Jim de Blasis was Cincinnati Opera artistic director

I recently received the news that former Cincinnati Opera general director and artistic director James “Jim” de Blasis has passed away at the age of 91. His daughter writes:

“During his career, which spanned nearly 50 years, Jim worked with and gave opportunities to many young opera singers, who went on to become famous in their field. He was ahead of his time in staging productions of rare operas and set the level of expectation of his casts very high. The result was always thrilling!”

De Blasis with Patty Beggs and James Morris
Photos provided

Some of those “young rising stars” included James Morris, Tom Fox and Barbara Daniels. During his tenure, a “Who’s Who” of the opera world crossed Cincinnati’s stage — Beverly Sills, John Alexander, Kathleen Battle, Sherrill Milnes, Renata Scotto, Richard Leech and many more.

Mr. de Blasis worked with Cincinnati Opera for about 28 years. He was named Cincinnati Opera’s Resident Stage Director in 1968. He served as its General Director from 1973 to 1987. In 1988 he became its Artistic Director, a post he held until 1996.

In his 25th anniversary in 1993, it was reported that his record was only surpassed by Fausto Cleva. He’d  directed 93 productions, including 15 company premieres. He oversaw the move of the Summer Festival from its longtime home outdoors at Cincinnati Zoo to Music Hall in 1972.

His innovations included the Cincinnati Opera Ensemble, which toured area schools, and the Young American Artists Program.

During his tenure, Cincinnati Opera programmed rare operas such as Maxwell Davies’ Resurrection and Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper. It also added musicals to its repertory — H.M.S. Pinafore, South Pacific and The Music Man — in an effort to broaden the audience base.

One of early highlights of the de Blasis era was a new interpretation of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, which changed the setting from Spain in the 1820s to the “Wild West” of 19th-century Texas. The production was later filmed by WCET and nationally televised on PBS in 1980.

Mr. de Blasis was preceded in death by his wife Ruth — who often delivered pre-performance lectures and provided narrations — and leaves his daughter Blythe de Blasis Watkins, son-in-law Brad Watkins, and grandchild Brenna Watkins.

The family wishes memorial contributions be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978.

With thanks to Eldred Theirstein’s Cincinnati Opera: From the Zoo to Music Hall.

Holocaust museum offers free admission in wake of recent antisemitism

Citing the recent surge in antisemitism across the country, Cincinnati’s Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center will waive museum ticket costs for the remainder of the year.  The award-winning museum is open at historic Union Terminal from December 8 through January 2, 2023.

David Wise, interim CEO of the Holocaust & Humanity Center, said there is a need to educate the public about Judaism and the Holocaust at a critical time.

“As the only Holocaust museum in Ohio, our organization is in a unique position to bring the lessons of the Holocaust into the civic conversation. It is our responsibility to ensure the public can learn from the lessons of history, and this is a clear and immediate way for us to make an impact in this critical moment,” Wise said in a statement.

“We all must choose to stand up against antisemitism, and that starts with educating ourselves.”

There are daily antisemitic incidents around the country. Locally on Dec. 4, two men vandalized the Hillel House at the University of Cincinnati.

The Fox19 story reports that last year, the Anti-Defamation League reported that Ohio saw a 92% increase in antisemitic incidents, making 2021 the highest year on record.

Recent antisemitic rhetoric incidents coming from all sides of the political spectrum and ideological diverse actors highlight the problematic increase in Jew hatred. Read More »

In memoriam: Dick Waller

Dick Waller with Peter Wiley at a 40th anniversary concert of the Linton Music Series

Cincinnati has lost a musician who contributed much to the cultural life of our city. Richard “Dick” Waller passed away yesterday. His daughter, Margy Waller, said that he died while listening to a recording of Dvorak’s “Romance” in F Minor. It was days after celebrating his 93rd birthday with cake and Graeter’s Ice Cream.

