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Video Published: 21 Dec 2022

An Oral History with Robert Heuer

On October 12th, 2022, managing director Robert Heuer sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and his life.

This interview was originally recorded on October 12th, 2022. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

Robert Heuer, managing director

Robert Heuer began his career in opera as the first managing director of Michigan Opera Theatre (now Detroit Opera) in 1971 and went on to serve for 26 years as general director of Florida Grand Opera. In 2012, he retired and moved to France, where he became a founder of Young Actors Theater Strasbourg (YATS) and served as its first president. He continues in an active role with YATS.

Oral History Project

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


Marc A. Scorca: Bob Heuer, thank you so much for being with us today and for contributing to our oral history project. We have been recording interviews with dozens of people who really helped shape American opera over the last half century, and you are one of them, so thank you so much for being here today. 

Robert Heuer: It's a pleasure to be with you, and to offer whatever I can towards this project.

Marc A. Scorca: Well, we're going to walk down memory lane together a bit, and in that direction, I always ask: who brought you to your first opera? 

Robert Heuer: It was about 1967, I guess. I was working in the costume shop at Wayne State University Theater Department, and there was a young woman, who I found very attractive, and she invited me to go to my first opera, and she took me to the Canadian Opera's tour of Don Pasquale, which came to Windsor, Ontario, and so that was my very first experience. So, it was while I was in college that I went for the first time. Shortly after that, I got to know some people who went to The Met tour every year. And so I started going more regularly, but that was the first time, and I'm eternally grateful to her. 

Marc A. Scorca: Did you enjoy it from the very start? 

Robert Heuer: I did. First of all, when Canadian Opera toured, they did things in English. So it was easy, and it was a fun production, so for me it was a bit like musical theater, (and) easy for me to make the transition, given that I'd had some background in musical theater. 

Marc A. Scorca: It's so interesting, Bob, 'cause I was distracted by the new knowledge that the Canadian Opera Company toured. I had no idea about that. 

Robert Heuer: Back in the, I think, '60's and '70's, they went to maybe seven or eight cities around Canada, as part of their mission to really bring opera to all of Canada. So, they came regularly to Windsor. 

Marc A. Scorca: I guess that's, in a way, inherent in the name 'Canadian Opera', that it was serving Canada. 

Robert Heuer: Detroit was an interesting place because Detroit was one of the cities that The Metropolitan Opera toured to.  They did seven productions in six days at the Masonic Temple, and many people that I got to know actually went to all of the productions and all the performances, so it really is an interesting place. And the touring, obviously…has been replaced by the cinemas and home productions that you can do now. But that was a significant part of opera's development in the '60's/'70's, (when it) particularly had an impact.

Marc A. Scorca: Now, when you were a student, you were looking at a different career path than either musical theater, theater or opera. What got you onto the path of a life in theater? 

Robert Heuer: Well, I suppose the first thing that I maybe was thinking about as a career path was into the Lutheran Ministry, but I always viewed it as very theatrical - that the church had a great deal of pageantry and very theatrical…but I think I was destined to work in the theater, whether that would've been musical theater or opera or something else, because since I was probably seven or eight, I started doing puppet shows in the basement for all the neighborhood kids. I sort of organized what we called 'Circuses in the Yard' with all of our animals that we had available: dogs, cats, whatever.  And so I started doing that very, very early as a child, and it was partly stimulated, I think, because my mother took me to a puppet show of Rumpelstiltskin, when I was probably seven or eight, and it really enticed me into that idea. So doing the puppets only came naturally.

And then I always say that I was very fortunate to have some really outstanding music teachers. In middle school (or junior high school as we called it then), I had a choir teacher, who took our class to the first Broadway show I ever saw, which was a tour of My Fair Lady, and I remember being so really excited about it, and it was really the first real theater I was seeing. And then we moved, and I went to high school in Utica, Michigan, where there was a really outstanding music teacher, who loved Broadway, and did an annual Broadway show. And so from the very first year that I was in high school, I started to be involved in the productions, first in technical things in my first year, which…as I remember was South Pacific. Then the second year, I worked helping to build scenery and worked the show, and that was Carousel. And the third year was Oklahoma, in which I played Will Parker, so that was my inauguration into actually performing.

Marc A. Scorca: Of course, those were all musicals that certainly have one foot in the opera form. 

