Here’s a big loss to the New York new music community.  George Steel, who has made Miller Theatre at Columbia University an essential venue since taking over as executive director in 1997, is leaving Miller to become General Director of The Dallas Opera, effective October 1.   It’s a great career move, of course, but New York is going to miss his adventuresome programming which has made Miller a reliably memorable concert-going experience,  and attracted large and notably young audiences.

Steel, a 41-year-old Maryland native and graduate of Yale University, is founder and conductor of the Gotham City Orchestra and Vox Vocal Ensemble and has programmed and/or conducted music that spans more than 600 years, ranging from Tallis and Byrd, to Lotti and Bach, to Brahms and Chausson, to Stravinsky and Ives, to John Zorn and Morton Feldman.

6 Responses to “George Steel Leaves Miller for Dallas Opera”
  1. zeno says:

    Thanks Henry.

    Ah, the life of the mind … Without knowing about the Jake Heggie Dallas world premiere or being in a “cone of silence,” I watched Gregory Peck et al. yesterday morning in the 1956 Hollywood Moby Dick masterpiece [1 hour 55 minutes] and wondered how a new opera on Moby Dick might fare given the strong presence of Britten’s Billy Budd in the repertoire. [In the afternoon, I listened to Orff’s Commedia and Britten’s Curlew River.]

    I also have Argento’s Dallas ‘The Aspern Papers’ on ghostly VHS, and, as my $29 COBY DVD player is on the blink after 8 years service, my Aspern Papers VHS is in the bullpen for a spin in the next week or so.

    The Washington National Opera also followed up its relationship with Menotti with one with Ward, Argento, and then Floyd [Susannah, Mice/Men]. The follow-up relationship with Bolcom has been less strong to date, I see.

    Back in NEA/Opera America days, fine things were said about Argento’s ‘The Dream Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe’, and I never understood why the WNO, Baltimore, or Wolf Trap Opera never revived it. I wonder how the Dallas production went. (The WNO had a somewhat unfortunate experience, I believe, with Argento’s Dream of Valentino, though I don’t remember the details and I didn’t see it.)

    Thanks again.


    [Yesterday I found my LP of Ingram Marshall’s 1976 Fragility Cycles when I went to dig out my lawnmover from the garage.]

  2. Henry Holland says:

    Zeno, the only info I could find for a season which Mr. Steel will oversee is 2009-10, when Dallas will do the world premiere of…..wait for it….Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick. Cue the “fat tenor who will sing the whale” jokes.

    A look through the Dallas Opera archives since 1980 shows:

    1984 Amelia Goes to the Ball/The Medium
    1986 The Mother of Us All
    1987 Porgy and Bess
    1988 The Aspern Papers
    1991 The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe
    1993 Vanessa
    1994 The Dream of Valentino
    2001 Thérèse Raquin Tobias Picker

    Not bad, though the recent history has been poor. They obviously had a relationship with Dominick Argento at one point: they did the world premiere of the The Aspern Papers, which I have on VHS –ah the days when PBS actually broadcast opera not from the Met– and should dig out for a spin. I’d love to hear his Miss Havisham’s Fire, which got great reviews when it was revised and done in St. Louis a while back.

  3. zeno says:

    Henry, thank you for your comments and careful and loving compilation, which, however, I believe supports the point that I could only make in haste. (I saw all the productions that you note.)

    The Washington Opera petitioned the U.S. Congress to be renamed the Washington NATIONAL Opera, which it thought would help it with national (and international) fundraising. In return for the moniker, the company promised Congress and the American people that it would stage ‘one American opera each and every season’ (as I repeat often here and elsewhere).

    There are already holdovers on the WNO Board of Directors from the recent time that the company was called, the “Opera Society of Washington”, who strongly want to renounce this promise, so that the company can become more like the conservative “singers’ house’ that the Metropolitan Opera was from, say 1967 to 1991 (or perhaps you could say until Mr Gelb’s arrival, although this would not be completely fair to Mr Volpe, and Mr Levine, who increasingly sought to bring European stagecraft, if not marketing pizzazz, to the MET Opera).

    Now, as to your list, may we stipulate that Benjamin Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ and ‘Peter Grimes’ (this season) are not American opera, under a definition that would be recognized by the Office of the Senate Legal Counsel? Nor is Wagner’s “American Ring” an American opera, under a definition recognizable to the Senate or House Offices of Legal Counsels.

    Additionally, and as you note, Previn’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and Nick Maw’s “Sophie’s Choice” are only honorary American operas.

    I really don’t care if for the next few years the Washington National Opera were to continue doing “safe rep,” but I’d like our National Company to keep its promise to Congress and to the American people and to do one American opera ‘each and every season’ or for them to return the NATIONAL title. (The Washington National Opera now reminds me of the old, once active National Endowment for the Arts which believed that it did not need to follow the operational guidelines of its founding legislation ….)

    Why shouldn’t the Washington NATIONAL Opera be performing Samuel Barber’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” or Richard Danielpour’s slave opera or Philip Glass’s ‘Akhenaton’ or John Adams’s ‘Doctor Atomic’ or Tobias Picker’s ‘An American Tragedy’ or John Harbison’s ‘Great Gatsby’ or Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” or a Peter Lieberson or Lowell Lieberman opera — or William Grant Still’s “A Troubled Island”? (They did perform once or twice the world premiere of Scott Wheeler’s ‘Democracy’ with an apprentice cast on the George Washington University stage.)

    And Henry, do you know whether the Dallas is doing any American operas over the next three pre-George Steel planned seasons? Has it been in any way as vital as David Gockley’s Houston or San Francisco Operas have been for the past twenty-five years? I didn’t have time to check yesterday. Thanks again.


    Gotta run now to an ill-named Brookings conference on “Post-Conflict Georgia” …

  4. Henry Holland says:

    “And now Dallas Opera will become an essential venue”

    You might want to hold off on flights to Dallas for a bit. The next three seasons in Dallas are already set, he won’t get to program a season on his own until 2011-12. Until then, it’s the same old Mozart > Verdi > “Carmen” stuff. And anyone who thinks he’s going to go to Dallas and program “out there” stuff like the Xenakis at Miller is sadly misguided–Dallas is a notoriously non-adventurous opera going town. Unless of course your idea of “out there” stuff is Chausson’s “Le Roi Arthus”, lovely as that opera is.

    “which has promised Congress and the American people to produce one American opera each and every season”

    They’ve done the following since 2000:

    2000-2001 season
    The Consul, Menotti

    2001-2002 season
    Of Mice and Men, Floyd

    2002-2003 season
    Vanessa, Barber

    2003-2004 season
    A Streetcar Named Desire, Previn (I’ll count him as an honorary Yank!)

    2004-2005 season
    Um, does “Billy Budd” count? 🙂

    2005-2006 season
    Porgy and Bess, Gershwin

    2006-2007 season
    Sophie’s Choice, Maw (nothing American)

    2007-2008 season
    A View from the Bridge, Bolcom

    2008-2009 season
    No American opera

    So, they’ve done a pretty good job, but again, it’s very safe rep that they’re doing.

    Best of luck to Mr. Steel, I hope he really likes fundraising because that’s a large chunk of what his job is going to be.

  5. zeno says:

    Congratulations to Mr Steel and to the Dallas Opera, although I was hoping that he would be appointed the General Director of the Washington National Opera, which has promised Congress and the American people to produce one American opera each and every season.

  6. David Salvage says:

    And now Dallas Opera will become an essential venue.