For a complete history of performances, click here.
Canton Civic Opera Association
Voices of Canton, Inc.
Seventy Spectacular Seasons!
1939 - 2009
In the late 1930s effects of the Great Depression were still being felt in Canton, and little money was available for entertainment and leisure activities. Because of this need and desire to look beyond hard times, a rebirth of local cultural activities occurred in Canton and Stark County.
Mrs. Dorothy Kerst Davis became interested in reviving local opera in Canton after singing in the Chautauqua Summer Opera’s chorus. Alfredo Valenti, director of the Chautauqua Opera, and Alberto Bimboni of the Juilliard Conservatory, encouraged her to start an opera company and suggested Boris Goldovsky, from Cleveland Institute of Music, as its first director.
Goldovsky agreed to supervise a Canton Opera if at least fourteen trained singers would participate. Although Mrs. Davis had signed up 100 to sing on January 14, 1939, only twenty showed up due to a blizzard that evening. However, it was enough for Goldovsky and the Canton Civic Opera was born.
The new operatic organization needed to finance their ambitious program. Ladies pitched in and made costumes, and Goldovsky donated his services for the five operas he directed. The principals and chorus members sang for fun. In spite of these donations, it was quickly realized that the opera could not be self-supporting and that more funds must be raised.
Community leaders were contacted and a Board of Trustees was formed to guide the fledgling organization. Mrs. Basil Thurin was the first president. Other board members included: Robert McCoy, Vice President; Homer Giessen, Treasurer; Mrs. Feliz Hinkle, Assistant Treasurer; Elizabeth Miller, Secretary; Hilda Schneider, Assistant Secretary; and Boris Goldovsky, William Reynolds and Dorothy Kerst Davis, Trustees.
Approximately one year after its founding, the Canton Civic Opera presented two performances of The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana in Timken High School Auditorium. Rehearsals for the production were held in churches, dance studios and even in city council chambers, where spittoons were removed much, to the dismay of the councilmen.
The lead female role of Maria in The Bartered Bride was shared by Dorothy Kerst Davis and Georgia Shrigley. The lead male role was sung by Thomas H. Nichols, who later became mayor of Canton.
The overwhelming success of The Bartered Bride encouraged the opera association to launch another very ambitious program, Carmen. Jessie Mockel of New Castle, Pennsylvania was named musical director, Mrs. Norma Frizelle Stolzenback, dramatic coach and William Reynolds, ballet master of the second opera, which was performed at Lincoln High School. The production had 1,100 enthusiastic “first nighters.” And newspaper reviews were positive: “Opera Is Growing Up In Canton.” With the presentation of Bizet's Light Opera Carmen last night, Canton Civic Opera Association took a positive step forward from the day last season when it was born on the melodic strains of Smetana's “The Bartered Bride.”
Boris Goldovsky and Alberto Bimboni jointly conducted next three operas, Faust, Cavelleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. Goldvosky left Cleveland for Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and Maestro Bimboni led the group through 1950.
Tales of Hoffman, presented in 1943, substituted women's voices men’s in the prologue and epilogue due to manpower shortage. Edward Kane, a professional concert artist from New York, sang the title role when Thomas Nichols was called into service.
When Bimboni, a Juilliard School faculty member, agreed direct Canton Civic Opera in Tales of Hoffman, La Traviata, La Boheme, Carmen, Mignon, Elixir of Love, Lucia Di Lammermoor, Die Fledermaus and Romeo and Juliet, he was returning to Stark County some of the great musical gifts made possible by Augustus Juilliard, a Stark County native.
Community leaders such as W.A. Porterfield, Warren G. Smith, L.H. Ream, E.T. Heald, James A. Aungst, O.E. Barkey, Rev. George Parkinson, E.E. Shortridge, Clark Schneeberger, Hon. Reuben Wise, Dr. Loyal Leavenworth, Mrs. L.G. Pritz, Gordon Burris, Lucille Myers continued to lend great support to the opera.
Following the performance of Verdi's La Traviata in 1945, a newspaper review by Lois Zimmer reported, “Once again, Canton Civic Opera Association proved to the complete satisfaction of a capacity audience that musically speaking, here is one city that no longer needs to depend on professional talent for its entertainment.”
As men and women returned home from the service, the musical taste of the audience seemed to swing to a lighter form of entertainment. Several light operas and operettas were added to the group's growing repertoire, and the policy to perform one grand opera and one light opera annually was established. Nineteen fifty-two saw the Canton Civic Opera Association incorporated and the Board of Trustees reorganized.