Robert Heuer: Yes, exactly. I'm very grateful to those teachers. I'm still in contact with the wife of my high school music teacher.  She's now 98, and we at least exchange Christmas cards each year, just to stay in touch. 

Marc A. Scorca: That's wonderful. You joined Michigan Opera Theatre really quite early in the life of that company. And so you have the experience of real start-up, and I'm curious to hear what it was like to put a company on its feet from the very beginning. 

Robert Heuer: From my standpoint, it's important, I guess, how I got there as well. And I often say that my getting into opera was both luck and the willingness to kind of go the extra mile.  And so, at the time, before Michigan Opera Theatre began as Michigan Opera Theatre, or as Overture to Opera, which preceded it, I was working for the Detroit Youth Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts, really being the program manager for programs that went out into the schools from the art museum and from the theater department. And, as part of that, we had a theater in the museum that we occasionally rented out to outside groups. And at one point, David DiChiera rented the theater to do a production of Help, Help, the Globolinks! And it was just my responsibility to open the doors, to make sure everything was functioning from the Institute's standpoint.

But of course, David asked me to help him with some production things and with some organizational issues, and as you know, with David it's very hard to say no when he asks you to do something, with all the enthusiasm and his charm.  And so I volunteered to do some things that I wouldn't normally have done. So, we really hit it off and I think he felt that it was a successful production at the Institute of Arts.  About a month later, he called me, and he said, "You know, there are some people now in Detroit, who think that it's time for Detroit to have its own opera company. Yes, The Met is great. It comes and delivers these (productions), but it would be great for the city to have its own company".  And so he said to me, if I remember almost the exact words, "I know a lot about music and opera, but I know nothing about organizing and running a company. Would you consider joining me in starting this new opera company?" And I thought, "Well, you know, here's something that I..."  I could have stayed at the Institute of Arts with the youth program, but this was exciting, and it was interesting, partly because he had this vision of a company that was not The Met at the time. It was really organized to be an alternative to The Met. It was going to be all in English. It was going to utilize young artists and new talent, and it was going to do things that The Met wouldn't do on tour. And so I said, "Yeah, that sounds interesting".

And so I was hired by David on August 1st, 1971, and he said, "I'm not sure yet what I want to do first, but I wanna have a season this fall". This is August. "But I don't have a cast, I don't have the shows yet, and we don't have a theater, so I really need you to organize all of that". He said, "I'll work on putting together the shows and casting it".   And so…my first task was to actually find a theater, and there was an old theater, the Cinerama Music Hall in Detroit that had been empty for a number of years. And so I said, "Well, why don't we see if the man who owned it, (and I think his name was Goodman, but I'm not positive of that) (is) willing to let us use it. And so David and I went and met with him, and we said, "We're starting this new opera company. Your theater's been empty. We don't have any money, so we would need it for two or three years rent free. We'll do whatever needs to be done inside to make it usable", and he agreed. And that I think is a key in talking about David DiChiera is that he could convince anybody to do whatever he had envisioned. He was remarkable in setting out a vision and being able to get others enthusiastic about it.

So, that's probably the middle to the end of August. And then we opened in November with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and followed that with La Rondine. And so, in a matter of about three or four months, we went from no company to actually doing some shows. But David…had been running this program called Overture to Opera, which was funded by the Detroit Opera Association, which brought The Met to Detroit.  And the idea of this Overture to Opera was that it was the overture to the (italics) opera. And so he would do scenes from the operas that were going to be coming, and he would go and do those performances with local artists in community centers. He had developed a really great group of volunteers who helped him with that. So, one advantage we had when we started out was there were already these David DiChiera followers, who were prepared to do what he wanted them to do. But we had to organize the tickets; we needed to organize PR; we needed to organize getting the theater cleaned out. It still had all the projectors and that for Cinerama, which were three projectors and a circular screen at the front. We had to take that out and just clean it. It had been empty for years. And for the first year, we only used the main floor and the small kind of mezzanine, and then the second year we decided (to) open the balcony. And so we…organized our group of volunteers again, and went up to clean it.  We thought we were taking out carpeting, but it actually was dust that was about five inches deep, and it was just caked that it had to come out. But it was really a great group of volunteers who really helped us, and who really made a difference for the organization.

