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Evans Mirageas Puts It All Together

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 18, 2005 - 12:00:00 AM in news_2005

   Cincinnati Opera artistic director Evans Mirageas know a lot about opera.
   A lot.
   He also knows a lot about symphony orchestras, broadcasting, recording, flight schedules and how to say no, which is what he said twice to Cincinnati Opera general manager Patty Beggs when she asked him to take over the artistic direction of the company.
   Mirageas (Meer-AJ-us), an international expert on just about everything in classical music, finally succumbed in July, after serving six months as artistic advisor subsequent to the resignation of former artistic director Nicholas Muni in Oct. 2004.
   The affable Mirageas, who has an apartment in downtown Cincinnati in addition to homes in Minneapolis and London, promises to bring a new level of excellence and visibility to the nation's second oldest opera company (which he first heard in 1978 in Verdi's "Macbeth" with baritone Sherrill Milnes).
   As artistic director, he casts the operas, selects the singers, conductors and stage directors, oversees the productions and is in charge of the Young Artist program. He is in town several times a year and "24/7" during the summer festival (May to August). Constantly in touch, by e-mail and cell phone, "I’m never not connected," he said.
   He is here this month for meetings and to attend the opera gala/fund-raiser with Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Leech Saturday night in the Music Hall Ballroom. Information at (513) 768-5567.
   Working in Music Hall, where his office overlooks Elm Street in the newly renovated Corbett Opera Center, keeps Mirageas in touch with his symphonic background, too.
   "One of the lovely things about being in the hall is I can just skedaddle across the hallway and hear the orchestra (Cincinnati Symphony)," he said.
   Mirageas. 51, has a formidable resume, having produced radio broadcasts for Lyric Opera of Chicago, served as artistic administrator for the Boston Symphony and vice president for artists and repertoire for Decca Record Company in London, where he cast nearly 40 operas and supervised recordings by Luciano Pavarotti, Cecilia Bartoli and Sir Georg Solti, among others.
   He was working as an independent artistic advisor, with clients from the West Coast to Western Europe, when he got a call from Beggs last fall. Beggs heard about Mirageas from Marc Scorca, president and CEO of Opera America, the industry trade organization.
   "I've known Marc since the early 1980s," said Mirageas. "We were having lunch and I said to him, 'I do this work as an independent artistic planner for orchestras. I'd love to do it for an opera company as well.' Lo and behold, Patty picked up the phone because she had been talking to Marc."
   Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan to Greek-American parents, Mirageas can thank his dad for his introduction to classical music.
   "My father was from Boston. His father sold fruits and vegetables from a cart. My dad's exposure to classical music was the free concerts on the esplanade by the Boston Pops and Arthur Fiedler. One of my first memories as a child is my dad went to Detroit. We lived in Ann Arbor and bought a Motorola stereo and four records. The two I remember were 'Marches in Hi-Fi' with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops and 'Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music.'"
   In the fourth grade, Mirageas began playing the clarinet. One day in junior high school he wandered into the band room, where he volunteered re-filing music. ("I've always had sort of a desire to put things in order," he said.)
   "The orchestra director was playing a record that I'd never heard before and I asked him, 'What's that?' He said, 'The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz and the Chicago Symphony.'"
   A couple of days later, Mirageas asked the same question and it was the Brahms Violin Concerto with Heifetz and the Chicago Symphony. Same scene another day and it was the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
   "I said, 'Let me guess: Jascha Heifetz and the Chicago Symphony.' 'No,' he said. 'Heifetz and the Boston Symphony.' I said, 'Where can I get this stuff?'"
   He was directed to the Liberty Music Shop in Ann Arbor, where he spent his $2 weekly allowance and quizzed the saleslady about recordings for the next several weeks.
   "One day the owner came over and said 'Kid, all you do is come in here, spend your two bucks and take up my employees' time. You're a nuisance.' I was ready to cry because I though this whole world I'd begun to discover was about to be closed."
   Instead, the owner hired him. Mirageas was 13 and had to get special permission to work part time from the school board.
   His ambition when he entered the University of Michigan was "to get people as excited about classical music as I had been as a kid," so he volunteered at the student radio station, then got a job at the University's public radio station, WUOM-FM. Intent on a broadcasting career, he was advised to get the broadest possible education, so he crafted his own major, including music and art history, political history, philosophy, literature, speech and journalism.
   "Music is not isolated," said Mirageas. "It is connected to all the other arts, so having this broad education with a focus on proselytizing for classical music was a huge advantage."
   Mirageas became an independent consultant in 2000, with clients including the Milwaukee Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, WDR Orchestra of Cologne and conductors Semyon Bychkov, Andreas Delfs and Sir Roger Norrington.
   He still wears two hats, one for Cincinnati Opera and one for his private clients.
   The arrangement is mutually beneficial, he said. "We're already discovering wonderful synergies. Some of it is as simple and prosaic as combining travel. Another is that you never know where ideas are going to come from.
   "I was at a concert because I was curious about the conductor for a symphonic engagement and I found a conductor who would be perfect for Cincinnati Opera. I may be looking for a singer for the Handel and Haydn Society for one of their baroque concerts and who knows? Baroque opera could be in our future as well."
   Mirageas plans to maintain the opera's commitment to a balanced repertoire, including familiar and less familiar works. "We're looking at a whole bunch of operas. Our audience has endorsed this. They are curious about operas of today in a reasonable amount. We have four operas (repertoire is set through the 2007 season) so there's always room for something that will be an adventure.
   "That can be a Russian opera ("one of my passions," he said), an opera with a great reputation that no one has seen in Cincinnati in 30 years and an opera by a living composer."
   Since coming to Cincinnati Opera, Mirageas has seen "1984" by Lorin Maazel, the new Philip Glass "Waiting for the Barbarians" and John Adams' "Dr. Atomic." I'm going to be seeing just about every significant new opera that's being done in the next year and a half."
   Next summer's "L'Etoile" by Emmanuel Chabrier is "a wonderful example" of the kind of freshness he'd like to bring to the opera.
   "It's an opera that nobody knows and everybody will fall in love with. I guarantee you will be crying with laughter by the end of the show."
   Cincinnati Opera's 2006 summer festival, opening June 15 at Music Hall, includes Puccini's "Tosca," "Chabrier's "L'Etoile," Verdi's "A Masked Ball" and Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann." Information at www.cincinnatiopera.org.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Nov. 18, 2005)