Performances of The Merry Widow, Rose Marie and Naughty Marietta introduced local audiences to a novel and wonderfully captivating form of entertainment, the light opera. Guest conductors Isaac Van Grove, Matthew Ferrugio, Albert K. Germanson, Alberto Bimboni, Daniel Harris, Louis Lane, Arden Whitacre and Karl Kritz served from 1951 through 1959.
Chorus preparation was the task of local assistant directors George Kantzer and Martin Alexander. The ballet master was William Reynolds and dramatic coaches included Albert Gill and Mrs. Dale Thoma.
In 1956, an anonymous donor gave $500.00 to establish a vocal scholarship, to be offered for an indefinitely until the Association could pay the annual grant with proceeds from productions. Selection was audition based and offered to a student studying for a bachelor of music degree at an accredited school. Mr. R.C. Topping of Pittsburgh Musical Institute heard the auditions, and the first scholarship was awarded to Sandra Watson of Alliance, a student at Baldwin-Wallace College.
A departure from staged productions was made in 1958 when a stand-up concert of opera, classical and popular music was presented under the direction of Arden Whitacre. In 1959, Karl Kritz, associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, directed the Canton Civic Opera in a concert version of The Magic Flute. Chorus and principals were seated on one half of the stage and the orchestra on the other. Narrator Russell Burt, a local attorney, linked the vocal portions by describing the dialog and action. The full-length concert version was well received and called a courageous experiment.
Community leaders continued their support and interest in Canton Civic Opera in the fifties. Dr. Ralph K. Ramsayer, Mrs. L.G. Pritz, L.H. Ream, William S. Georges, Dr. John Dougherty, Blanche Kutt, Mrs. Atlee Piero, and Mrs. Emanual Elite and others served on various board positions during this period.
Much of the organization’s success in recent years can be attributed to 1959 two events. Mrs. Larry G. Pritz arranged a $5,000.00 yearly endowment for employment of professional talent to train and direct the amateur performers. Albert K. Germanson, a Columbus director of drama and music, was selected as director. A violinist, he taught at Capital University, and had been choral director and soloist in pageants throughout the country. The second momentous event was the establishment of a “continuing chorus” that would rehearse on a weekly basis and become a repertoire company. A chorus of sixty voices formed the nucleus of this exciting venture.
The Festival of Arts began in 1959, with the Canton Civic Opera joining the Canton Symphony, Art Institute and Players Guild in presenting fall programs as special cultural events for the community. Canton Civic Opera's offering, The Student Prince, received enthusiastic acclaim and the foundation was laid for the Cultural Center for the Arts.
The growth generated by director Albert K. Germanson could no longer be contained in any high school auditorium in Canton. The Civic Opera productions shifted to Loew's Theatre for Carousel, which was sold out every night. Canton City Council took the unprecedented step of passing a resolution of congratulations and commendation. The Canton Civic Opera had become a popular Canton and Stark County institution.
The success of shows such as Carousel, Oklahoma! and Music Man continued to draw large audiences. Chorus rehearsals had been held at Reynolds and McIlvain dance studio, various churches and even the American Legion Hall, but in the early 60s the Civic Opera moved to the Stark County Historical Center. When the Center was constructed, a room for the Opera Association was a basic consideration, because many supporters were active in both organizations. Acoustically, the room was regarded as the most perfect in the city.
Performing at the local movie house posed for stage rehearsals. The cast and musicians would gather at midnight after the movie was over, and the movie house would be transformed into a theatre: scenery was hung, sets developed, costumes readied and the orchestra pit filled with musicians. The cast would rehearse through the night, often going home at dawn for a few hours of sleep, before returning to the theatre that evening for the actual performance.
The production staff for the Canton Civic Opera performances was composed of many volunteers. Mrs. Germanson, wife of the director, was in charge of costumes, and many cast members helped build and paint sets.
In 1965, the Timken Foundation purchased the old Harter Estate from Stark County for nearly one million dollars. The Timken Foundation proposed the site as a gift to the people of Canton, and offered to build and equip a Canton Cultural Center complex. An ambitious plan was drawn to house the Canton Art Institute and the Players Guild and included a music hall with more than 1900 seats, for performances by the Canton Civic Opera, Canton Ballet and Canton Symphony Orchestra and others. However, due to rising construction costs, the music hall was eliminated from the project, but the Opera, Ballet and Symphony remained an integral part of the Cultural Arts Organization. These organizations maintain their business offices at the Cultural Center while performing elsewhere. Canton Civic Opera moved back to the Timken High School auditorium as a performance site in 1968 after a scrim curtain fell to the stage during a performance of My Fair Lady at the Plaza Theater.
