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Article Published: 20 Jan 2022

In Memoriam: Winter 2022


Karan Armstrong

The soprano Karan Armstrong died on September 28 at age 79. After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1966, Armstrong sang several comprimario roles at the Met and then became a regular presence at New York City Opera in the 1970s. At NYCO, she sang roles including Blondchen in The Abduction from the Seraglio, Violetta in La traviata, Concepción in L’heure espagnole, and Minnie in La fanciulla del West. Armstrong established a career in Europe beginning in the mid-1970s and enjoyed a particularly long relationship with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, starting with her debut as Salome in 1977. Over the course of nearly four decades, she sang more than 400 times with the company.

The British bass-baritone Norman Bailey, renowned for his interpretations of Wagner roles, died on September 15 at age 88. Bailey was most closely associated with the English National Opera, where, from the late 1960s through 1980s, he triumphed in roles like Wotan, the Dutchman, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Pizarro in Fidelio. Hans Sachs became Bailey’s signature role, and it was in that part that he made his Met debut in 1976. He sang for three seasons at the Met and also appeared stateside at Lyric Opera of Chicago, singing Jochanaan in Salome and the Doctor in Wozzeck.

Russell Burleigh, co-founder of Opera Maine, died on October 31. Burleigh was general manager of the Portland Symphony from 1969 to 1987 and later helmed the Providence Symphony. After turning to a career in graphic design and printing, he remained deeply involved in Maine’s music scene and in 1994 joined forces with Bruce Hangen and Jack Riddle to found Portland Opera Repertory Theater, which later became PortOpera and then Opera Maine.

Karen VanderKloot DiChiera

Karen VanderKloot DiChiera, composer and arts educator, died on October 9 at age 80. Alongside her former husband, David DiChiera, she helped establish Michigan Opera Theatre as one of the Midwest’s major opera companies. She founded the company’s Department of Community Programs in 1977 and served as its director until 2015. During her tenure, DiChiera established programs like the Touring Opera Program, which brought performances to schoolchildren throughout Michigan, and spearheaded the company’s accessibility efforts. She served on OPERA America’s original Education Task Force and was a contributor to Words! Music! Opera!, the organization’s groundbreaking curriculum. DiChiera wrote several operas for children with librettist Joan Hill.

Stephen Crout, who founded Washington Concert Opera in 1986 and served as music director of the Washington Ballet from 1989 to 2001, died on November 23 at age 77. After touring with the Gregg Smith Singers and working as a studio pianist and rehearsal accompanist for some of New York’s smaller opera companies, he was invited to join the music staff at Washington National Opera in 1980. He served as chorus master and chief of music staff from 1984 to 1985, and launched the Washington Concert Opera with a performance of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers starring tenor Jerry Hadley, soprano Hei-Kyung Hong, and baritone Gordon Hawkins. As music director of the Washington Ballet, Crout conducted over 200 performances, including Orff’s Carmina Burana at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

The violinist Raymond Gniewek, former concertmaster at the Metropolitan Opera, died on October 1 at age 89. Gniewek was appointed the Met’s concertmaster in 1957, becoming the youngest person to ever hold the post, and served in the role for 43 years.

Edita Gruberová

The Slovakian soprano Edita Gruberová died on October 18 at age 74. Gruberová joined the Vienna State Opera in 1972 and made the company her artistic home for more than four decades, shining in the cornerstones of the coloratura repertoire, including Zerbinetta, Violetta, Konstanze, and Olympia. She appeared infrequently stateside, though she sang 24 performances at the Met, including Violetta in the premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1989 La traviata, and the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1986.

The British impresario and arts administrator Christopher Hunt died on December 1 at age 83. Early in his career, Hunt ran a management firm that represented a diverse roster of artists ranging from Pink Floyd to the soprano Margaret Price. He briefly served as artistic director of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in the late 1970s before going on to posts at San Francisco Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, and various European houses. In the 1980s, he served as artistic head of Pepsico Summerfare, a festival in Purchase, New York, where he programmed Peter Sellars’ Mozart-da Ponte trilogy. Hunt taught arts administration at Indiana University from 2006 to 2013.

Miah Im

The conductor Miah Im died on September 30 at age 47. A native of Toronto, Im received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan, where she studied piano and chamber music. She went on to become principal coach and conductor of the University of Toronto Opera, music director of the University of Maryland Opera Studio, and head of music staff at LA Opera. In 2020, she was named music director of Houston Grand Opera Studio and director of opera studies at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Sally Levy, a founding board member of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, died on December 26. Levy was an officer from 2004 to 2020 and served as a life board member until her death. She and her late husband, John, provided important leadership and philanthropy from OTSL’s first days. The John D. and Sally S. Levy Master Class endowment fund supports training for young singers, and the Sally S. Levy Family Fund for New Works continues to support OTSL’s ongoing commitment to contemporary opera and community engagement activities. With Sally Levy’s lead support, OTSL opened the Sally S. Levy Opera Center in 2006, providing rehearsal and administrative space for the company.

Stephen Sondheim

The composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, one of leading figures of 20th-century musical theater, died on November 26 at age 91. The winner of eight Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, among many other honors, Sondheim is best known for works like Company (1970), Follies (1971), and Sunday in the Park with George (1984). Though Sondheim sometimes bristled at his plays being described in operatic terms — and confessed to being no great opera fan himself — his works have become mainstays at opera houses across the U.S. Over the past two decades, three works in particular — West Side Story
(1957), A Little Night Music (1973), and Sweeney Todd (1979) — have gained a foothold in the operatic repertoire and been performed at companies large and small, often attracting entirely new audiences to the opera house. A full appreciation of Stephen Sondheim’s impact on the opera field will be published in the spring issue of Opera America Magazine.