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Video Published: 30 Sep 2022

An Oral History with Paulette Haupt

On April 20th, 2022, arts administrator and producer Paulette Haupt sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and their life.

This interview was originally recorded on April 20th, 2022. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

Paulette Haupt, arts administrator, producer

Paulette Haupt was a co-founder and served as Artistic Director for the National Music Theater Conference at the O’Neill Theater Center from 1978 to 2017. In that capacity, she selected and guided the development of more than one hundred musicals. For more than three decades, Ms. Haupt was a music director and conductor of operas and musicals worldwide. In 2002, she was the associate conductor for the Grammy nominated recording of Joe Masteroff and Edward Thomas’ Desire Under the Elms, and she served a three-season term as Tony Nominator and Voter from 2009 to 2012. In 2017, Ms. Haupt began a new chapter in her career as a music theater mentor, offering services to playwrights, lyricists, composers, music directors, conductors and emerging producers.

Oral History Project

Discover the full collection of oral histories at the link below.


Marc A. Scorca: Thank you, Paulette Haupt for taking time from your day, to talk to me about your career in opera. OPERA America had its 50th anniversary in 2020, cut short by COVID. We wanted to capture interviews with 50 people we believe have made a really indelible impression on American opera, and you are one of them. And I'm just so happy that, as we picked this project back up, you're able to be with us today.

Paulette Haupt: Me too.

Marc A. Scorca: I start every interview by asking who brought you to your first opera?

Paulette Haupt: Well, I was a piano major at the University of Denver and Roger Dexter Fee was the Dean of the Music School, and he was also the Chorus Master for Central City Opera, and he hired me in 1964 to come up and be his assistant. So he took me to my first operas, which were Madam Butterfly and Robert Ward's The Lady from Colorado.

Marc A. Scorca: Wow. It's amazing that even in your first opera season, you were doing American opera. It kind of paves the way...

Paulette Haupt: Exactly.

Marc A. Scorca: Did opera strike you as an exciting multimedia art form you wanted to get involved with, or were you a little skeptical at first after that season at Central City?

Paulette Haupt: I was instantly in love with opera. Instantly. It just really emotionally spoke to me in every way, and I loved it. I just loved it.

Marc A. Scorca: So from piano to conducting. What led you into the realm of conducting?

Paulette Haupt: Timothy Nolan, my husband at the time, and I worked at Lake George Opera several times. And Paul Callaway, the conductor for The Barber of Seville in 1973 became ill, and I was handed the baton. Being left-handed, I didn't know what hand to hold it in, but I did make my debut with The Barber of Seville in Lake George, 1973.

Marc A. Scorca: And at the time, Lake George always had an interesting repertoire. I guess David Lloyd was the head of the company at that time.

Paulette Haupt: Yes, he was. Absolutely.

Marc A. Scorca: David Lloyd, an important American singer in some important world premieres at New York City Opera back in the day, and he ran for many years Lake George Opera with an eye toward American opera.

Paulette Haupt: Yes, he did. Certainly.

Marc A. Scorca: So Barber of Seville, conducting, but that was 1974. So you took to conducting 'cause you went on as a conductor.

Paulette Haupt: I liked it. Yeah. I liked it a lot. I went from Lake George to Kansas City Lyric Opera to...I don't know what happened right after that. But I was at San Francisco Opera for a number of years and ended up conducting Carmen at San Francisco Opera in 1977.

Marc A. Scorca: Wow.

Paulette Haupt: There were barriers.

Marc A. Scorca: I was gonna ask you about that, because in the 1970's, conducting was for worse, a man's realm. You must have had to really push against the tide.

Paulette Haupt: Most of the time I just ignored it. I just thought, "I don't like being the first woman at doing anything". But most of the time I was able to ignore it, but some of the barriers became unignorable. It had to do mostly with male conductors who felt they should be in my position. It was very rarely from the orchestra players themselves, but it happened a few times. It happened in Cleveland and San Francisco Opera to an extent and in Boston University. So it happened, but as I say, most of the time, I just ignored it and knew the score so well, nobody could fault that.

Marc A. Scorca: It's interesting because Lake George had a pedigree, at the time, of doing American opera, as did Lyric Opera of Kansas City under Russell Patterson.

Paulette Haupt: They did. One of the years I conducted their Fledermaus, probably. They were doing Sheldon Harnick and Jack Beeson's Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, which never had a second production, which we can talk about.