The Women's Committee of Canton Civic Opera was organized in 1969 under the guidance of Mrs. Donald Vanek, business manager of the Association. Friends and wives of chorus members joined the newly organized group of volunteers to assist in the box office, publicity and costumes. Mrs. Robert Wilgus was elected the first president.
In 1969, following the resignation of Albert K. Germanson, William J. Hamilton was appointed choral and artistic director of the Canton Civic Opera chorus. Hamilton had been director of vocal music and drama at Glenwood High School for 13 years, and was assistant professor of music at Kent State Stark. A newspaper review of his first production, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, stated “it was apparent that director Hamilton has taken seriously his new position with the chorus. Orchestra, chorus, supporting cast and principals all responded in gratifying concert to Hamilton's design.”
New ideas and new goals were the order under Director Hamilton's guidance. There was a new enthusiasm and energy among the singers, and the Chorus grew to eighty plus voices. Louis H. Ream retired as president of the Association and was accorded the honor of life membership. William S. Georges, a Canton attorney long active in the Canton Civic Opera, was elected president of the Board of Trustees.
The chorus became known for its outreach programs to various cultural, civic and religious organizations in the seventies. The Summer Church series was initiated in 1971 to present worship in song for area churches during the month on July, when most choirs did not meet.
Another innovative program introduced by Director Hamilton in 1971 was the ENCORE series. Originally introduced as a mini-version of many of the Broadway musicals Civic Opera had performed in the past, it has become a well-rounded program ranging from serious concert and sacred works to Broadway show tunes and special choreographed numbers. The theme each year is as varied as a birthday party for Mickey Mouse to a sophisticated musical journey to New York, New York, a salute to Irving Berlin or a Sentimental Journey through the 1940's. ENCORE has become the means to spotlight the talent versatility of the chorus.
New York Yankee catcher Thurmon Munson was honored by Civic Opera at the opening performance of Damn Yankees in 1972. An autographed bat from the cast was presented to Mr. Munson at a reception held backstage following the performance. Civic responsibilities were served in 1974 when the Chorus sang for the naturalization ceremony for fellow chorus members Brian Fitzsimmons and his wife Patricia.
A new Performing Arts Hall was constructed at Kent State University Stark, and in 1973 Civic Opera was invited to become the company-in-residence there. While the business office remained at the Cultural Center for the Arts, this new “home” gave Civic Opera the opportunity to grow and attain new heights in performances. The acceptance by the audience was overwhelming, with sold-out performances becoming the rule.
At this time Civic Opera began traveling to other communities. Programs were given at the Goodyear Theatre in Akron and for the 100th anniversary of the Lakeside Association at Lakeside, Ohio. Other trips included Columbus, Ashland and northeastern Ohio.
Travel within Ohio sparked interest in an overseas concert tour, but first money had to be raised. Originally planned as a fund-raiser, Ye Olde Madrigal Christmas Feaste was conceived. This unique program caught the interest of the entire community, and tickets were in such demand that a lottery was necessary.
Ye Olde Madrigal Christmas Feaste, a medieval dinner in the style of the 16th century of merrie olde England, was held in the McKinley Room of Canton Memorial Civic Center for the first ten years. In addition to elaborate costuming and banners, one of the Feaste’s hallmarks was a twenty-foot Christmas tree suspended upside down from the ceiling, decorated with hundreds of red bows.
The long-awaited trip to Europe occurred in 1977. One hundred ten friends and supporters joined the 77 singers on a chartered plane for the 16-day tour. Concerts were presented in the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France and Liechtenstein. Music of America was the theme of the tour. Newspaper reviews stated. . .”what the Canton Civic Chorale let us hear was beyond expectations. . .this is just a fantastic choir. . .with the flair of professional choir in a cabaret program. . .dead silence and long ovations were the best examples that the public enjoyed itself and that is what every singer wishes for. . .”
Another highlight in the 70s was appearing with Bob Hope in a benefit program for the Women's Board of Aultman Hospital. The chorus also entertained at the Hall of Fame Festival Enshrinees Dinner in 1976. A joint production of A Little Night Music was given with the Players Guild in 1979. Broadway musicals such as South Pacific, Anything Goes, Most Happy Fella, Oklahoma Plain and Fancy, L'il Abner and Brigadoon were also well received. William Friedman, Floyd Shore, Louis Thurin, Donald Vanek, Deloris Cope, Audrey Vanek and Kay Owens were some of the board members during this time.
