It’s been a long time since 1968, but Dick Moe still remembers how fussy the hall manager was for Tacoma Opera’s debut production, Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus,” the same work the company is performing this weekend.
While this production is in the Rialto Theater — the company has used all three downtown theaters for decades — the first “Die Fledermaus” was staged in Eastvold Auditorium at Pacific Lutheran University, where Moe was dean of the arts.
“The guy in charge of Eastvold was a fastidious, fussy guy who didn’t want anything unusual on that stage,” remembers Moe, who was deeply involved with the fledgling company and would become its second board president and a life-long supporter. “The discussions between him and our stage manager. … Anyway, it was a wonderful event, and the beginning of many good things for Tacoma Opera.”
The production, which featured local singers and orchestra, vaguely turn-of-the-century costumes, ballet dancers and a simple set, was also where Moe met his present wife Marcia, whom he married a decade later after his first wife Lila died. At the time Marcia, a London-trained dancer who later choreographed for Tacoma Opera, was also working at PLU as liaison for the Joffrey Ballet.
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Moe, now 87, remembers clearly the impetus for starting a Tacoma opera company: the late baritone Roald Reitan, a Stadium High School and University of Puget Sound graduate whose career took him to the Metropolitan Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin.
“Roald was a local boy who came back with the idea that we could have an opera company in Tacoma,” says Moe, who also serves on the board at Tacoma Art Museum and supports other arts groups in town.
So Reitan pulled together a cast and orchestra, singing the lead role of Eisenstein and kicking off Tacoma’s first opera company. Then called the Tacoma Opera Society, it folded in the late 1970s, rebounding in 1981 under the new leadership of Hans Wolf, former community outreach director for Seattle Opera. Under new name the Tacoma Opera Association, the company turned professional with another production of “Die Fledermaus.” Now Tacoma Opera, under director Noel Koran, it performs three productions per year on a $420,000 budget. It has produced “Die Fledermaus” five times now, once every decade.
But it all began with the first “Die Fledermaus,” which rose above challenges to be a big success.
“The audience really was thrilled,” says Moe.