I also always teased David a bit because I was technically the first paid employee of Michigan Opera Theater (then Overture to Opera), because David, at the time, was the head of the music department at Oakland University, and the unpaid general director of the Opera. So I was technically the first paid employee. One of the great things about it for me was it gave me the chance to learn about opera. It gave me a chance to actually do all the pieces that are required to run a company, both what I knew already, but also that I could experiment, and try things out, and find what worked for me. And David was very supportive. I think also, as a company, we were very fortunate that David's wife, Karen VanderKloot DiChiera came from a family that was well connected in the community, and so she opened a lot of doors also for David. And she was a wonderful educator in her own right. So I guess I should have been more frightened than I was.

Marc A. Scorca: But you were young. 

Robert Heuer: I was young. I didn't know any better. And again, working with David was a remarkable experience. And one that I would say, "If David wants to do it, it can't fail". 

Marc A. Scorca: I wanted to dwell there for a second, because when we think of the big dynamic personalities in the opera world and how they command a room - that wasn't David. You couldn't say no to him, but the request was the most soft-spoken, soft-grained approach. And his persuasive power was not revealed by a boisterous personality.

Robert Heuer: I always felt exactly that. David always gave a sense of loving what he did, and loving the people around him and caring about the community. And so he was never loud and never boisterous. He was able to move amongst the social community for a lady's luncheon to the boardroom of Chrysler Corporation. Maybe it was because he was soft spoken, maybe because there was a charisma that carried from those qualities that David had, that convinced people that he could do what he said he could do…There are a lot of people who kind of build themselves up, and they can do anything. David was never that way, and he always expresses caring. And I have to say, for me, the thing is, that David became a real friend, and he was a friend all the way til his death. I came back to the States in 2019, and went for a week to stay with David, which was towards the end of his life. And I think a sign of the kind of person he was... You know, some people in this business - you're either loyal or you're disloyal. A lot of people would've said, "Okay, you left David, or you left the company, after eight years. I don't really want anything more to do, or I'm not gonna be a friend, or whatever”. David wasn't that way. He was supportive always, and supportive of my wanting to grow, in a way, and that's a sign of somebody who I think can be more successful than somebody who can be loud. 

Marc A. Scorca: And I guess, the personality you describe in David, (and I don't mean this in a negative way) was very different from your next boss, Bob Herman in Miami, who had many great qualities, but it was a big personality as opposed to a quiet personality. What was it like moving from David DiChiera to Bob Herman? 

Robert Heuer: Well, first, you're right. Bob not only was a big personality, he was big, so he commanded the room just by his physical presence. Bob was extremely organized. He brought his experience in the military with him; he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was a fantastic fundraiser. And I was always impressed, even when things didn't go well, like the New World Festival that Bob did in 1982…He had this vision that it was going to become this huge festival that would be an annual festival for Miami. It would be a way to do more contemporary works, new works. It was going to be opera, musical theater, dance, ballet, symphonic things. And he got people excited about it, but I think he may have been too far ahead in a way, for Miami, and in the end, it lost a lot of money.  But it never did lose money, because Bob was determined to raise all the money that he needed to pay for it.

So, a year after the festival, there was no debt, nothing lost. It unfortunately ended after one season. But Bob's personality allowed him to be able to convince people to give him money. I think it's interesting: one of Bob's great patrons in Miami was Mrs. Adams. And this project of oral history is sponsored by her foundation, the Adams Foundation, and so it's kind of nice to see this kind of through-line there. To say that Bob was different, he was louder, although I never heard Bob holler and scream. He was not that kind of loud. Bob was, in some ways like David for me, because he was a person who, when he had you as part of the team, he let you grow and do things and gave you assignments that he knew were more than you were familiar with, or that you had experienced previously. He was always supportive of those things. And he would let you run with them.

So, when I first went to Miami, I went there as director of production, and he sort of indicated at that time that he was thinking of retiring in a few years, and while I had been managing director in Detroit, he said, "There's no limit to what you could do, and if you are interested in pursuing the idea of perhaps running a company some day, I will give you as much as I can, to help you have the experiences that you need. And so, after four years, I really had great experience with the production department, with staffing, with learning to negotiate union contracts, and working in an environment that was a major opera company doing opera in the original language with international stars. He then gave me the title of assistant general director and really laid the groundwork for my being able to step up two years later into the role of general director. And when I've thought about it a little bit, I think if Bob had any regret in his career (it) was that he didn't succeed Rudolf Bing at The Met. And I think there were a lot of people who thought either he or Herman Krawitz would succeed.

