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Roger Brunyate by Charles Nieberding

Roger Brunyate

An Informal Bio

I have been at Peabody since 1980 as Artistic Director of the Opera program. You can look elsewhere for my official bio and a more formal (and recent) photo. Right now, I hope to explain a little of what opera means to me, how I got into it, and why my present job is so fulfilling, because I hope these things are reflected in the program which we have built here.

I guess I am lucky in that opera combines so many of the things that interest me: music, theater, art, dance, literature, history, and the languages and customs of other cultures. My mother was a physician by profession, but a singer and pianist by avocation, and a natural actress. Music has always been part of my life as an amateur; the other things came gradually. I seem to have a magpie mind that develops a passionate interest in each new thing that comes along. I was aided in this by the curious English educational system that allowed me to specialize in a number of quite different areas in succession: Latin and Greek at an absurdly early age, then Science in high school, then English and later Art History at Cambridge. No sooner did I get a job teaching Art History at the University of Glasgow in Scotland than somebody asked me to design a play. Another completely new challenge! But it plunged me into the world of the theater, and soon I was not only working backstage but also acting, and above all directing. Then one day it suddenly occurred to me that I could take these interests, add them to the other aspects of my academic training – plus the languages and travel that went with the territory as an art historian – and put them together with my music to make a career in opera. Ten days later, I had resigned my job (I had just been promoted, but so what?) and embarked on a career as an opera director. I have lived hand to mouth at times, but I have never regretted that first impulse. Even now, it seems that just about every new thing that life brings somehow finds a place in my understanding of opera.

But while the amateur spirit – the love of the art – is important, it is not the whole story. I have left out a whole side of my heritage. My father was an engineer; he spent his life making things that worked, and fixing them if they didn’t. I think he handed down the notion that ideas are not much use without mastery of the techniques necessary to perfect them and put them over. Many of my first jobs in opera, working as an assistant with various European companies or doing small productions of my own, has been a matter of discovering these techniques and learning them; now I teach them. I also came to appreciate the structure and the organization necessary to enable the opera machine to run smoothly. I have always loved the budgeting, scheduling, and stage-management of a production almost as much as the artistic side, and I have been lucky to have held a number of administrative jobs at Peabody (including for a while Assistant Dean) as a necessary reality check to my idealism. Currently, I write the schedule software that keeps our department working, and do most of the programming for this site.

Brunyate on the set of Argento's 'Postcard from Morocco' 1984  
Rehearsing Postcard from Morocco, 1984
There is another thing I got from my parents, however, that came to me only gradually. As it happened, both of them retired early from their professions in order to take up evangelical work. As far as the practice of religion was concerned, I very early asserted the right to go my own way. But something lingered, in the growing belief that the arts could be our means of access to deep and important truths, and that opera, so far from being elite entertainment for the cognoscenti, could actually venture most deeply into human experience because of the power of music to speak directly to the soul. It is this that fuels my commitment to work with composers as midwife or librettist, and to approach even old music as though we were making it for the first time. While we don’t spend our rehearsal time at Peabody gazing at our navels or communing with the infinite, I do think that the quality which has pulled us so tightly together as a community of students and faculty is the shared belief that, at some important level, opera matters.

Read Mr. Brunyate’s official bio          Repertoire list          Libretti          Email Roger Brunyate

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Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University
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Department Chair: Roger Brunyate