In 1979 former chorus members and friends joined to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Canton Civic Opera at a reception held in Cable Recital Hall at the Cultural Center for the Arts. Opera founder Dorothy Kerst Bacon was one of the honored guests. Reminiscing and the renewal of old friendships provided a most successful afternoon program.
The tradition of Canton Civic Opera was strong and vital in the eighties. The outstanding success of the overseas tour in 1977 prompted a tour of the United Kingdom in 1980s, in which the group performed at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields in London, Durham Cathedral, Coventry Cathedral, Culzean Castle in Scotland. Joint concerts included the world renowned Dowlais Male Choir of Wales, the Treharris Choir of Porthcawl, Wales, as well as television and radio appearances in Great Britain.
A second tour to the United Kingdom in 1985 and included concerts in Wexford, Ireland, the Portsmouth Royal Naval Base, Southampton, the Royal Agricultural Fair, Coventry Cathedral, St. Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen, Scotland and a return engagement with the Dowlais Choir in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. The Hoover Company provided advice and leadership for Great Britain, which the Canton Civic Opera gratefully acknowledged. The World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee and appearances at the Ohio State Fair rounded out the traveling for the Chorus in the 1980s.
Broadway musicals, always staged with full orchestra, continued to be community favorites with consistently sold out performances. The Music Man ,Guys and Dolls, Call Me Madam, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying ,Kiss me Kate, My Fair Lady and Fiddler On The Roof were presented.
The importance of vocal scholarships remained uppermost with the Civic Opera and Women's Committee of Civic Opera, with over 100 scholarships awarded by the eighties. When the Rotary Club of Carrollton, Ohio contacted Civic Opera in 1985 to present an ENCORE program as scholarship fundraiser, the Civic Opera was ready to assist. The Carrollton ENCORE performance each spring has been a beneficial relationship for all.
Ye Olde Madrigal Christmas Feaste moved to the Cultural Center in 1985, and the Great Court was transformed into a Tudor Castle of merrie olde England complete with drawbridge for the event. A special Children's Madrigal performance was introduced in 1986 for sixth grade student, giving the children the opportunity to experience medieval history brought to life. The program received enthusiastic approval from school administrators and teachers.
A show choir Workshop was introduced in 1987. The workshop, a non-competitive learning experience for high school students, brought choirs together from throughout the country to study choreography and movements with guest clinicians such as Kirby Shaw, Andrew Haines and Stevie Rivers.
Community leaders of the eighties that had an impact on Canton Civic Opera included Richard Young, John Boebinger, Jack Baker, Larry Pitts, Allen Frease and Ray Gillman.
Walsh College of Canton invited Civic Opera to become company-in-residence in 1987 and rehearsal facilities were provided. At the same time, renovations were completed at the Palace Theatre in downtown Canton. The premiere performance at the newly renovated Palace, which became the new performance “home” for the Canton Civic Opera, was ENCORE '87: A Salute to America.
The Civic Opera joined the community in 1989 in welcoming the AA Canton Indians, a farm club of the Cleveland Indians, by singing the national Anthem for the opening ball game.
For Canton Civic Opera's 50th anniversary, the first production, The Bartered Bride, was presented to launch the second fifty years.
Grand opera and operettas are an important part of the history of the Canton Civic Opera Association, and there is equal pride in the more varied programs that are presented today. As the Canton Civic Opera celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1989, we saluted the past and looked forward to an exciting future.
The Cultural Center for the Arts made Cable Recital Hall available for weekly rehearsals in 1990 and provided the group with larger rehearsal facilities, which meant reluctantly leaving Walsh College, The business office had been housed at the Cultural Center since 1965, and the opportunity to hold rehearsals and conduct business within the same structure was an advantage.
After 22 years as the choral director, William Hamilton retired in 1990 following the Ye Olde Madrigal Christmas Feaste performance in December. Assistant director Paul von Gunten ably filled in for ENCORE '91 while the search committee looked for a permanent director.
Paul McGahie of Cleveland was named director in 1991 with The Gondoliers as his first production. He invited Kenneth Kramer of Stark Kent State University to be assistant director, and the following year Dr. Alfred Anderson of the University of Akron assisted with the production of Mame. Mr. McGahie left as director in 1993, and John Hayward, choral director at North Canton Hoover High School, was named director in the spring. In June 1993, the chorus presented a pops concert at Chautauqua, New York under the direction of John Hayward. The attendance at the well received concert was over 5,000.