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely. And of course at Lake George and at Kansas City at the time, everything was in English.

Paulette Haupt: Yes, it was.

Marc A. Scorca: Something that has diminished over time with the introduction of all the translation systems.

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely. And disagreement about it being distracting from the stage action.

Paulette Haupt: Absolutely.

Marc A. Scorca: A truth, but perhaps everything has a little price to it, and the distraction from the stage traded off against understanding what's going on.

Paulette Haupt: Yeah. Sadly today, because in the Broadway theaters, it's so hard to understand the words sometimes, that they do subtitles.

Marc A. Scorca: So, Paulette, I first knew you in the late 1970's, long time ago in Philadelphia, and new opera clearly...you may have conducted Carmen at San Francisco Opera and The Barber of Seville at Lake George Opera, but how did new work become a focus for you? What about it? What brought you to that specialty?

Paulette Haupt: Well I'll tell you, new work for me started really at the O'Neill as well as OPERA America, but at the O'Neill Theater Center, I became aware that there were composers who were still living, and really deserved to be heard. In the '70's...I can now say I've reached the age of wisdom, and at the age of wisdom you can think back and (can say), "Oh, I knew that a long time ago". But the reality is... Wayne Gretzky. I'm a big hockey fan, and Wayne Gretzky said, "I always skate to where the puck is going to be; not where it's been". And I think opera in the '70's was the opposite. It was going to where opera had been, and not where it's going to be. That changed exponentially with OFTEAB (Opera for the '80's and Beyond). It really did.

Marc A. Scorca: And I wanted to ask you about the environment, the opera scene, back in the '70's. There you were conducting in San Francisco and Kansas City. You'd been at Lake George. What was the environment for new American opera? Was it not being composed, or was it composed but not performed? Was it performed reluctantly? What was the atmosphere like for American opera in the '70's?

Paulette Haupt: It was very much on the fringe. It was not being done in opera companies. It was more being experimented with in other companies. It really was on the fringe until, as you mentioned, or wrote, when NOI started at Kennedy Center with John Ludwig. That really turned the corner.

Marc A. Scorca: NOI standing for National Opera Institute, established by Roger Stevens when the Kennedy Center was established. And of course, those of us of a certain age remember the National Opera Institute. What was it? What did it do and get started?

Paulette Haupt: It partly started because of Hal Prince. Hal Prince was very involved with NOI in the beginning, and he had a lot to do with it. My involvement with NOI was Roger Ames' Amarantha. Roger Ames, a composer that really has been ignored and has now passed away, but Roger Ames' Amarantha came to NOI, and that's where I first conducted it. It was at the O'Neill in 1980 as well, but NOI had major contributions to new music theater. It really did.

Marc A. Scorca: It launched the discussion. I remember in my early career, those symposia that NOI conducted about new opera, that really propelled people to start thinking about how do we make opera an American art form.

Paulette Haupt: Yes, it did.

Marc A. Scorca: You knew John Ludwig, who ran NOI. Tell us about John.

Paulette Haupt: Oh, John was a real go-getter. He was Minnesota Opera, right?

Marc A. Scorca: Yep. He started at the Walker Arts Center, Minnesota Opera, right?

Paulette Haupt: Right. And he was a real leader and one of the people I admired so much along with David DiChiera and David Gockley. My God, these men were so important. I wanted to be like them. I didn't want to be them, but I wanted to be like them. They were really visionaries. And speaking of visionaries, we should talk about Edward Korn.

Marc A. Scorca: Please do. Ed was my first boss out of college in Philadelphia, what was the Opera Company of Philadelphia?

Paulette Haupt: ...where we met...

Marc A. Scorca: Exactly. Tell us about Ed.

Paulette Haupt: Well, I was a rehearsal pianist at Western Opera Theater, and Ed was the general manager. And when he left San Francisco, where'd he go next?

Marc A. Scorca: The Met? No, he went to The Met first, didn't he? And then Opera Company of Philadelphia.

Paulette Haupt: Really?

Marc A. Scorca: He was at The Met for a few years. I don't know what order...

Paulette Haupt: Yeah. And he was truly my mentor. He took me to so many places I would never have gone before. It was because of Ed Korn that I was asked to start the O'Neill Music Theater Conference. It was because of him, totally. And it was because of Ed Korn I went to China and conducted The Music Man. It was because of Ed Korn for so, so many reasons. He was really my number one - and still is - mentor.