And The Met then chose to go a different direction, and I think that Bob felt he wanted somebody who came up through the ranks of the company, who could then step up. And so, he was always really supportive of my growth and my getting ready. I remember some of the first times that he wasn't available to do a speaking engagement to a group of people, and he would always turn to me, and he said, "You're going to do this".  And the first few times it was a little frightening to be in front of either of the Chamber of Commerce or even an after opera party, where you have to introduce and thank and all that. But he knew that by doing that, that gave me the confidence to be able to do it in the future.  He was a different personality from David, but one that was also extremely supportive of his team and of his belief in me, as a potential leader for the company. I also think it's interesting from my standpoint. I was trying to think a little bit about my going to Miami. And when I decided in '78/'79, that I needed to make a move to go to a bigger company, a company that was doing repertoire, plus, clearly David DiChiera was gonna be the general director of Michigan Opera Theatre as long as he wanted to...

Marc A. Scorca: ...for a long time.

Robert Heuer: And so I explored a couple things, but I actually credit OPERA America for my becoming general director, because first of all, I attended a lot of OPERA America conferences, including one in Miami in maybe '75 or '76, when I was at Michigan Opera Theater, and I met Bob Herman. So that was my first exposure to Bob. But then through various other meetings, I got to know him better. Also, with going to Santa Fe for some of the summer sessions, (I) got to know John Crosby, and got to know that company, and in 1979 in, it must have been April, May, I was actually offered two jobs. Bob Herman offered me the director of production, and John Crosby offered me a position with Santa Fe Opera to be in Santa Fe during the summer, and to be at the Manhattan School in the wintertime in New York. And, you know, Santa Fe was magical. Santa Fe itself was a place that's magical, and the company was doing great things and doing premieres and had particularly important American artists performing there, and I loved that they did almost all new productions, built there at the Santa Fe Opera.  And with Miami, I didn't know a lot about Miami. I knew it was a place that a lot of retirees go. I also did know that it was a company that had international artists and did opera in original language, but I also knew that they moved their productions from mainland Miami to Miami Beach, then up to Fort Lauderdale, which seemed to me to be incredibly wasteful. So, I was actually leaning towards accepting John's offer from Santa Fe. But I had the good fortune of having a chance to have a meeting with Ann Farris, who I then knew as Ann Darling, and I really respected her opinions about things, and she knew all the players and so forth.

Marc A. Scorca: And at that time Ann was the executive director of OPERA America. 

Robert Heuer: Yes, exactly. And I said to Ann, "I'm having a wonderful choice to make, but I'm not sure what I should do". And she said, "Well, what is it you want from this change in position?" And I said, "Well, I really wanna learn everything I can about running a major opera company, and I want to eventually run my own company". And she said, "Well, then I think you need to go to Miami".  She said, "John and Santa Fe Opera do great things; it's a very exciting company, but I don't think John will share with you the kind of experiences you want and need. Bob Herman will share what he knows with you and really encourage you". And so that was the deciding factor in which job I took, with her recommendation. And so I really did give OPERA America...

Marc A. Scorca: Ann listens to these oral histories, and she will so appreciate the call-out.

Robert Heuer: Oh, does she really? Well, thank you so much, Ann for your advice.

Marc A. Scorca: That's just wonderful. And thanks for noting that OPERA America was a part of that decision. Now you've named David DiChiera, Bob Herman and Ann Farris. You had a wonderfully successful career. Were there other mentors or role models, even if they didn't know that they were a role model for you? Were there other people you thought, "What would Giulio Gatti-Casazza do in this situation?” Who are some role models? 

Robert Heuer: Well, I suppose I need to start first with my mother. I often say my career is remarkable because I was a relatively poor boy from Detroit, with no formal training in music. But my mother planted all the seeds. She took me to my first puppet show. She arranged for us to get a piano, and I took piano lessons. She was also the person who taught me all the values that I carried forward, and I continue to carry forward. She had five children. I was the oldest. She didn't finish high school until after having all of us. She went back to school, became a registered nurse. So it planted in me this sense that you can accomplish anything. You may have detours, you may have things that happen, but as long as you stay focused, as long as you are willing to put in the effort, you can accomplish anything.  So my mother was really someone who gave me the basic foundation.

