Sunday, March 22, 2009

Francesco Pace, founder of LA Opera, was a gentleman from the Old School-

Wilshire Ebell Theatre
Francesco Pace, founder of LA Opera and South Florida Opera, died on Friday after suffering from heart difficulties.

I had the pleasure of working for Maestro Pace on two occasions at South Florida Opera. Once was in a production of Cosi fan Tutte and the other was my first Scarpia in Tosca. Maestro Pace was a force and I have such wonderfully fond memories of working for him. His knowledge, advice and encouragement were not always given freely, but when you were priviledged enough to receive them, you knew you had earned it.

Maestro Pace's hospitality was unparalleled. He would often have casts over to his home for a homemade italian dinner (or two). These dinners were an event which always started with cocktails at the bar which he built, and moved into a few hours of truly interesting conversation and stories revolving around the birth of his beloved Los Angeles Opera, all the while progressing through more than a few courses of food. We were then sent back to the hotel to rest, with an invitation to come back for leftovers the following day - but, only if rehearsal went well. We all laughed, but knew he wasn't joking.

He was truly a gentleman from the old school. A one of a kind. He could be as hard as nails, but when you worked hard for him, he was never shy about showing his appreciation.

Maestro Pace was a furniture maker, by trade, who built furniture in Hollywood. His love of opera led to the formation of the Los Angeles Civic Grand Opera Assn. which began presenting opera on a shoestring, sometimes with only a piano, at a church in Beverly Hills in 1948. He made armchairs and cabinets for the Hollywood elite and for movie sets, they say, only to support his opera habit.

The company staged productions through the 1950s, performing at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and in 1964 it presented the first opera in the brand-new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four theaters that currently comprise the Music Center in Los Angeles.

Pace left the company in the mid-'60s when the board decided to make a permanent home of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which opened in 1964 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as its primary performing ensemble. In its new location, the company Maestro Pace founded staged only three operas. Shortly after its third production at the Chandler Pavilion, The Italian Girl in Algiers starring Marilyn Horne, the Company abandoned its own production projects and recreated itself as the Music Center Opera Association. After the reorganization, the company solely presented work by other companies, believing that the fledgling arts center could not afford to launch an opera company and build a world-class orchestra at the same time. For years, the Association brought opera from other cities to the Music Center. The lengthiest relationship was with New York City Opera, which brought productions to the Music Center every fall from 1966 to 1982.

Along the way, many local opera enthusiasts have played a role in developing what is now among the top five opera companies in the US. Back in Maestro Pace's day, as well as now, many of the opera's leadership and donors, included business leaders, entertainment executives, financiers and billionaires. But, getting the arias to the stage in the beginning required a tenacity that was rooted in a devotion to the art that Francesco Pace understood. It was in his blood. It's been reported that there had been as many as 20 attempts to start an opera company in Los Angeles since World War II, and Maestro Pace's was a rare success.

Maestro Pace continued to produce opera at South Florida Opera until illness made it impossible. Although his body limited him, he still attented the productions of other companies because nothing could stop this force of nature. Opera, after all, requires devotion and loyalty. Having worked for him, I know first hand that Maestro Pace possessed heaps of both.

Bravo, Maestro! You will be missed.

[Sources: &]

1 comment:

Kate said...

You know, you're a really good writer Jim.

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