Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Remembering ROBERT SOLLER, OPERA!Lenawee co-founder and Schorr Prize judge

Those of us who knew him note with sadness the passing of Robert Soller, former artistic director of the Croswell Opera House. It was Soller, together with David Katz,  chief judge of The American Prize, who served as the first adjudicator for the Friedrich Schorr Prize, the precursor to The American Prize in Vocal Performance—Friedrich and Virginia Schorr Memorial Awards.

The Friedrich Schorr Prize was the vehicle Katz created to select vocal soloists for productions of OPERA!Lenawee, the professional opera company he and Soller founded in 1990 to bring professional opera to the magnificently restored civil-war-era Croswell Opera House in Adrian, Michigan. OPERA!Lenawee was a unique collaboration between Lenawee County Michigan's two premiere performing arts organizations, the Croswell and the Adrian Symphony Orchestra, where Katz was music director.

Between 1990 and 1995, with Soller as stage director and Katz as conductor, the team produced La Boheme, Die Fledermaus, Carmen, La Traviata and Tosca, with gifted professional casts, selected from thoughout the country through the Schorr Prize contest, bringing live opera to the opera house (and to Lenawee County) for the very first time. Later, with Katz conducting and renowned English soprano Lorna Haywood as stage director, OPERA!Lenawee went on to produce Albert Herring, Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi, I Pagliacci, a semi-staged production of Cosi fan tutte, before a final La Boheme, (this time directed by William Shomos), ten years later, bringing the company full circle.

Here is Katz's remembrance of his friend and colleague:

January 7, 2012

With profound sadness I learn of the passing of my colleague, Bob Soller. We were friends for most of a dozen years, during the period I served the Adrian Symphony Orchestra as music director and principal conductor.

I knew Bob better than most, as together we guided the community to the extraordinary artistic success that was OPERA!Lenawee, the unique collaboration between the ASO & the Croswell Opera House that brought fully-staged, full-length operas to Lenawee County for the first time, and for many successful years. Opera in the opera house was a dream of Bob’s (and mine)—a confluence of place, people and skills that will probably never be repeated.

Robert Soller was—and rightly should be remembered—as a Lenawee legend (whether he liked it or not—and he definitely would not). He was complicated, brilliant, cantankerous, passionate, moody, witty, conflicted, and extraordinarily talented. In other words, he was everything a true artist usually is.

A month ago, knowing of his illness, I wrote to him, to thank him for the quality of his vision—displayed on countless opening nights; for his courage—especially when Adrian turned towards opera; for hundreds of conversations spanning much of a decade—each filled with intensity, potential, and laughter; and for decades of hard work done well.

There were nights I spent with Bob Soller that are among the proudest of my life—and if there were bumps, they can’t upend what was accomplished where no one thought it possible.

Across years and miles, dreams fulfilled and not, I think of Bob Soller today with admiration and affection in equal portion, and for all time.

David Katz, former music director and principal conductor
Adrian Symphony Orchestra & OPERA!Lenawee
chief judge, The American Prize