Focusing on new directions Opera: Anna Marie Darlington-Gilmour hopes to use skills she developed working with the Philadelphia Opera to help the Annapolis company grow. Her "main goal" is to make the opera more accessible.

July 09, 1998|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For 15 years, Anna Marie Darlington-Gilmour helped raise money, sell tickets and play hostess to visiting singers when they came to town to sing with the Philadelphia Opera or participate in the voice competition.

Now she plans to use the skills she learned there to help the Annapolis Opera grow.

Darlington-Gilmour, 53, the new president of the company, is talking about aggressive fund raising, programs aimed at high school students and fall-to-spring seasons of fully staged operas in their original languages playing to sold-out houses at Maryland Hall.

She is focused on taking this 25-year-old institution, nurtured by her predecessors, notably Thea and Harry Lindauer, in new directions.

"Our main goal is to make this highest of the cultural arts accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience," said Darlington-Gilmour, adding that she is depending on the Annapolis Opera Board to help her achieve those goals.

And the board appears ready to help, said Harold Cramer, vice-president of marketing for the Opera.

"Anna Marie has a good working relationship with the Board," Cramer said. "We get along well; we work hard and enjoy the friendship we have for each other."

Darlington-Gilmour started on the fund raising in March as chairwoman of an Opera Costume Ball at the Officers' and Faculty Club at the Naval Academy that netted $5,000 for the company.

She has begun planning another ball for next March with Cramer and his wife, Barbara. She said she will make personal calls to each opera subscriber, the most recent first, come renewal time.

"Anna Marie makes work fun," Barbara Cramer said.

Native of Philadelphia

The new president was born Anna Marie Di Leonardo in Philadelphia, the daughter of Antonio Di Leonardo, an Italian immigrant, and Marie Varillo, the daughter of Italian immigrants. She grew up hearing her father sing along with music playing on the Italian radio station.

But it wasn't until she was in her mid-30s that she first saw an opera -- Puccini's "La Boheme" at Philadelphia's Academy of Music -- and realized she knew the music. They were the songs her father had sung; every role from Mimi to Rudolfo to Musetta to Marcello.

Luciano Pavarotti starred as Rudolfo that night in 1983. Newcomer Mary Jane Johnson became a star as Mimi. And Anna Marie Darlington became an opera lover.

She poured herself into volunteer work with the Philadelphia company and was so well thought of that three years later, when Pavarotti returned as host of an international competition of singers he'd personally auditioned in celebration of his 50th birthday, she was rewarded with a walk-on role in -- what else? -- "La Boheme."

And again, Pavarotti sang Rudolfo.

Philadelphia opera fans appreciated her work so much that former volunteers who now live in Annapolis sent a congratulatory note and a $500 donation when they heard of her appointment.

Darlington-Gilmour came to Annapolis two years ago after she married Taylor Gilmour, an Anne Arundel Community College Spanish instructor and sailor. She became involved with the opera almost immediately.

"I offered my services to Thea as a volunteer" when she ordered her subscription tickets, Darlington-Gilmour said.

Since taking office last month, she has initiated plans for a four-week course to tie in with future productions on Figaro and Puccini at Maryland Hall and for small discussion group meetings in private homes to review the plots and major arias of the company's future operas.

She also said she hopes to expand the vocal competition to more singers from a wider geographic area and award winners roles in future opera productions.

To make operas not written in English intelligible and more accessible, she said she wants to install screens for super titles -- at a cost of $6,000 to $8,000. But you need corporate underwriters for that. And more underwriters to produce two fully-staged operas, eventually three, each season.

"Dynamic and persuasive"

That may sound pie-in-the-sky, but Anne Booth, the opera production manager describes Darlington-Gilmour as "very dynamic and persuasive."

Darlington-Gilmour and her husband live in Wild Rose Shores in a home with the office for her Shaklee business at one end and the living room dominated by a wall of photographs that illustrates her devotion to her family and opera at the other.

Portraits of her husband's daughter, Caitlyn, 23, and her son, Thomas Darlington, 27, are surrounded by photographs of Darlington-Gilmour with Luciano Pavarotti, Denyce Graves, and Placido Domingo, and with lesser-known singers she has sponsored.

Opera "should be fun," she said. And to demonstrate, she said she may add a fund-raising scheme; a bus trip from Annapolis to the Victor Cafe in South Philadelphia, where waiters and waitresses serve arias from "Pagliacci" with your pasta and a little "Caro nome" with your cannoli.

Such an evening could transform young people and opera neophytes into aficionados, she said.

Maybe they will be ready for the company's first opera with her as president, "The Marriage of Figaro," October 9 and 11, with Jeff Buchman, winner of the 1991 Pavarotti International Competition, in the title role.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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