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Central City Opera Podcast


The Central City Opera Podcast introduces you to the movers and shakers of the Central City Opera Festival. Episodes feature interviews with principal and young artists, designers, directors, conductors, and other production staff.  The podcast is hosted and edited by Emily Murdock, Director of Education at Central City Opera.

Season Six features the productions of the 2021 Summer Festival: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel, Verdi's Rigoletto, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Make sure you're subscribed on your podcast app of choice to get the latest episodes delivered directly to your device.

To find out more about Central City Opera, visit centralcityopera.org.

Show Notes: Season 5, Episode 7 - Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners and Katie Nicholson

Dec 3, 2020


Katie Nicholson and Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners

Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners grew up in the Central City Opera House. Her family made a second home in our magical, old western town during the summers of 1953-1963 when her father, Metropolitan Opera violist David Berkowitz, played the Festival season with the Central City Opera Orchestra. Now a dedicated supporter of the company, Phebe reminisces with CCO Director of Development Katie Nicholson about mounting backyard opera productions with other children of the Festival company (attended by famous singers and actors of the main stage!), experiencing the world premiere of The Ballad of Baby Doe from behind the scenes and the expansive and international Central City Opera community that she found throughout her career as an opera stage director and production professional.

Guest host Katherine (Katie) Nicholson was recently featured on the Central City Opera blog, take a read get to know her better!

Those of you watching the video version of this interview will notice the poster for Central City Opera’s Voice Your Dreams Endowment Campaign behind Katie. If you want to learn more and/or contribute to the Campaign to help our company endure long into the future, contact Katie at knicholson@centralcityopera.org or 303-331-7015!

Special thanks to Central City Opera Office Administrator Wanda M. Larson who’s helped us keep in close contact with our guest, Phebe, throughout the years and continues to show her passion for unforgettable Central City Opera experiences and community. You’ll probably recognize her if you’ve been up to the summer Festival, she’s the Gift Shop Admin/Buyer, too!Wanda Larson

Historical preservation is a pillar of Central City Opera’s mission. Learn about the dozens of historic properties we own and maintain. Explore more Central City history, and even schedule a tour at www.gilpinhistory.org.

“The famous ghost town” of Nevadaville is just up the street from Central City. Learn more about it at www.uncovercolorado.com.

Like many patrons and visitors, Phebe mentions paranormal experiences in and around our properties. Have you encountered something ghostly in Central City?

Phebe talks about many exciting moments and incredible figures from Central City Opera, including:

  • Phebe spent her first summer at Central City Opera in 1953, the production was Bizet’s Carmen. She was 7 and her sister was 9. They fell in love with the music, sitting in on every rehearsal, and they began the tradition of performing their own versions of the season’s operas in their backyard with the other children of the Festival company. They’d string up a sheet to make a stage curtain, and star actors and singers would even come to see their shows! According to Phebe, these “parodies” and performances went on to inspire the tradition of our famous singing ushers.


Ushers at Central City Opera, 1960. Photo provided by Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners

  • You’ll hear the famous Risë Stevens recording of Carmen that Phebe and her sister loved so much as background music during this podcast.
  • Wonderful performers Phebe recalls knowing as a child—some of whom attended her backyard productions—were Julie Harris, Tammy Grimes, Shirley Booth, Arlene Saunders.
  • One of Phebe’s favorite memories of Central City Opera was the world premiere of The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1956. She was 10 years old at the time, and she remembers all the excitement and artistry of composer Douglas Moore, librettist John La Touche, director and renowned choreographer Hanya Holm, director Edwin Levy and starring sopranos Dolores Wilson and Leyna Gabriele, all working together on this brand new opera. Read more about Baby Doe Tabor as a historical figure and the opera based on her life on the Central City Opera blog!

From left to right: Edwin Levy, Hanya Holm, Douglas Moore, and John Latouche, original creative team for THE BALLAD OF BABY DOE. Photo provided by Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners.

  • Cyril Richard—perhaps best remembered as Captain Hook in the Mary Martin musical production of Peter Pan—played Don Andres in La Perichole at Central City Opera in 1958. Phebe talks about how he kindly reassured her little brother, who had made a loud mistake on stage while playing a non-singing role in the production.
  • Over her summers at Central City Opera, Phebe memorized 17 operas along with the other children. “It was incredible musical education,” she says, “it was all about the music.”
  • Phebe points out, “in those days all the operas [in Central City] were performed in English.” Throughout history it’s been common practice for operas to be adapted to the vernacular of the place they’re being performed. In recent years—especially in the United States—operas are more commonly performed in their original language. Wonder where the performance trends in this 400-year-old artform will take us next!
  • Since various opera companies and orchestras perform during different times of the year, many musicians play in multiple ensembles like Phebe’s dad. For instance many orchestra members at Central City Opera also played with the Metropolitan Opera, and today our orchestra shares many musicians with the Colorado Symphony.
  • The Berkowitz family stayed in a historic house that, during those years, was named after Gypsy Rose Lee (1911-1970). Famous for her burlesque act, Lee was also an actor, author, playwright and all-around fascinating figure that inspired and captured the kids’ imagination.


Phebe (right) and her brother Robert at the Gypsy Rose Lee House, 1953. Photo provided by Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners

As an adult, Phebe went on to build a career as an opera director and production professional, herself. Learn more about some of the figures and references she makes in this interview:

  • She snagged a job as an intern in makeup and costumes with Hamburg State Opera as a young woman. As she was such a keen observer during rehearsals, Gian Carlo Menotti—the composer of the world-premiere production of Help, Help, the Globolinks! they were producing—asked her to call the light cues. Even with her very limited German vocabulary, she was up to the task!
  • After that, Hamburg State Opera Artistic Director Rolf Liebermann hired her on as lighting stage manager. Later, he took Phebe with him as a stage director when he joined Paris Opera as Artistic Director.
  • Phebe enjoyed many years as a part of the Metropolitan Opera Company, as an assistant stage director, director for revivals and Executive Stage Director (1974-2016).
  • Her time with the Met Opera began when August Everding brought her along as his personal assistant for Tristan und Isolde (1971), which was Rudolf Bing’s last new production.
  • Central City Opera Artistic Director Emeritus John Moriarty is also a close friend and mentor to Phebe. While they didn’t cross paths at CCO, he taught her to stage manage at Lake George Opera—now Opera Saratoga—where they worked together for three years.
  • Read Phebe’s general bio at centralcityopera.org/opera-central

Join Phebe in supporting the community and artistry of Central City Opera for many years to come. Find all kinds of ways to donate at centralcityopera.org/support-us

Thanks for listening!

Musical excerpts featured in this podcast:

  1. Carmen by Georges Bizet. Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens (1913-2013) sings the Act 1 “Habanera.” Recording with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in approximately 1948 and conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.
  2. The Ballad of Baby Doe by Douglas Moore, Act 1, Scene 2 “Willow Song.” Recorded in 1959 at the New York City Opera Company with soprano Beverly Sills (1929 – 2007) as Baby Doe and Walter Cassel (1910-2000) as Horace Tabor. Conducted by Emerson Buckley (1916-1989). (Cassel and Buckley were part of the original 1956 production at Central City Opera in these same roles.)
  3. The Girl of the Golden West by Giacomo Puccini, Act 1 with soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek as Minnie and tenor Yusif Eyvazov as Dick Johnson. Recorded at the Metropolitan Opera and featured on PBS’s Great Performances.