Marc A. Scorca: We can still have mentors we think about, and Ed was a real believer in American opera, or the potential for American opera.

Paulette Haupt: Yes, and he was so adamant about musicals and operas not being any different. At NEA, he wanted to start the Opera Music Theater Program. I don't think that ever happened.

Marc A. Scorca: It did; it lasted for about 10 years, a little more.

Paulette Haupt: Oh, it did? And that was because of Ed.

Marc A. Scorca: And once again, Hal France helping around the edges of that, really pushing for that program. And I think the first program director of it was Jim Ireland.

Paulette Haupt: Oh my God, that's a name I'd forgotten. Yes, of course. Sorry, Jim.

Marc A. Scorca: And then Ed moved from Philadelphia to Washington to run the program.

Paulette Haupt: That's right. Good grief.

Marc A. Scorca: Paulette, take us then to the Eugene O'Neill Center. How did that come into being, and with what goal?

Paulette Haup: George White, the founder of the O'Neill called Ed Korn and said, "We've got a very good playwrights' conference in place now. We're helping playwrights develop their work. We want to find someone who would help us to start an opera music theater conference. Ed suggested me. And that began another 40 years of my career with the O'Neill. That was all because of Ed. The first couple or three years of the O'Neill, it was a collaboration between the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the O'Neill. And then we kind of branched off into more hybrid works, musicals. But Ed was instrumental in all of that. And we just talked all the time about the difference between operas and musicals. He was just so adamant that there was no difference at all. My favorite two stories are: (Stephen) Sondheim said "Sweeney Todd is an opera when it's done in an opera house, and it's a musical when it's done at a Broadway theater". Or even my more favorite. I worked with Anton Coppola. Do you remember that name? Anton was a major conductor in both operas and musicals. And he said, "The difference between operas and musicals are: if I'm conducting an opera, I get a large dressing room, right by the stage, large enough to have guests come in. If I'm directing a musical, I'm shown to the boiler room and a nail, and they tell me that's where I can (hang my coat)".

Marc A. Scorca: So in terms of starting the program at the O'Neill, what was your goal? What did you wanna achieve at the O'Neill?

Paulette Haupt: I wanted to learn about the process, and help with the process of developing work, not producing it. We never had an opening night at the O'Neill ever, but to find a way to enable composers and librettists and playwrights to hear their work and see their work in front of an audience while it was still in progress. And the goal was to help them find their way through as many days or weeks that we could offer them, and leave with as many questions as they came with, but many answers as well. And that was the goal. And finding that process took time, but it really worked.

Marc A. Scorca: Is there a process difference? If there's no difference between opera and musical/music theater in the Ed Korn book, is there a difference in the process of developing them?

Paulette Haupt: Well, I'll tell you when we did operas at the O'Neill, like Something New for the Zoo, by Lee Hoiby, which should have had a second production, people would come up already knowing their scores. And so, we were ahead of the game to some extent. Musical theater? They're not allowed to get a score until they arrive. So that process took a little longer, but we found a way to weave whatever process was for them into the development.

Marc A. Scorca: 'Cause at the time workshops, readings, all of that in terms of the opera world were really quite unknown. If an opera had a premier, it was rehearsal, rehearsal - plop on the stage. So you really pioneered the whole concept of a developmental process to allow the creators to observe their work while it was in development.

Paulette Haupt: Well, thank you. I think also Opera for the '80's and Beyond helped that process a lot, a lot. Opera for the '80's and Beyond turned OPERA America around completely.

Marc A. Scorca: And that was a program, and David DiChiera was the board chair at the time and Howard Klein and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund just helped, and Howard, another believer in this work. Still our good friend, Ben Krywosz was an OPERA America staff person, that began that program to support workshops and developmental process.

Paulette Haupt: Ann Farris and Bob Darling. Right?

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely.

Paulette Haupt: ...were also involved.

Marc A. Scorca: I'm in touch with both of them and I'm always so glad to hear from Ann. She's terrific.

Paulette Haupt: She is.

Marc A. Scorca: So yeah, the Opera for the '80's and Beyond program started in the mid 1980's provided funding at different stages of a work, to help people get into the habit of thinking about workshops.

