Friday, October 1, 2004

Opera losing influential artistic director

By Janelle Gelfand
Enquirer staff writer

Nicholas Muni
When Cincinnati Opera begins its summer season in June, it will be searching for a new artistic director.

Nicholas Muni, artistic director since 1996, has asked to be released from his contract before it expires Aug. 31, the company announced Thursday.

"It was a hard decision," Muni said. "I really feel that we're sort of at the end of a very wonderful phase, and I feel like I have really accomplished all of the mandates that the company gave me when I came here. Eight years is just a good time."

Today, he will begin a new contract as "artistic consultant" through Aug. 31, an advisory role to assure a smooth transition to the next artistic leader, he said.

The board approved his request in a meeting Thursday at Music Hall.

"Nic has raised the bar on creating thrilling opera experiences in Cincinnati," said Boris Auerbach, board chair. "This is Nic's decision. He is changing his focus and doing what he really wants to do - which is direct. .. We hope to welcome Nic back to direct with Cincinnati Opera in the future."

Muni said he was seeking a better balance between "stage directing outside, doing my job here, and spending more time with my family."

He was recently offered three major productions in Europe, which he will direct this winter: the world premiere of La Conquista, an opera by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero at the National Theater in Prague; Show Boat in Bern, Switzerland, and Tosca in Erfurt, Germany.

"All are very good opportunities for me, and it was going to be too much time away," he said.

Muni, who lives with his family in Clifton, said he had been considering stepping down since last spring, when he realized his daughter would be starting high school this year.

During his tenure, Muni has brought the company national and international acclaim. Cincinnati Opera's 85th anniversary season this summer will include the first commissioned opera in the company's history, Margaret Garner by Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, inspired by a true local story.

He has overseen the largest capital and endowment fund-raising campaign in Cincinnati Opera's history, which has raised $8 million toward its $12 million goal. He has also expanded the summer season with "Festival Weekends" that have attracted out-of-towners to Cincinnati and led a popular "Opera Rap" lecture series held throughout the area.

On an artistic level, Muni has elevated the quality of the company. His provocative, sometimes controversial productions and excellent casting have put Cincinnati Opera in the national spotlight.

Among 12 company premieres on his watch were the Midwest premiere of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, the world stage premiere of William Bolcom's Medusa and the North American premiere of The Maids by Peter Bengtson.

For Muni, "the real highlight is the co-commission of Margaret Garner (with the companies of Detroit and Philadelphia)," he said. He also cited the positive response for Janacek's Jenufa, which has a disturbing plot in which an infant is murdered.

"It encouraged me to pursue work that's not so familiar," he said.

Muni will not direct a Cincinnati production in the 2005 season; however, he is selecting operas for the 2006 season, he said.

The company has not yet begun a search for his successor, Auerbach said.


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