Then as I mentioned, my high school music teacher, Stanley Salter.  He was remarkable in that he was a big man. He was a wonderful tenor, and again, I guess much like David and Bob, he was somebody who I assume saw something in me that he responded to. And in my last year in high school, I was elected the president of the choir. And he came to me at a certain point, and he said the principal has decided that we don't have the funds to do a musical this year. And I said, "No, that's not possible. We have to. I've been involved in three; (I’m in) my senior year. I'm definitely going to want to have a musical". And so he said, "Well, I don't know what the answer is", but he said, "That's the word from the administration". So I said, "Well, if I can find the money, do you think we can do a musical?" He said, "Well, if you can find the money, let me know".

So I proceeded to go out into the community and businesses and ask for donations, and the musical in those days cost the school, I think about $1,200 for the whole thing. So I raised $1,200, and I came back and I didn't go to Mr. Salter. I actually made an appointment to see the principal, and I said, "Hello, we are going to have a musical. I have all of this money to pay for it. You don't have to worry about the funding". I thought I was gonna get expelled, perhaps from school, but in fact, we did The Music Man that year. And so that was maybe my first (experience) of seeing how it's done, but Mr. Salter really allowed me that freedom, and, as a student, I appreciated that. His wife is still actually at 98 or 99, a painter. And so she designed and painted all the scenery for the shows. And so it was really great to see this sort of commitment and family kind of working together as a team, and I think that was important to me. And then to have David and Bob, I think equally as mentors were important in my life. 

Marc A. Scorca: And of course that story about raising money for The Music Man, kind of paves the way toward your creating a new performing arts center in Miami. And I know, for decades, that the theater facilities available to you in Miami were not adequate to the needs of a fine opera company. And Bob, was it 10 years, 12 years of planning, of negotiating, of cajoling...?

Robert Heuer: Would you believe 27? 

Marc A. Scorca: Yeah, I would, So finally, it opened in 2006, but you had spent the past 22 years putting it together. What was a key to making it work? 

Robert Heuer: This is something that Bob did when I first arrived. I mean, I think within a couple of weeks of being in Miami, he said, "There is a new group that is looking at whether there is a need for a new theater, and would it be possible. And I'm going to appoint you to that committee". So right in 1979, I joined the committee. That committee morphed and went through different phases that eventually became the Performing Arts Center Committee appointed by the county, of which I was a member - from the very beginning of that. But it was, in fact, 27 years of working, of convincing, and sometimes when you look back and you think "Maybe it's a good thing, it didn't happen so fast", because what would have happened, should we have been able to do something in those early days, would've been to build another multipurpose hall, that would not have been really functional for what eventually the growth of the arts in Miami represented.

But I had taken the position from the very beginning, (that) we should look at going beyond a multipurpose hall. For the first 10 years of my being involved, nobody wanted to hear that. That was like, "Oh, come on. You have these grand ideas and that," but we kept working at it. Sometimes it was frustrating and slow working with government, because in this case, it was Miami-Dade County that was in charge of this. But one can find allies when you're open to working with others…forming a team. And so one of the allies - in addition to some community people, Parker Thomson, Jim Herron, all of whom were involved pretty early on with the effort - the person that represented and was a partner was Michael Spring, who ran the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Department, and he believed strongly in the arts. He, himself, was a painter. He really believed government needed to fund the arts and worked really hard, and was then the first department head in county government for an arts division in Florida. And so in doing this…what I found necessary was to form as many relationships. So I joined early on the Chamber of Commerce, so that I was interacting with business people. I even was on a committee of the Chamber for the homeless, so I was involved with other nonprofits and associations that had nothing to do with the arts necessarily.

And so trying to really bring together a coalition was really the work that took a lot of time, and really is part of the reason it took so long, was trying to form that. The hardest coalition to form was the other resident companies, because everybody is so protective. And I don't know if it is as true today.  Bob was never somebody who seemed to be afraid that a ballet company might start, or there was an orchestra. But those groups really felt very protective. First of all, they were all new in Miami. They didn't exist, whereas the opera existed since 1942, I guess. And so they were just getting started…and several organizations folded during the difficult times of planning the center. And so (it was difficult) trying to keep them together as a unit. I remember even Judy Drucker saying, "We don't really need an opera house and a concert hall and a small theater, we just need a good theater". And I just had to fight and fight, that - no, we need to think about what the future of Miami is and what we need, and we wanna make sure we don't get into the same problems we had at the Miami Beach Theater, where Broadway took control of the theater. So, those were the kinds of things that were difficult.