Paulette Haupt: I know. I remember being flown to Detroit by David DiChiera to meet with a composer, that he wouldn't have been able to meet with and talk to unless OFTEAB came into that process. And so it really started dialogues with impresarios, artistic directors and creators that never would've happened without Opera for the '80's and Beyond. It was major. And Leon Major and I had worked on editing it, and I had never seen this (raises and shows a publication).

Marc A. Scorca: Oh my goodness. Yes.

Paulette Haupt: ...until this week. Just amazing the information in here. Everybody should buy this.

Marc A. Scorca: We have a supply of them. It's a wonderful publication that documents that marvelous program, Opera for the '80's and Beyond.

Paulette Haupt: It's just great. I just love getting it.

Marc A. Scorca: You've mentioned a couple of times now, the second production, as a concept. So I'm guessing that you would say that it's wonderful that we have all these workshops and funding for new work, but that you wish we saw more second productions. Am I reading your mind correctly there?

Paulette Haupt: The big part of conversations in the '70's - a big part...As I mentioned, Lee Hoby - he didn't have second productions of almost anything. Summer and Smoke to some extent, but he wrote so many other things like Something New for the Zoo. Dominick Argento: I don't think he had very many second productions. As I mentioned, Jack Beeson and Sheldon Harnick - and Sheldon's still around - they never had a second production of their opera. And I don't think The Lady from Colorado way back in Central City...Robert Ward...I don't think it ever had a second production. So it was a big part of the discussions. And It was a big concern at that time.

Marc A. Scorca: And I think still is.

Paulette Haupt: Is it?

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely because, you know, Paulette, you can find generous donors for the premier. The premier is covered in the media. A second production - although it may enable the creators to refine and adjust the work and make a better opera, the second production doesn't have quite the appeal to donors or to the media.

Paulette Haupt: Wow. That's so sad. I didn't realize that was still ongoing.

Marc A. Scorca: Or the second production comes 25 years later. You know, Nixon in China was premiered, went a couple of places, but then kind of went to sleep for a long period of time until it was reproduced. The Ghosts of Versailles, the same thing, with some other productions. John Corigliano made a somewhat smaller version of it to make it more producible. We have found that sometimes it takes a while until a producer picks up a work that premiered 20 or 25 years ago.

Paulette Haupt: Willie Stark.

Marc A. Scorca: Yep.

Paulette Haupt: It never happened again. I don't think so.

Marc A. Scorca: Once or twice, not since. Right.

Paulette Haupt: Really. We could write a long list.

Marc A. Scorca: I would say that today there is some more co-production, so that to get a new opera off the ground three or four or five companies will co-produce it, so that within a year or two, the work goes to several cities. But it's all kind of that first production momentum.

Paulette Haupt: Right.

Marc A. Scorca: You now work as a mentor.

Paulette Haupt: Well, that's interesting. When I left the O'Neill, and came back to New York permanently to grow my company premieres in New York, I wanted to find something else to keep me off the streets. And I do love mentoring very much, and working with composers and playwrights. So I started the Music Theater Mentor Program, but it didn't last long because of the pandemic, because most of the people that came to me were looking for venues to develop their work, and all of the contacts I had for them said, "We're not looking at anything right now. We don't even know what we're doing next month". So I'm not doing so much of that anymore, but it was something that was very passionate for me at the time.

Marc A. Scorca: Are the there themes to the advice that you provide young composers or librettists or producers? Advice as a wise developer of new work, as a musician with such a scope. What do you tell them, when they come to you?

Paulette Haupt: Well, I tell them, "Surprise me. Just surprise me. Send me something that I've not read before, or heard before; doesn't sound like anybody else. I'm interested in what's going on in your head and in your heart". And that's basically it. Venue wise: "Don't write for a Broadway hit or an off-Broadway hit, write for the people that you want to see this work, and just let it go where it goes.

Marc A. Scorca: Would Ed Korn be happy with what he sees in the American opera repertoire today?

Paulette Haupt: I think he'd be thrilled. I think he would definitely be very pleased, as would John Ludwig and everyone who's not with us anymore. Yes, I do. Even though I'm not living in the opera world anymore sadly, and I have to tell you, I miss it. I'm not living in it, but I certainly sense that there's major progress and stuff happening out there that I'd like to see more of. But I guess I think John and Ed would be very, very excited.

Marc A. Scorca: It's a very different world than it was back in the 1970's, when you and they were such trailblazers.