“I’m grateful. And told him many times over the past few days that he has an incredible legacy of music, art, and community, and a beautiful family,” she said. “He showed us how to see the miracles, to be thankful and optimistic, and always to see the best in everything and everyone. That’s a high bar—and he inspires us to aim for it.”

Waller, former principal clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was the founder of the Linton Music Series. From its start in 1978, his mantra was “music making among friends.” It began with a small chamber music concert of “friends” in the historic church, First Unitarian Church on Linton Street in Avondale, and continued to grow. The gem of a sanctuary, with stained glass windows, turned out to have wonderful acoustics.

That first concert evolved into a second. Then Mr. Waller had an epiphany. World-renowned soloists appeared each week with the Cincinnati Symphony, where he worked. Why not ask the orchestra’s then-general manager, Judith Arron, whether the artists could stay in town for an extra day to play chamber music? Arron agreed.

His first artists in the new arrangement were concert pianist Andre-Michel Schub and Peter Wiley, then principal cellist of the CSO.

“In the old days, there was a pay phone at Music Hall and during intermission, I’d run to the pay phone to make calls about Linton,” he told me a few years ago.

It was a formula that continues with the CSO to this day. Mr. Waller paid his soloists little — but was a wonderful host and they loved coming to Cincinnati. There are legendary stories of dinners at the Maisonette, followed by poker games.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Mr. Waller grew up in Long Beach, CA, and attended the Marlboro Music Festival and the Juilliard School. However, his Juilliard education was cut short when his brother joined the armed forces and Mr. Waller had to return home to California to run his brother’s business. In the 1950s, the clarinetist became concertmaster of the United States Navy Band, a stint he said he undertook in order to avoid the draft.

During that time, a job opening was posted for the clarinet section of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and he decided to apply. Then-music director Max Rudolf  hired him on the spot. He served as co-principal clarinet starting in 1960. From 1961 until his retirement in 1994, he was the orchestra’s principal clarinetist.

During his later years, Mr. Waller took up painting, and had a gallery downtown.

Many of you will have stories to tell. Here’s mine:  When I was classical music critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Mr. Waller would do anything to get an article in the newspaper about his beloved Linton Series. He called me frequently. I told him that I needed to discuss it with my editor. But he beat me to it. He called my editor and serenaded her on his clarinet over the phone. I believe he got that story…

Mr. Waller’s family and Linton Music Series leaders are planning a celebration of his contributions and community to take place next year.

 

 

 

 

Cincinnati Ballet expects to shatter attendance records in ‘Nutcracker’

Cincinnati Ballet photos provided

Cincinnati Ballet predicts it will shatter attendance records for its annual production of “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 15-24 in Music Hall. The company projects more than 25,000 patrons will see the holiday favorite over the course of the production run. Several performances are nearly sold out, the company said in a release today.

There is lots to enjoy in the sumptuous production staged in 2011 by former Artistic Director Victoria Morgan, featuring dancing cupcakes, a battle of mice and a poodle ensemble dancing the “Dance of the Mirlitons.” Fiona the Hippo continues to appear in the production. This year, audiences should play close attention to the second act for a special nod to her new baby brother, Fritz. 

In the charming tale, Clara embarks on a dreamy journey to the Land of Sweets after receiving a nutcracker as a gift on Christmas Eve. The large cast includes dozens of local performers alongside Cincinnati Ballet’s superb professional company.

Part of the joy of this production is hearing the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the pit, performing Tchaikovsky’s score conducted by the legendary Carmon DeLeone. Times vary. Tickets: 513-621-5282; cballet.org.

For more holiday favorites coming next month, visit my 10 picks on the Business Courier’s Arts Front.

Artist change at CSO this weekend

Conrad Tao appeared last year over Thanksgiving weekend with Roderick Cox conducting. Photo provided by CSO.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is performing this Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s always fun to take those  out-of-town guests to Music Hall. The program features Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

The CSO issued a statement on Monday that pianist Khatia Buniatishvili has been forced to withdraw from this weekend’s performances.

