Opera leader sets his final season

Under Monk, a turnabout in Annapolis

June 15, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

The upcoming 35th season of Annapolis Opera will be the last of Dennis Monk's presidency - four years of growth that moved the company from a shaky financial status to relative security.

In a note to subscribers that accompanied the 2007-2008 season announcement, Monk lamented that classical music is not as accessible on radio and television as it was in decades past when opera luminaries such as Jan Peerce and Robert Merrill were frequent guests on popular radio and television shows.

Concerned about the many people never exposed to opera, Monk said, "It is the company's mission to bring the best of opera close to home at affordable prices. Having an opera company sets a community apart."

Having pursued an academic career as a musicologist, serving as a professor, dean and vice chancellor at the University of Alabama, Monk has a lifelong dedication to music. At age 17, he played jazz trumpet in the Navy, a musical devotion that led him in 2000, after retiring to Annapolis, to become a member of the Annapolis Opera board.

In June 2003, when Monk was elected Annapolis Opera president, dwindling financial resources prompted the company to cut its number of productions each season from two to one, while introducing new fundraising events.

The board chose Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado for its March 2004 production, which proved to be a success.

By 2005, a number of generous donors, new grant money and increasing attendance at all performances helped move the opera back into the black.

"I took the [opera] presidency in part to see if I was still up to the challenge," Monk, who turns 70 next month, said in a recent interview. "We are now on a solid footing both financially and artistically, and it's time for someone else to take the opera through its next phase, although having been involved with young people throughout my academic career, I will miss working with the young singers."

Noting that 200 young singers auditioned over two recent weekends for the upcoming season, Monk said that music director Ronald J. Gretz is now choosing singers for all programs.

Looking forward to the performance of Bizet's Carmen in March, Monk hopes to realize the dream of involving each of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts' resident companies.

"Early on, we made a conscious decision when developing a future strategy that we didn't want to compete with other performing organizations," Monk said. "So we sought ways to collaborate instead of competing. Having found ways to do this has probably helped us in building an audience."

As it has for the past two seasons, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will join in the presentation of Carmen. Ballet Theatre of Maryland dancers will also participate.

Annapolis Opera's 35th season promises to be special, beginning on Oct. 27 with the opening celebratory wine-tasting event at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Annapolis. This program will include a 35-year retrospective featuring favorite stars from past operas, with Gretz as host.

The holiday tradition of "Mozart by Candlelight" is slated for Dec. 2 at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis. A concert of Mozart arias by young singers will be followed by a reception including a buffet.

For ticket and subscription information, call 410-267-8135 or visit www.annapolisopera.org.

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