Paulette Haupt: Absolutely. Yeah.

Marc A. Scorca: So, you're back in New York full time, and hopefully this pandemic will pass and we'll get back to some kind of normal performance production activity, but as you think back over these decades, you've talked a lot about Ed, John - are there any other people you remember, as we walk down memory lane together of folks who really helped guide the development of American opera, as we know it. You've mentioned Roger Ames, an old friend of OPERA America, Lee Hoiby and his wonderful works. Others, you would hope that we remember?

Paulette Haupt: Thomas Pasatieri. I admired his work so much in the '70's, and when I was at Lake George, artistic directing, we worked very hard to try and get Black Widow to come to Lake George, but then I guess he had gone into film by then, but I think he's an overlooked guy that really...I know he is still around, but I think people should think about Thomas Pasatieri as a commission, or whatever. Oh gosh, so many others. Is Ned Rorem still around?

Marc A. Scorca: Ned has done so much vocal work, not as much opera.

Paulette Haupt: Oh, really? More what?

Marc A. Scorca: More songs. Great with song literature, but a wonderful, wonderful composer in the song literature.

Paulette Haupt: Well, I hope Roger Ames finds his due. He has a plethora of new work, that has not really been heard or seen yet. Even Amarantha which didn't go past NOI. So there's still a lot of work to be done out there, but OPERA America's doing it.

Marc A. Scorca: We're trying. Paulette, if we succeed, it's because we're walking in the footsteps that you lay down in this terrain. I remember your energy when I was at Opera Company of Philadelphia in the late '70's, and just your energy and your vision. Of course, Ed and his energy. But if we have today achieved something, it's because of the early work that you and Ed and others did.

Paulette Haupt: Thank you. You mentioned footsteps. I only wear a size six.

Marc A. Scorca: Well, it's a big size six. It's great to talk to you today.

Paulette Haupt: You're welcome. I have a question. Composers used to orchestrate their own work. Always. But currently, I would imagine that most contemporary composers who are writing operas are not orchestrating their own work.

Marc A. Scorca: Au contraire. Most of them are orchestrating their own work.

Paulette Haupt: They are?

Marc A. Scorca: Yep. It is the rare exception, because we still make grants for new work. So we see all of these applications, and it is the rare exception when a composer is not doing the orchestration.

Paulette Haupt: Wow. That's interesting.

Marc A. Scorca: Yeah. There's lots of disagreement about whether they compose straight to full score the way Carlisle Floyd always composed to full score, or whether they do first piano, and then orchestrate. So there's always a big discussion about that, but most of the composers you hear of today do their own orchestration.

Paulette Haupt: Wow. That's great.

Marc A. Scorca: That's why it takes three years to do an opera.

Paulette Haupt: That's right. So if I were to go to an opera next week, what should I see?

Marc A. Scorca: Goodness gracious. There are so many interesting new works that are out there right now. And what's kind of wonderful Paulette, is the variety of scope and style. So, whether it's Jeanine Tesori's opera Blue, which is being performed by a number of companies; the operas of Terence Blanchard, Champion, and Fire Shut up in my Bones; Kevin Puts, his opera Silent Night that won the Pulitzer Prize for music a few years ago.

Paulette Haupt: Mark Campbell, right?

Marc A. Scorca: Libretto, Mark Campbell: absolutely. Kevin Puts has the new opera coming at The Met - The Hours - this year. The opera, Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears, being performed around a lot. Laura Kaminsky's As One: Mark Campbell also was a co-librettist on that. Some of them are large scale, like Kevin Puts opera, Silent Night; some of them are small ensemble, like Laura Kaminsky's As One; some are in the middle like Fellow Travelers or Blue, so there's a real variety. Some of them infused with jazz; some of them really kind of rooted in the classical tradition. Then there's the whole experimental wing: operas by David T. Little and Du Yun; the wonderful work of Huang Ruo. So, it's quite remarkable. Lovely too these days, although so sad that he passed, the works of Daniel Catán and Florencia en el Amazonas, and Rappaccini's Daughter - really wonderful works. But again, a huge variety from experimental to romantic, based on literature or based on current events, there's a huge variety, and all of these orchestrated by the composer.

Paulette Haupt: All? Even Jeanine Tesori's, also?

Marc A. Scorca: Yep.

Paulette Haupt: Wow. Good for her. That's good to know.