By George Basler
Scott Bergeson set a goal for himself at a very young age. When he was all of 12 years old, the St. Charles, Ill, native started thinking about a career as a symphonic conductor.
“I decided that I loved playing in an orchestra, and I loved the symphonic repertoire so much that I wanted to participate on a grander scale,” he said.
Fast forward 50 years, and Bergeson, now 62, is bringing his conducting and teaching skills to the Binghamton area as the new music and associate artistic director at Tri-Cities Opera. He succeeds John Mario Di Costanzo. Simultaneously, Bergeson has been appointed a visiting associate professor at Binghamton University where he is working with eight students in the Master of Music in Opera degree program.
The jobs are ones he is looking forward to greatly. “One reason I came to Binghamton was because of the possibility to work with talented young singers,” he said “Guiding young talent, shepherding them, encouraging them, supporting them is so great a joy.”
He comes to the area with a lengthy resume that began in 1977 when, fresh out of Julliard, he got a job as an assistant conductor with the New York City Opera. His boss was renowned soprano Beverly Sills, general manager of the company and one of his early mentors.
“I called her ‘mom,’ and she called me ‘Scotty dear,’” he remembered, with a laugh.
After conducting more than 300 performances with City Opera, Bergeson joined the staff of the Metropolitan Opera 1992 as an assistant conductor. He also has led performances with companies throughout the United States and the world, including the Cleveland Opera, the Opera Theater of St. Louis, the Santa Fe Opera, the Bergen (Norwa) Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bucharest.
Along the way he’s garnered notices such as one from Robert Commanday, founding editor of San Francisco Classical Voice, who called Bergeson a conductor of “skill, experience and vital, incisive style.”
At Tri Cities, Bergeson will conduct all the productions, audition singers for the company’s resident training artist program and work with the resident artists while they’re here. He’s familiar with the company’s approach, having worked with such TCO-trained artists as Richard Leech, Bruce Reed and Kenneth Shaw.
The community should be proud of the fact that, even with its economic struggles, it has continued to support the arts, including an opera company, Bergeson said. He credits careful management by the opera’s board of directors in keeping the company afloat and poised to open its 65th season.
Bergeson acknowledged he wasn’t always an opera enthusiast. Besides music, he was focused on acting at a young age. He still remembers his first role as Winthrop in The Music Man after getting permission from school officials to dye his hair red.
But it wasn’t until his college years at Oberlin College in Ohio that he was exposed to opera in any great depth. “Some friends encouraged me to start listening to opera. They would drag me into the listening room and say, ‘You’ve got to hear this,’’’ he remembered.
The blend of music and drama hooked him immediately. “I suppose it distilled my fascination with communication,” he said. When the storytelling of theater is combined with the music of opera, something happens emotionally that is uniquely thrilling, Bergeson added.
He’s far from an musical snob, however, and listens to all types of music from classical to country to pop. “Who cannot love Adele?” he said, referring to the Grammy-winning pop singer. Other favorites include Ella Fitzgerald and Barbara Cook, and he’s a fan of Lady Gaga. Strip away the glitz, and that girl can sing, he said.
One of Bergeson’s initial jobs here will be conducting Bizet’s Carmen Oct. 25 and 27 at The Forum. 236 Washington St., Binghamton. He said he’s eager to work with guest artist Ginger Costa-Jackson, who will be singing the title role. Costa-Jackson has sung secondary roles, and covered (understudied) main roles, at the Metropolitan Opera and twice has been a visiting artist at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown. She sang Carmen there in summer 2011.
“She is a promising young singer, and we’re fortunate to get her,” Bergeson said.
Bergeson also is excited about working with the TCO Orchestra. In some ways, he said, it will be more challenging than working at the Met because rehearsal time will be more limited. The musicians here are not playing to get rich, but for the love of the art form, Bergeson said, and he wants to honor their commitment. “I’m here to give everything I can so they can distinguish themselves at the highest possible level,” he said.
The TCO season should be an exciting one, Bergeson said, noting the company has received a grant to stage a newly-conceived production of Die Fledermaus in the spring.
Bergeson has heard comments that the company tends to recycle the same, well-known classic operas rather than essaying less well-known and modern works. Although he hopes TCO can add some newer works to its repertoire, he pointed out that being too adventurous carries risks: “We live in an era of name recognition. We need to sell as many tickets as we can, and that means we have to rely on name recognition.”
One of his greatest joys is seeing a production come together. “I’m a process guy. I love the interaction of working with imaginative stage directors and gifted singers. I love the interaction of the rehearsal process and working toward what goes on the stage,” he said.
“In some ways, I’m sort of an introverted person, so I love the extroverted part of the opera world. It sort of balances it out.”
THE BERGESON FILE
Hometown: St. Charles, Ill.
First operatic job: Assistant conductor with the New York City Opera, where he was the recipient of the Julius Rudel Award in 1980.
Other positions: Assistant conductor with the Metropolitan Opera; guest conductor leading performances at opera companies throughout the United States and world.
Interest off the podium: Working around his home in Vermont. “I love playing in the mud and cutting down saplings.”
Other interests: Reading history. He has also studied nine languages.