Sunday, January 19, 2003

Sorg Opera has clear vision for the future

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mr. Tucker

With a financial windfall, a new strategic plan, and a partnership with Cincinnati Opera, Sorg Opera plans to become a permanent force on the music scene.

In April, Sorg Opera was in trouble. The Middletown opera company, which has mounted operatic chestnuts in the historic Sorg Opera House since 1990, shared operations with Whitewater Opera in Richmond, Ind. Sorg flourished - until Whitewater closed its doors on March 31, the victim of four years of operating losses.

The 11 members of the Sorg Opera board braced for bearing this season's $300,000 operating costs alone - minus Whitewater's $100,000 contribution. Then in May, longtime opera fan Dorothy Brayton died, and made Sorg Opera a beneficiary, to the tune of $262,000.

"It was a Godsend, no doubt about it," says board of trustees president William Teager. "The Whitewater closing created a financial crisis for us - a $100,000 a year shortfall. Her gift was definitely a catalyst."

The gift bought them time, while they began to hammer out a long-range plan to keep the company a permanent fixture in Middletown.

Today, the 13-year-old company is armed with a new strategic plan, a newly created endowment fund and plans for a partnership with its big-league neighbor, Cincinnati Opera.

The new partnership will bring a Cincinnati Opera Education production of The Barber of Seville to Sorg Opera in May. The companies are also working to cross-promote their seasons, and may begin collaborating on young artist auditions. The potential includes using the Sorg Opera House for Opera Raps, or joint opera events.

It's a win-win, says Patty Beggs, managing director of Cincinnati Opera.

"We have tremendous respect for Curtis (Tucker, managing director) and his dedicated staff and board, and we are committed to exploring additional ways we can work together in the future," says Ms. Beggs.

Tops on Mr. Teager's agenda is raising $1 million over three years for operations and the company's first endowment campaign (its goal will be announced at a later date). Four months ago, the company increased its staff to three by hiring Chuck Wente, marketing and development director.

Known for its fresh talent, Sorg Opera casts young singers from New York and Chicago, and in the pit are musicians from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Part of the appeal is the historic 700-seat Sorg Opera House; a "jewel box" built in 1891 by industrialist Paul J. Sorg and designed by Music Hall architect Samuel Hannaford.

With the new plans comes a renewed look at repertoire. Rather than continue the tradition of old favorites and operettas, Mr. Tucker, managing director since 1997, aims to introduce two company premieres each season. Next month, he'll mount Ariadne auf Naxos, the company's first opera by Richard Strauss.

Sorg is also hoping to begin modest touring around the region - bringing a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors to the Aronoff Center, for instance.

Its new vision "makes the entire board look forward to the future with great anticipation," says Mr. Teager.

For tickets to Sorg Opera's Ariadne auf Naxos, 8 p.m. Feb. 21-22, call (513) 425-0180 or e-mail sorg


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