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Recent Deaths Diminish Triangle's Extended Musical Community

October 23, 2011 - Triangle Region, NC:


October 21: A Champion of Theatre & Opera: An era of a different kind, and one of our region's strongest partnerships, artistic and personal, has ended with the death of Randolph Umberger, most recently Artistic Director of Long Leaf Opera. Together, he and Benjamin Keaton, LLO's Music Director, gave form and substance to numerous artistic undertakings over the years, producing opera, festivals, and operetta throughout the Triangle, including a score of years in service to the Durham Savoyards. At Carolina Playmakers and then as a member of the faculty of the Department of Theatre at NCCU, Umberger introduced thousands of young people to the delights of performance. His personal warmth, kindness, and generosity touched and influenced many in the arts community. His death leaves a substantial void at both personal and professional levels. For a more formal obit, click here. There will be a memorial service, with music by Umberger and Keaton, at 6:00 p.m. on 11/1 (All Saints Day) at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Durham.

October 13: Crossing the Bar: Conductor and educator Leonard M. Colelli, 89, has died in New Hope, PA. Senior opera enthusiasts in the Triangle will remember this gentle man who was a passionate advocate of an art form that has drawn more than its fair share of charlatans and snake-oil salespersons. Along with Jim Poyner, David Witherspoon, Don Wilder, and others, Colelli urged the creation of an opera company to showcase the work of young professionals from around the country while offering promising local artists opportunities to perform in higher-quality productions than was then the norm. And long before Raleigh added saddlebags to Memorial Auditorium to form its current performing arts center, Colelli sketched designs and proposed a practical complex for the Triangle that was centered on a true opera house of sufficient size and with adequate technical capabilities to have stood a chance of economic viability. He knew that opera could teach life values, too, so he took his "operalogues" everywhere, including Camp Polk. Among Colelli's many survivors are a son and daughter-in-law in Holly Springs. For an obituary, click here.

October 11: Last of Her Era: Thespian Eleanor C. Carter, long-time resident of Chapel Hill, has died in Durham. She was perhaps best known to UNC students as the spouse of Joel Carter, the distinguished bass-baritone and later choral director who led the UNC Men's Glee Club for decades, taking the group to New York (for an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) and then on to Europe for a tour in 1966. But Eleanor had an important career herself, working at the Flat Rock Playhouse and, later, The Lost Colony. She was virtually the last representative of the wave of families of scholars and artists who came to Chapel Hill in the years following the end of World War II. Although the pre-war staff had included, briefly, Benjamin Swalin, who resurrected the NC Symphony, the Music Department was in large measure a bastion of musicology, under the leadership of Glen Haydon. The end of the war brought changes in big ways with the arrival of artist-scholars who made major contributions to both performance and musicology - people like William S. Newman, Edgar Alden, and Joel Carter. These folks and their remarkable wives - Claire, Dorothy, and Eleanor, respectively - enriched the lives of countless students, and those who kept in touch with them after their student years were rewarded still more. With Eleanor's death, they're all gone now. Let us savor the memories! For an obit, click here. Note that a memorial service for Eleanor Carter will be held October 23 at 3:00 p.m. at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill.

Two followup notes, added 11/8/11: The N&O did a lovely profile of Eleanor Carter on 11/6 - to read it, click here. And there's a measure of sad irony in the fact that the Martha Mason, the widow of Wilton Mason, longtime colleague of Joel Carter in the UNC Music Department, passed away just two days after Eleanor Carter's memorial service.... Verily, all the members of that post-war class of UNC artist-teachers and their spouses are now gone. For Martha Mason's obit, click here.