It's interesting politically what happened in Miami. In the first probably 10, 15 years of trying to get something done, the County Commission was what you would expect the County Commission to be: Anglo, Jewish but no Latins. It wasn't until the Latins actually took a leading role in the commission and in government. And they came from a tradition where government did support the arts and did believe in building buildings.  Something that sticks in my mind was when the sort of final decision that the County Commission had to make about moving forward with it, one of the commissioners called for a public meeting for people to come and tell the commission why they shouldn't build this performing arts center; they shouldn't spend tax money, and so on. We were all nervous that we were gonna see hundreds of people there anti building the performing arts center. In fact, what turned out was that there was only one person who spoke against it, but there were hundreds who showed up and supported it, including a number of people, like a Cuban taxi driver who said, "I remember in Havana, my grandfather took me to the Opera and to the Symphony. I want that for my children and my grandchildren".  And that sort of changed the (outlook)...and it was then a sign that it became a total community project that made the difference in terms of getting it done. It took a while, but it was worth it when we finally reached 2006 and we were able to open the Opera House with Aida and do six productions that year. 

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely. And the next year, a world premiere.

Robert Heuer: Actually in that season.

Marc A. Scorca: Oh, cause it was 2006/'07.

Robert Heuer: Yeah, it was 2007, but it was in the '06/'07 season.

Marc A. Scorca: And that's when we did an annual conference there for the premier of Anna Karenina.

Robert Heuer: And you may notice, but there is a page from the score with David Carlson and the cast. Since we moved here full time, that has hung right over my shoulder. 

Marc A. Scorca: How fantastic. That's great. 

Robert Heuer: It was a great experience for me, because, as you know, Miami and the company was a relatively conservative community, conservative repertoire. I always was amused that Bob Herman used to say, even when I first arrived, "Oh, we really can't do Mozart; people just won't sit through Mozart and so on".  And I looked at the repertoire, and I saw that the company had only done in 38 seasons by then The Marriage of Figaro once, and The Abduction from the Seraglio once. No Don Giovannis, no Magic Flutes. I actually won a bet once with a donor, who then had to make a contribution, about Don Giovanni. He couldn't believe that we wouldn't have done Don Giovanni. I said, "We never did Don Giovanni in the history of this company". And so when I could prove to him that that was the case, he made a nice donation to the first production of Don Giovanni. And although we did some things, The Passion of Jonathan Wade with Houston, which was not a world premiere, it was not a commission of ours...

Marc A. Scorca: I saw that in Miami actually with you. 

Robert Heuer: And I tried to expand the standard rep, because there was a lot that wasn't done ever in the history of the company. So I was excited and felt very strongly that with the new Opera House and the first season, we needed to commission a world premiere.  And, at the time, Stewart Robertson was the music director of the Opera, and he had worked with David Carlson previously, and he came to me with this idea about Anna Karenina, and I immediately said, "It sounds like the perfect kind of piece". He played some music of David's for me, and it seemed like it was music that would really be appropriate for the piece, and so we went ahead with the commission and commissioned it, and then began working on putting together a cast, which I think was an outstanding cast of Kelly Kaduce, Brandon Jovanovich, William Joyner, Sarah Coburn, and it was great - that first season was a really great season. We actually did Mozart, as well in that season, because it sort of helped us to look in a bigger way at the community and what was possible. David was a dream to work with as a composer. First of all, he loved the material, so he wanted it to be a success, and he loved working with Stewart, and Stewart felt the same way in developing the piece. So, it was really great. I'm also very proud that - to get back to David DiChiera and my next to last season - we were able to present Cyrano.  We had been a co-producer on the production in Detroit, and so it was great to be able to kind of wrap up my seasons with going back to David and being able to present (his opera), which I think is still an extraordinary piece of musical theater, and one that I really hope will find a bigger future. 

Marc A. Scorca: I remember it well from its premier, for sure. So, Bob, my last question for you today, you must give advice. People ask you advice today, yesterday, 10 years ago, about building a successful career in opera, in opera administration, in opera company leadership. What's at the core of Bob Heuer's advice to the next generation or two? 

