Lyric Opera president Kenneth Pigott remembered with music, laughter

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A Lyric Opera production can be years in the planning. So just the fact that a 90-minute concert was staged in memory of Kenneth G. Pigott, the company’s president and CEO, on Friday, exactly one month after his sudden death Feb. 13 at 71, is itself a tribute, even before factoring in that all the musicians, the Lyric orchestra and singers, donated their services, including superstar Renee Fleming and conductor Sir Andrew Davis, who, in a rare shift of roles, sang.

“His death was a huge shock and enormous loss to everyone at Lyric,” said Anthony Freud, the Lyric’s general director. “Ken was a force of nature. He really loved this company, this opera house . . . Ken’s spirit lives on. Today’s concert is a token of our appreciation and love.”

Freud also announced that the main stage at the Lyric has been be named “The Ken Pigott Stage.”

Lyric chairman and interim president Richard Kiphart imagined Pigott in heaven, casting the Ring Cycle, the great work of Wagner, whose music he loved: Three of the dozen pieces performed Friday were Wagner.

Fleming marveled at his robustness.

“I have a sneaking suspicion Ken Pigott was really a super hero,” she said. “He was our super hero.”

Davis made his remarks very brief, quipping that were Pigott there, he would loved the gathering, but he would also say, “Get on with it.”

So they did. The program began with the prelude from the Act I of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. A highlight was Amanda Majeski, the soprano who just the afternoon before sang magnificently in Weinberg’s “The Passenger,” performing an impassioned aria from Dvorak’s Rusalka. Ferruccio Furlanetto at one point buried his face in his hands, singing from Verdi’s Don Carlo.

Part of the celebration Friday at the Lyric Opera of Kenneth Pigott’s life. Photo courtesy of Todd Rosenberg Photography

Part of the celebration Friday at the Lyric Opera of Kenneth Pigott’s life. Photo courtesy of Todd Rosenberg Photography

Pigott was loved for his humor, and the concert turned lighter when Davis sang a customized version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Major-General’” patter song from “Pirates of Penzance” — as Davis is wont to do — recast as “He was the very model of an operatic president” and with a line referring to Pigott’s ability to raise “a ton” of money for the Lyric, which has avoided the financial shoals wrecking other opera companies across the nation.

Fleming, whom Pigott was key in bringing in as the Lyric’s creative consultant, sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, which opens next month.

Pigott was managing partner of Vaduz Parners, a private investment company, and joined the Lyric board of directors in 1998.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the performance Friday. Many colleagues and former colleagues made a point of being there, including general director emeritus Bill Mason. Some flew in from New York or, in the case of Rebecca Mitchell, from Stratham New Hampshire.

“We wanted to support the memory of Ken,” said Mitchell.

“He was joyful,” said Tanya Chevalier, a board member of the Ryan Opera Center. “”He and his wife Jane made a great team. They were very committed to each other and to the Lyric.”

“Outstanding,” John Hart, a board member of the Chicago Symphony, said after the performance, calling Pigott, “one of the most caring, sensitive men. He was very cherished.”

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