Ralph Rosinbum and the Opera Programfootnote 1

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"I wouldn't be an opera director if it weren't for Ralph Rosinbum," says Theodore Deacon, director of the UW Opera Program from 1992 to 1996.

As a student at the UW, Deacon studied opera production under Rosinbum, who served as the UW's opera director for 33 years from 1950 to 1983. Deacon remembers seeing children's plays produced by Rosinbum at the old Greenlake Aqua-Theater in Seattle. "He was very much a part of my growing up in musical theater," says Deacon. "Even today, I adhere to many of the teaching principles I learned from Ralph at the UW"--perhaps the highest praise a teacher can receive.

Rosinbum, who is a native Washingtonian and a graduate of the UW School of Drama, was recommended by Glenn Hughes, then director of the Drama School, to help build up the opera program at the University. Stanley Chapple, director of the UW School of Music from 1948 to 1962, hired Rosinbum for the job. "We started with one-act operas at an old Army auditorium down in the Denny regrade area" of Seattle, recalls Rosinbum. "From there we moved to the old Playhouse on University Way, then to the old Showboat Theater, and finally to the original Meany Theater," built in 1909 and located just slightly north of its present site.

The Program mounted such works as excerpts from Boris Gudinov, Carmen, and La Traviata. When the old Meany Theater was condemned and construction of the new Meany Theater was underway, the UW Opera Program took its performances off- campus to the old Jane Adams School. Productions returned to campus when the new Theater was completed in 1974.

"I'm thankful for all the years I had at the UW School of Music," says Rosinbum. "I look back with a great deal of nostalgia. It was wonderful to work with people who loved the medium of opera," noting that his colleagues included many "old pros" of the Metropolitan Opera, including Ed Harris, August Werner, Mary Curtis-Verna, Frank Guarrera, Gus Paglialunga, and Leon Lishner. "One of the perks of working at the UW was directing the many world premieres of new operas composed by my colleagues--Gerald Kechley's Golden Lion; John Verrall's The Cowherd and the Sky Maiden; Bill Bergsma's The Wife of Martin Guerre; and Charles Lawrence's Atsumori," he reflects.

During his years at the UW, Rosinbum authored several plays, including Fife for Jamey and The Mark of the Whistling Grandmother, and served as artistic director of Seattle Junior Programs. He received many awards for his work in opera and children's theater: among them, the Award for Excellence from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his direction of the nationally televised opera Markheim, and Citations of Merit from the Seattle Music & Art Foundation, the Seattle Historical Society, the City of Seattle, and the King County Arts Commission.

  1. Adapted from "Rosinbum Recalls UW Opera's Early Days," Joan Ashcraft, UW School of Music Alumni Newsletter, 1995–96.

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