The pianist Conrad Tao will step in for performances on November 26 & 27.  Ironically, he appeared exactly a year ago on Thanksgiving weekend.

Elim Chan, a graduate of the University of Michigan, is guest conductor.

Tickets: 513-381-3300, cincinnatisymphony.org

French strike impacts CSO concerts this weekend

Maurice Cohn to step in at CSO this weekend. Photo by Ken Yanagisawa

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is reporting that strikes that have been occurring in France over the last few days have caused “logistical complications” that will not allow music director Louis Langrée to be in Cincinnati this weekend to conduct concerts.

Langrée was originally scheduled to conduct performances of a program that includes Also sprach Zarathustra on October 21-23.

Maurice Cohn will step in to conduct all performances of the program this weekend.

The Wall Street Journal reports that thousands took to the streets today to protest rising energy bills and inflation. The journal reports  that striking teachers, railway and health workers staged marches in dozens of cities across France, joining refinery workers who are already on strike.

Louis Langree with soloist Inon Barnatan, the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, AJ Waltz, photo

Travel has been “basically halted. He is just stuck there,” said the CSO’s VP of communications Felecia Tchen Kanney. In addition, Langrée is “in essence, an official in France,” as the director of the Opéra Comique. He was appointed by the president of France, Emmanuel Macron.

Because of the fluid situation, the orchestra had to make a quick decision to find a replacement, she added.

Cohn is a two-time recipient of the Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award, Maurice Cohn currently serves as Assistant Conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He is a regular guest conductor with the Chicago-based contemporary ensemble Zafa Collective and is also the Assistant Conductor of the Aspen Music Festival for the 2022 season.

Pianist Hélène Grimaud is still scheduled to perform the Schumann Piano Concerto.

Concerts are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday in Music Hall. Tickets: 513-381-3300, cincinnatisymphony.org.

 

New ArtWorks mural celebrates CROWN, Reds

You might have noticed a new mural at Great American Ball Park this fall. ArtWorks, in partnership with the CROWN (Cincinnati Riding or Walking Network) and the Cincinnati Reds, has painted a 165-foot mural between the Reds Hall of Fame and Smale Riverfront Park, at the corner of Joe Nuxhall Way & Mehring Way.

Designed by local artist L.D. Nehls, it features some of Cincinnati’s iconic landmarks and aims to celebrate how the CROWN trail and the Reds connect people and communities.

“I love Cincinnati and I love trails that are both walkable and bikeable, so I could not have been more excited to work on a project that celebrates both of them,” said Nehls.Read More »

Program announced: 30 YEARS OF STEPHEN Brings Broadway to CCM on Sept. 23 — Behind the Curtain Cincinnati

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is thrilled to present a spectacular evening of music and stories, featuring our incredible students and a sampling of CCM’s most notable alumni. Join us for a front-row seat to the world premiere of 30 Years of Stephen: The Music of Stephen Flaherty at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in Corbett […]

30 YEARS OF STEPHEN Brings Broadway to CCM on Sept. 23 — Behind the Curtain Cincinnati

Why we needed opera this year

“Aida” photo by Philip Groshong

Cincinnati Opera returned to its Music Hall stage this summer after a two-year hiatus due to Covid. I’m sure there was trepidation in the company about whether the audience would return, just as new variants were emerging. Happily, audiences came. In fact, the total attendance for three grand operas in Music Hall and two new operas in a smaller venue at SCPA was higher than that of the 2019 season before the pandemic hit.

“We count our ‘return to Music Hall’ season a great success,” said general director and CEO Chris Milligan.

  • The company saw extraordinary national media coverage with reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and a story on NPR’s All Things Considered. Here’s a column about the international buzz surrounding this production.
  • Attendance exceeded that of the 2019 Summer Festival at 20,747, compared to 19,736 pre-pandemic.
  • The company met its revised revenue goal with $1.65 million in ticket sales.
  • Attendees from 42 states came to see performances.
  • There were zero canceled performances thanks to Covid-safety protocol.

Read More »