Robert Heuer: I think I would probably say (to) be honest with yourself as well as with others. Don't lie to yourself about what's possible or not possible, but also be willing to go the extra mile and try to see what is possible, and to not be afraid to try something new. It's easy to sort of fall into a rut, I think, as an administrator, and to say, "Okay, this has been working, or...", but I think that is limiting in terms of your ability. There are a couple things that I also say to people when I've talked to them about this. “Don't forget there's life outside of the opera house”. It's important as an individual to not just see your job in the Opera, but you need to have a life that gives you strength and refreshes you. I always encouraged staff at Florida Grand Opera to take their vacations. We really got to the point where we said, "Everybody should take four weeks of vacation". We didn't care if they were brand new, if they were not. Some people didn't feel they wanted to take four weeks, but we pushed them to do that, because I felt that they needed to not always be there at the Opera House; that they needed to come back with fresh ideas, with a fresh approach, and be willing to therefore work even harder to make a success.

You know, it's interesting. I also would say to people who may also be at the end of their opera career, "Don't be afraid of retirement. It isn't the end. It's really just a new beginning". I feel really fortunate, and I really didn't want to just kind of go and retire and relax and maybe just work in the vegetable garden a little bit. I really wanted to do something more, and I felt I had something more to still give and to offer. And so when my husband, Mark and I moved here full time to France, we immediately got involved with some other Americans in Strasbourg, and said, "It would be great to start a children's theater. A children's theater that would do musicals”. It was something that was lacking in Strasbourg. And so, we started a program, which the first two years was supported by the Americans in Alsace Group that existed for quite a long time.  And then in 2015, we formed as a separate nonprofit, an association, as it's called here. And I became the first president and served for the first five years of the group. We do workshops for kids from nine to 18 years old. We do dance, acting, music. We produce a musical. Next week we open Guys and Dolls, with 40 kids, ages 12 to 18, and representing 16 different nationalities, which is remarkable in Strasbourg because…the Parliament and the European Council has a lot of international people.  But we've always done everything in English. All the workshops are in English. The artistic team are all Americans, the director, the music director, the choreographer, and we're all volunteers, and we pay the teachers who do the workshops, but we're all volunteers for the production. And we've been supported by the American Council here in Strasbourg, and the embassy in Paris, and this year, because we're trying to actually be more in the community, we decided that Guys and Dolls gave us an opportunity to do something different. It's hard sometimes to think about how…you connect to current events or things that might be relevant, in a governmental way.

And as I started thinking about it, I realized that Abe Burrows had been denied the Pulitzer in 1951, because Harvard University who controlled and made the decision had determined that he was a communist sympathizer, and so they didn't award a Pulitzer for Drama that year. He got back at them 10 years later with How to Succeed in Business when he did get the Pulitzer, but as we talked about it here, we said, "It's not quite censorship, but it sort of is censorship". And so we went to the Council-General here in Strasbourg, and we said "We would like this year to do something a little more than just the musical, which, every year, has been very successful. We want to do a seminar on censorship in the arts. And here we are in Strasbourg where the Court of Human Rights for Europe is located. And with all that's going on, both in the United States and in parts of rest of the world, including in Europe, censorship and restrictions and so on seem very relevant. So we were able to get speakers from the Court of Human Rights, and it was primarily focused at the young people, (high school students), and we had over a hundred high school students come to the seminar, and lots of parents and lots of other community people. And it just was another example of the arts (being able to) do so much more than just give great performances and inspire people from an artistic standpoint, but it also gives you a chance to connect to your community. And I guess I would say to an administrator, "Don't be afraid of the community. Get out there. Get to know them. Be a part of it, because they're gonna be your strength and your greatest asset if you're open and willing to do it”.

Marc A. Scorca: First of all, great advice, but what a fantastic story about what you're doing now in France with young people, that in a way comes full circle to your own introduction to the wonders of the musical theater and of performance, and of the community of the arts that young people gain by participating. This conversation just reminds me what a great contributor you were to all the work at OPERA America; what a cherished colleague and dear friend you are. This is not self-serving to say, I can't wait to be in Strasbourg again, so that way we can have another dinner and just continue to catch up. 

Robert Heuer: And although I didn't want it to seem too obvious, I do think of you also as a mentor, and OPERA America, as I said, played a huge role in my success, and Ann was one of those people, but I think you were as well. I think it's about being open and being willing to take advantage of what is available to you. And you've made so many things available to the whole community, not just to general directors, which is what it started out as…a nice little club, but to so many. I'm amazed when I look at all the news that I get from OPERA America about minorities' and women's programs and all that you're doing. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. I congratulate you and OPERA America.

Marc A. Scorca: As you know as well as anyone, it's a team effort.