts came with the 2005 world premiere of Margaret Garner, with music by Richard Danielpour and libretto by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. I had the good fortune to be present for the occasion, when the glittering multiracial audience, attending an internationally celebrated event in their own splendid theater, radiated a civic pride such as I have encountered at no other operatic event. “Dr. D” was not just an impresario but a community leader, and the Garner premiere demonstrated his stunning achievement in both roles.  —Fred Cohn 

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Tito Capobianco, director, administrator and visionary
© Brian Cohen

TITO CAPOBIANCO
LA PLATA, ARGENTINA, AUGUST  28, 1931—LAUDERDALE-BY-THE-SEA, FL,  SEPTEMBER  8, 2018  

A STAGE DIRECTOR of rare theatrical flair and an autocratic, bold administrator, Capobianco was born in Argentina to parents who had emigrated from Italy. He studied law, music, singing and philosophy in Argentina before beginning his career in opera; he made his debut as a stage director with Pagliacci at the Teatro Argentino in La Plata in 1953. Capobianco worked as a stage director, stage manager and singer in Argentina before serving terms as technical director at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (1958–62) and general director at the Teatro Argentino (1959–61).

In the early 1960s, Cabobianco and his wife, dancer/choreographer Gigi Denda, transferred their base of professional activity to the U.S., where Capobianco was artistic director of the Cincinnati Opera Festival (1961–65) and Cincinnati Opera (1962–65). In the summer of 1965, Capobianco directed and Denda choreographed a new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann for the Cincinnati Summer Opera Association, starring Norman Treigle and Beverly Sills, two of the most valuable artists at New York City Opera. At the suggestion of Sills and Treigle, the Capobianco Hoffmann staging was brought to New York in October 1965 and became the hit of NYCO’s final fall season at City Center. In February 1966, when NYCO moved to Lincoln Center, Capobianco staged the company’s inaugural performance at the New York State Theater, the North American premiere of Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo, starring Plácido Domingo. Capobianco’s success with Don Rodrigo was consolidated the following September, when he directed NYCO’s smash-hit production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, designed by Ming Cho Lee and José Varona and conducted by Julius Rudel.

The 1966 Cesare established Capobianco as one of the most important players in a new golden era for NYCO, under the leadership of Rudel, the company’s principal conductor and general director. Capobianco and his slightly older contemporary, director Frank Corsaro, built NYCO’s reputation for theatrical excellence and innovation in the 1960s and ’70s, when it was widely regarded as one of the most exciting opera companies in North America. The impressive series of NYCO productions devised by Capobianco for Beverly Sills defined her as the company’s unquestioned star, beginning with Giulio Cesare (1966), in which Sills’s sensational Cleopatra began the soprano’s ascent to international stardom, and continuing with Le Coq d’Or (1967), Manon (1968), Lucia di Lammermoor (1969), a new Contes d’Hoffmann (1972), I Puritani (1974), Lucrezia Borgia (1976), The Merry Widow (1978), Il Turco in Italia (1978) and La Loca (1979), as well as the historic NYCO “Tudor trilogy” presentation of three Donizetti diva vehicles, Roberto Devereux (1970), Maria Stuarda (1972) and Anna Bolena (1973). Capobobianco’s other NYCO successes included his 1969 staging of Mefistofele for bass-baritone Norman Treigle; new productions of Tosca (1967), Carmen (1971) and The Love for Three Oranges (1980); and the world premiere of Giannini’s Servant of Two Masters (1967). In 1967, Capobianco directed the world premiere of Ginastera’s Bomarzo for the Opera Society of Washington, D.C.; the production came to NYCO the following year.

Capobianco also had a long professional association with San Francisco Opera, where he made his company debut in 1962, with Faust. Capobianco’s other credits at SFO include stagings of Maria Stuarda and Norma with Joan Sutherland as star and Richard Bonynge as conductor, as well as Manon, Lucia, La Traviata, Thaïs and I Puritani for Sills. The SFO Thaïs staging, with Sills and Sherrill Milnes, came to the Metropolitan Opera in 1978, marking Capobianco’s Met debut. Capobianco returned to the Met in 1984 to direct Milnes in Simon Boccanegra.

Some Capobianco stagings, such as the NYCO Giulio Cesare and his 1971 Ariodante for Sills and Tatiana Troyanos at the Kennedy Center, incorporated stylized, almost balletic movement to achieve a modern equivalent of Baroque grandeur. Tall and striking, with matinée-idol charm, Capobianco was a charismatic figure in rehearsal, exhorting singers to deliver performances that extended their limits. Capobianco could be imperious when he felt unappreciated or challenged: during his tenure as artistic and then general director of San Diego Opera (1976–83), Capobianco clashed with his board over budgets and strategic planning, but he transformed what had been a small regional opera company into an organization that attracted international attention. When Capobianco undertook the general directorship of Pittsburgh Opera, beginning in 1983, it was with the understanding that his authority would be total—and so it was for most of his seventeen-year term at the company, which ended with his retirement, in 2000. As he admitted in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview, “I don’t believe in democracy in the arts.” But Capobianco’s approach yielded many successes: his years at Pittsburgh Opera saw the creation of a young artists program, the establishment of a dedicated orchestra for the opera, impressive increases in budget and endowment and the company’s move to the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.

Capobianco was briefly (2004–05) general and artistic director of Teatro Colón. He also taught acting and interpretation at several important conservatories in the U.S., including the Yale School of Music, the Jacobs School at Indiana University and the Academy of Vocal Arts.  He was founding director of the American Opera Center at Juilliard (1967–69) and was director of opera studies at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara in the early 1980s. Capobianco published his autobiography, Tito’s Way: The Art of Producing Opera, in 2017.

ALFRED HUBAY
NEW YORK, NY, JUNE 13, 1925
—OCTOBER 3, 2018  

HUBAY BEGAN his long career at the Metropolitan Opera as an usher in 1943 and was formally associated with the House for sixty-two years. He was promoted to chief usher in 1956 and was appointed house manager in 1960. In 1962, Hubay was named box-office manager and remained in charge of those operations until his retirement, in 1987. He remained a consultant to the Met until 2005. Hubay was a founding member of the George London Foundation and the Martina Arroyo Foundation, a Life Trustee of Glimmerglass Opera and vice-president of the Bagby Foundation for Musical Arts. Hubay’s voice was well-known to radio listeners from his thirty-eight consecutive years as an Opera Quiz panelist during the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday-afternoon broadcasts. spacer 



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