UPDATE: Calling hours will be 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday (note time change) at the Laskowski Funeral Home, 367 Prospect St., Binghamton The funeral will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday at Main Street Baptist Church, 117 Main St., Binghamton (overflow parking available at Tabernacle United Methodist Church, 83 Main St.). Singers attending the funeral should brush up on their “Va, Pensiero” (bring music if you have it).
By Barb Van Atta
Former Tri-Cities Opera Artistic and Music Director Duane Skrabalak died Monday afternoon (April 21) at his home in Binghamton. He was 65.
Skrabalak started at TCO as a singer and accompanist while still a student at Johnson City High School. He remained with the company for his entire professional life (1966-2010) and, under the tutelage of TCO co-founder Peyton Hibbitt, served in a variety of musical capacities: chorus master, vocal coach, conductor and, finally, artistic and music director. In 1999, at the age of 50, he became the youngest person to receive a star on Binghamton’s Walk of Fame.
For many audience members, Skrabalak became the voice and face of TCO through his popular operalogues (pre-performance previews), which, in witty fashion, demystified the sometimes incomprehensible opera plots. That same wit and intelligence helped him mold TCO’s volunteer chorus into a critically acclaimed ensemble.
In 2010, in the months following Skrabalak’s retirement from both TCO and his Binghamton University adjunct faculty position, many of his colleagues took pen to paper to praise his talents. Here is a sampling:
“The diversity of (his) skills was amazing … Everything he did had his inimitable touch of brilliance and depth, a mind with a passion to share, communicate and impart understanding and enthusiasm in the arts to the young and old, rich and poor, educated and untrained.” — Walter Ponce, formerly of Binghamton University and now distinguished professor and chairman of keyboard studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“I learned most of the standard baritone repertoire at Tri-Cities Opera — all of which I still regularly sing with regional opera companies all of the country. Every time I perform a role I first learned at TCO, it is Duane’s coaching and teaching that remains a major part of my performance.” — Timothy LeFebvre, baritone and associate professor of singing at the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio).
“I am so honored to have worked with Duane and to be able to call him my friend. He dedicated his life and his art to TCO and the Triple Cities.” — Cynthia Clarey, mezzo-soprano and professor of voice at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University (Chicago, Ill.)
The accolades continued yesterday on Facebook as news of Skrabalak’s death spread among former and current TCO singers. Wrote soprano Stacey Canterbury Climie, a TCO resident artist from 1996 to 2001: “I had never met anyone one in my life like him. So amazingly smart and could pick up languages in days. My mind still has a hard time wrapping itself around that one. How he could do it? Before him, I would just sing a piece of music, but he taught me how to take it apart and really get to know the true music.”
And soprano Trina Renay, a resident artists from 2001 to 2005, mourned, “My beloved operatic/musical mentor died today. My heart is so heavy, but I am grateful for all that he taught me … on the stage and in life.”
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