Remembering David Vosburgh, a Pillar of the Arts Community

YOUNGSTOWN – The death of David Vosburgh comes just one week before the premiere of a documentary film on his life.

Vosburgh, who died Nov. 2 at age 85 at his home in Massachusetts, was more than just the founder and artistic director of Opera Western Reserve. He was a pillar of the Mahoning Valley arts community.

His work in Youngstown was the second phase of a career that started in New York, where he was a professional opera singer and instructor. 

After moving to Youngstown, Vosburgh produced and directed more than a dozen operas at Stambaugh Auditorium with the company that he launched. A tireless worker and a wellspring of enthusiasm for the art form, his efforts laid the foundation of a permanent opera culture in Youngstown.

Adam Michael is the filmmaker who made the documentary, titled “David Vosburgh: Extraordinary, Important, and Deserving.”

The film, which will get its world premiere on Nov. 9 at Stambaugh Auditorium, includes a series of interviews with Vosburgh at his Massachusetts home, and with the people in his personal and professional circle who knew him best.

Vosburgh’s death also comes just two weeks before this year’s OWR production. On Nov. 17, the opera company will present “Carmen” at Powers Auditorium.

Michael did not know Vosburgh before he embarked on the film project last year. But as shooting progressed, he came to understand why Vosburgh was held in such high esteem.

“David Vosburgh means more to the world of performing arts than anyone will ever fully realize,” Michael said today.

“The intelligence, compassion, kindness and generosity he displayed throughout his life will be remembered for all of my days. I have never known a person that treated his friends, family, students and colleagues with such equality and love.”

Denise Glinatsis Bayer, chairperson of the OWR board of directors and a longtime friend and artistic collaborator with Vosburgh, recalled Vosburgh’s devotion to his roles of artistic director and educator.

“I remember one year recently, when he was building the set for the opera,” Bayer said this morning. “He cut off the tip of his thumb, and just kept working.”

Bayer said Vosburgh was also “wonderful” in working with OWR’s children’s opera.

One often-told story reveals Vosburgh’s impact on opera

In 1979, he was a vocal coach for opera great Patti LuPone, when she was the star of “Evita” and he was in the chorus of the Broadway production. In 2008, LuPone publicly thanked Vosburgh on live television in her acceptance speech after winning a Tony Award for another production.

It came as a complete surprise to Vosburgh – who was watching the show – but not as much to those who knew of his selflessness in helping others in the field.

“[David] left his mark on Broadway and shared his gifts with the Mahoning Valley,” Bayer said in a Facebook post. “We wouldn’t have Opera Western Reserve without him.”

The upcoming production of “Carmen” will be Bayer’s first as chair of the OWR board. She notes that it will also be the first since the death of OWR’s founder. 

“I hope it’s a sign that he thinks we can take it from here, and that he can take a rest from his tireless work for the arts,” Bayer wrote.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.