John Hayward organized a summer children's workshop in 1993, and a Children's Chorus of third through eighth graders was formed in the fall with 27 singers. Three years later, the Children's Chorus had more than doubled in size. The summer workshops continued under the direction of Christine Riley. The children prepared a special musical program and performed at a nursing home. During the two-week workshop the children learned not only singing, but choreography, make-up, costuming and simple set-design as well.
The Children's Chorus, which met weekly in the nineties, became an integral part of the Canton Civic Opera Association. The children joined performed with the chorus for the Madrigal Feaste and Encore series, as well as performing their own special concerts. A children's advisory committee made up of parents was organized in 1996.
Mr. Hayward resigned as choral director in December 1994. A series of guest conductors were invited to direct the Chorus. Steve Dallas led the group in Encores '95 and '96 with his special musical arrangements. Fred Bahr directed the 1995 summer church series.
In the fall of 1995 Fred Locker, choral music director at Jackson High School, became the director of the Civic Opera Chorus. St. John's Passion and the summer church series were performed under Mr. Locker's direction.
Canton Civic Opera came under new leadership in 1997. Dr. Samuel Gordon from The University of Akron was named Artistic Director. CCO’s first performance under Dr. Gordon was the fall 1997 performance of An Afternoon with Mozart. Under his direction, “Ye Olde Madrigal Christmas Feast” continued, and included a 25th Anniversary production in 1999.
After leading the CCO Chorus in performances of The Merry Widow in spring 1998, Dr. Gordon initiated the first of a series of “dessert concerts.” This new format of light entertainment with a dessert buffet at intermission proved to be very popular. Programs such as Echoes of Broadway, A Sentimental Journey, My Funny Valentine, and Sweetness of Broadway delighted audiences.
The CCO Chorus was promoted as the “Canton Civic Opera Concert Singers” beginning in the fall of 1998. Having made the transition from doing Broadway musicals to performing major works with orchestral accompaniment, CCO’s new name was more descriptive of its current format. Performances in area churches of Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem (1999), Faure’s Requiem (2000) and Haydn’s Creation (2001) expanded outreach into the community and appealed to our audience’s serious side.
Spring of 1999 brought Canton Civic Opera’s 60th Anniversary Celebration concert, featuring three works by Texas composer Randol Alan Bass. The concert included a selection from The Bartered Bride in tribute to the Civic Opera’s first production in 1939. Ending with several Broadway medleys, the anniversary concert took its audience full circle through the musical genres for which CCO is known. This performance was held in the Great Court of the Canton Cultural Center, the same site as Ye Olde Madrigal Christmas Feaste.
2000 and Beyond...
Taking advantage of the “same site” familiarity, Canton Civic Opera undertook another new production in the Great Court in the Spring of 2001. The festive “Viva Italia”, an evening of Italian music and food, proved to be so popular that it sold out immediately and became an annual event. The CCO Children’s Chorus and Girl’s Ensemble performed at this event and continued to make appearances in the Madrigal Feaste and in their own concert series.
In 2002 the Five Choir Festival, which would also become an annual event, was added to the season. The Canton Children’s Chorus, and a high school, college and church choir were invited to participate in conjunction with the concert singers of Canton Civic Opera. In fall of 2002 the Canton Children’s Chorus, directed by Christine Riley, celebrated their 10th anniversary. VIVA ITALIA was created and sponsored by the Olive Garden for the next three years.
In 2003 the Canton Civic Opera changed its name to Voices of Canton Inc., “VOCI”, (pronounced VO-chee – an Italian word for many voices.) The new name was chosen to be more reflective of what the organization encompassed. The high school girl’s singing group chose Treble VOCI for their new name. The concert singers participated in a 3 choir festival in Kitchener, Ontario in June.
In the summer of 2004 Voices of Canton concert singers spent two weeks in Italy touring and performing. In August 2005 VOCI sang the National Anthem at the Hall of Fame Football Game for a full house. A successful “Christmas at the Candy Cane Castle” was created in 2005, and an ensemble sang backup to Kenny Roger’s Christmas Show at the Civic Center Treble VOCI disbanded, but Bel’ VOCI, an adult hand bell group, performed their first two concerts during the holidays.
VOCI received their first grant from Arts Build Stark for “FIESTA” in 2006, performing for high school Spanish students. The second grant awarded in 2007 was “Down in the Valley” a folk song opera performed in four local schools. Samuel Gordon resigned in the fall of 2008 as artistic director after 10 years with the organization. Our third grant was awarded in 2009 for “KIMONO: Where Charity and Love Prevail.” Middle school students wrote haikus, which were put to music. The compositions were written and performed by the Voices of Canton under the direction of Loren Veigel, the new director.
For a complete history of performances, click here.
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