Remembering Bill Conner, With Help from Opera Columbus

Nov 10, 2016

The political news this week has made it harder to process the death of Bill Conner, the President and CEO of CAPA, who died after a two-year battle with cancer on October 28.

We were hardly close friends. But the phone would ring every few months with a summons to a sumptuous lunch and a few hours of shop talk and dish.  We would sit together at Columbus Symphony concerts (the first time he wasn’t here was for the Verdi Requiem of all nights!) I can’t claim to have known him well. I can say we were friends and to me he was nothing but warm, kind, smart and supportive.

In his fifteen years as head of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, Bill was a big part of the rescue and revitalization of a number of our arts organizations. Opera Columbus, CATCO, Columbus Symphony had gone through times good and bad, and the bad times were made better by Bill’s strong intervention.

He put CAPA’s savvy staff at the service of Columbus’s cultural life.  

The result? A thriving arts scene, the envy of many a similar sized cities. Opera Columbus is back, sexy and beautiful. The Symphony has a wonderful new music director and enthusiastic crowds (lack of quality onstage has never been an issue). A gorgeous downtown church in disrepair will become a concert hall. The new McCoy Arts Center in New Albany has eclectic programming. The Drexel Theater has been revitalized.

All of that’s great. But Bill’s legacy will always be the crowds who are now flocking to our theaters, downtown and elsewhere.

The last time I saw Bill was at rehearsals for Twisted2 , a month before he died. I knew he had been seriously ill. His cancer wasn’t a secret. We sat together and a few wonderful and outrageous whispers passed back and forth.  Standard Operating Procedure for the two of us. The thought of the long and deep hug he gave me a few nights later breaks my heart now. Then I hear the symphony play and the opera sing and I feel great. So will you.

Classical 101's Opera and More presents productions from Opera Columbus later in November. It was Bill and CAPA who brought Opera Columbus back. He hired the wonderful soprano Peggy Kriha Dye to run the company. The operas are (largely) cast locally, thus this fine company truly becomes Opera COLUMBUS.

Please join us for these marvelous performances and help celebrate Bill’s legacy:

Saturday November 19 1 PM: Lully’s Armide, sorcery and sexual politics of the French baroque (it IS opera, after all) with Peggy Kriha Dye, Jeff MacMullen and Brian Hupp, conducted by David Fallis

Saturday, November 26 1 PM: Puccini’s La boheme, with Noah Stewart, Eric McKeever, Calvin Griffin and Jeff MacMullen, conducted by Jason Hiester.