Chuck Miller, savior of Sorg Opera House, steps down

Chuck Miller in his element, backstage at the Sorg

It took a man with a vision to see the beauty behind the dilapidated and abandoned Sorg Opera House in Middletown. Now, as John Kiesewetter reports this morning, Chuck Miller has resigned as president of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) to become the new executive director of the historic “State Movie Palace of Kansas,” the Fox Theatre in Hutchinson. Wife Denise Brodsky has also resigned her position on the board.

Current board members Roger Daniels and Chris Riva are stepping in to fill roles, although his successor has not been decided.

Here’s my story from about a year ago of how Chuck and his devoted board have been working — extremely hard — to restore the Hannaford-built theater to its former grandeur.

There are similarities between the Sorg Opera House (1891) and Music Hall (1878) as you can see in the balconies. Both were designed by Samuel Hannaford. The Sorg is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the lobby
You can visit your old Music Hall seats

I’m posting a few memories of visiting the Sorg while these dedicated preservationists were at work restoring and programming a series of concerts in the hall. By the way, the acoustics are wonderful. And, for people who remember Music Hall’s old seats, you can revisit them up in Middletown.

Good luck Chuck and Denise! You’ll be missed.

Baroque Violin Shop owner Paul Bartel was an enthusiastic ambassador for music

Paul Bartel playing his Stradivarius violin, made in 1680

Paul Bartel was passionate about strings and equally passionate about sharing his love of classical music with students. The violinist, music educator, owner of the Baroque Violin Shop and founder of the Wyoming Fine Arts Center is remembered by Cincinnati’s music community as being generous, humble and always supportive.

‘He was a guy who was larger than life, always giving, always caring, always seeming to have boundless energy,” said Milan Dukic, executive director of the Wyoming Fine Arts Center since 2008. “In the early days of the center, if there was a shortfall, Paul wrote a check. He believed in the mission of having a community center and of having kids learn music.”

Mr. Bartel died on July 27 after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.

Mr. Bartel often spoke about how playing the violin in school became the inspiration for what he would become, Dukic said.

He was born in Columbus, OH. A 1972 graduate of Miami University, Mr. Bartel taught violin students and repaired instruments on the side while still a student in Oxford, OH. He taught strings at Finneytown School District for seven years, continuing to repair musical instruments in his spare time.

Paul Bartel in his workshop at the Baroque Violin Shop

With a vision to support young string players and school music programs by providing high quality instruments at low cost, he resigned from teaching to devote himself full-time to the Baroque Violin Shop, then in his Finneytown home.

As the business expanded, Mr. Bartel purchased the historic, 1805 Carrie-Jessup House in Finneytown in 1990, and spent six months restoring it. Over the years, the shop’s musical instrument rentals, repairs and sales have boomed, making the business one of the largest in the country, with a substantial inventory of stringed instruments.

The shop rents and sells violins, violas, cellos and basses to thousands of students and professionals in 50 states. There are 7,000 to 9,000 rental instruments in use at any given time, said CFO Stephen Heck, Mr. Bartel’s son-in-law.

“What I really respected about him was that he was quiet about his generosity. Most things people never knew about, because he didn’t want himself to be a focus,” Heck said. “He never did things to enhance his business. That was only secondary and never the focus.”Read More »

Arts in the news… Barbara Kellar honored; Louis Langrée extends Mostly Mozart

I’m catching up with arts news in a busy summer. Here are a few highlights:

Cincinnati MacDowell Society members Janet McDaniel (President), MacDowell Medal honoree Barbara Kellar with her husband, Larry Kellar.

In 1916, Cincinnati MacDowell Society began awarding the MacDowell Medal to an outstanding local artist for his or her contribution to the fine arts in the community. At the society’s annual meeting last month, this year’s medal was awarded to Barbara Kellar, for receiving a 2018 Regional Emmy for her CET show, “Showcase with Barbara Kellar,” as well as for her service to MacDowell. She is a past CMS president.

The portrait was painted by member Setsuko LeCroix as a personal surprise for Barbara. The medal, by the way, was designed by sculptor, member and past president, Ernest Bruce Haswell.

