OPERA GUILD OF ROCHESTER
“Opera is music drama.”
[Richard Wagner (1813-1883), German composer]
What is currently the Opera Guild of Rochester was originally formed sometime in 1988 as the Rochester Opera Theater Guild. It was started by Haskell Rosenberg, who had been giving opera lectures at the adult club at Rochester Institute of Technology, in order to support the then-extant Rochester Opera Theater, and to organize other activities of interest to opera devotees.
The Guild sponsored recitals and presented opera DVD showings at Temple B’rith Kodesh on four Sundays in January, called, appropriately for winter in Rochester, “Beat the Blahs.” After Haskell Rosenberg’s death in 2004, the Board of the Guild added The Haskell Rosenberg Memorial Series to the title, in honor of its founder, and this series still takes place every year. Haskell also arranged for tours to Syracuse Opera, Tri-City Opera, Canadian Opera at Hamilton, Canada, Buffalo Opera (no longer extant), and Glimmerglass Opera (now called the Glimmerglass Festival).
The Opera Guild helped support the Rochester Opera Theatre until it ceased sponsoring productions, and then helped support the newly-formed Opera Rochester, attached to the Broadway League, which existed from 1998 to 2003.
From about 1996, the Rochester Opera Theatre Guild had a loosely-organized Board which met at President Mort Bittker’s home for two years. The Board organized Guild programs, mailings, and requests for donations. Drs. Agneta and Harold Borgstedt were among the patrons of the Opera Guild. Agneta Borgstedt was asked to become a member of the Board, and after her retirement in 2000, Dr. Borgstedt was elected President of the Board. As President, Agneta arranged that the Annual Recital for Donors would be held regularly at the Rochester Academy of Medicine on the third Sunday of May. The Board was enlarged to eight members, and in 2003, Mary McNamara (now deceased) became Vice-President, followed in March 2009 by Art Axelrod who currently continues in that office. Also joining the Board was Helga Strasser, who took over tour organization and also continues in that role. In 2003, the Guild also developed the Lecture/Listening Series, talks on topics of interest to opera-goers which are still presented during September/October at Fairport Library and February/March at Brighton Library.
Opera Rochester ceased presentations in 2003 and Haskell Rosenberg and then Dean Undercofler of the Eastman School of Music worked with several personnel from former opera organizations, and the Rochester Opera Theater Guild (a major contributor) to organize Mercury Opera Rochester. The Guild now came under the umbrella of the new company’s charitable corporation, with Agneta Borgstedt and Art Axelrod becoming members of the new Board. Some of the Guild’s funds, however, were kept separately as a reserve for the Guild in the Rochester Area Foundation.
Kristin Kessler, former director of the Opera Factory, became managing director of Mercury; Benton Hess, of the Eastman School, became Artistic Director and Principal Conductor; and Gerard Floriano, of SUNY Geneseo, became Assistant Conductor; The President of the Board was Sarah Collins, who was also a member of the Friends of Eastman Opera. The company planned for one large production each season in January and two smaller productions in the spring and fall. Thanks to the kind efforts of local opera supporter Peter Elliott, you may access historical Mercury Opera performance programs, bios, cast photos, videos and more here.
Mercury Opera Rochester had about five years of successful productions, including L’amico Fritz, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, L’elisir d’amore, Show Boat, Norma, Pirates of Penzance, La traviata, and Falstaff. Unfortunately, the company accumulated a deficit from the second season on and by 2010 its resources were exhausted. The generous contributions of several Board members and the release of the balance of the Guild’s reserve discharged the remaining debt. In June 2012 the remaining members of the Mercury Board resigned, and the tax-exempt corporation was taken over by the Guild with its name changed to “Opera Guild of Rochester.” The current officers are Carol Crocca, President and Treasurer, Art Axelrod, Vice-president, and Marcia Elwitt, Secretary.
The Opera Guild of Rochester developed its own by-laws and became an independent opera education and support organization. Shortly afterwards, the Guild was a beneficiary of a testamentary trust which re-established its capital reserve. It has a dedicated corps of donors and volunteers and looks forward to expanding its contribution to opera activities in our region.