Louis Langrée 
Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Louis Langrée extends contract at Mostly Mozart: Music director Louis Langrée, who leads the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, has extended his contract with Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival through the summer of 2023. He has directed the New York festival since 2003, making 2023 his 21st season. The announcement was made by artistic director Jane Moss on the eve of the 2019 festival earlier this month.

Now in his 17th season, Langrée is credited with expanding the scope of the chamber orchestra’s repertoire well beyond the classical period, from Baroque composers such as Jean-Baptiste Lully to composers of today such as Magnus Lindberg. He has just finished conducting a run of the Barrie Kosky and Berlin Komische Oper production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” — a first for Mostly Mozart — at the David H. Koch Theater.Read More »

Last-minute Romeo (aka car buff, surfer) steps in at Cincinnati Opera

Matthew White debuts as Romeo this week with Cincinnati Opera. Photo provided.

When Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun had to withdraw as Romeo in Cincinnati Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” (for personal reasons) two weeks before rehearsals were to begin, artistic director Evans Mirageas knew he had a problem.

“Romeo is a notoriously difficult role, and the opera isn’t performed as often as the other warhorses, so the pool of singers who would know the role is small,” says Mirageas.

Besides that, there was no time to secure an artist visa for an international singer — a process that can take months.

“Luckily,” says Mirageas, “we found Matthew, a very gifted young artist who had just sung the role in his final year at the Academy of Vocal Arts.”

The 27-year-old American tenor Matthew White will make his debut opposite Cincinnati favorite Nicole Cabell as Juliet, in her sixth appearance with the company.

Had Cincinnati Opera not called, the tenor’s summer plans included returning to his tiny hometown in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, practicing for upcoming roles and working on his Volkswagen GTI. Or he might have waxed up his surfboard, as he has a surfboard business with an international client list.

He’s won a fistful of prizes: Grand Prize of the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition, 1st place in the Deborah Voigt International Vocal Competition, 2nd place in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Mid-Atlantic region, Grand Prize in the Mario Lanza Vocal Competition, and he was the recipient of the Alfonso Cavaliere Award.

Matthew White as Romeo in Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

In his future, he’ll debut leading roles with The Dallas Opera, Edmonton Opera, and Tulsa Opera following his Cincinnati debut.

“It’s a major opportunity for him, in what could prove to be a breakout role. Cincinnati gets to see him first!” says Mirageas.

“Romeo and Juliet” will be presented at Music Hall on June 27 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Cincinnati Opera Box Office at (513) 241-2742 or

Watch for my review of tomorrow night’s performance on the Arts Front at

Click here to read the review for “The Marriage of Figaro,” which opened the season.

Impressive musical lineup to benefit Literacy Council

Lit_Council1 image 2019Next Sunday, June 23, an impressive lineup of local classical musicians will come together for a concert to benefit the Literacy Council of Clermont & Brown Counties. Reach for the Stars will take place at 4 p.m. June 23 at Knox Presbyterian Church in Hyde Park.

Spearheaded by Suzanne Bona, host of the nationally broadcast public radio program “Sunday Baroque” and an accomplished musician, the concert aims to raise awareness and funds for adult literacy.

“With the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, we thought it would be fun to feature music with astronomical themes such as Holst’s ‘Mars’ and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata,” said Bona. “Plus, Reach for the Stars is what the clients of the Literacy Council do every day as they open up the world of possibilities reading can bring.”Read More »

Der Freischütz hits the mark in rare American performance by Queen City Opera

The hunters carried assault rifles in Queen City Opera’s “Der Freischütz.” Photo by Tina Gutierrez

It’s amazing that Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 opera, “Der Freischütz,” is rarely performed in the United States. The early German romantic opera – which Queen City Opera loosely translated as “The Magic Bullets,” has a rich orchestral score, wonderful choruses and arias and a supernatural story. It’s easy to see how it paved the way to the German opera that was to come, especially that of Richard Wagner.

Isaac Selya, founder and artistic director of Queen City Opera and conductor for the production, told me in an interview for the Cincinnati Business Courier that the opera has only been performed once before in Ohio, by Cincinnati Opera in 1933. According to Operavore, the Met last performed this early romantic gem in 1972.

On Sunday, I joined many other opera lovers who were curious to see and hear Weber’s under-appreciated work, which was staged by Rebecca Herman. Read More »