Meet the maestro

Nevada Opera Artistic Director Michael Borowitz

Michael Borowitz looks forward to the Nevada Opera’s 40th anniversary.

Michael Borowitz looks forward to the Nevada Opera’s 40th anniversary.

If all you knew of Michael Borowitz was his unofficial fan club T-shirts featuring a colorful family of birds à la The Partridge Family and selling for 20 bucks each, you might mistake him for some sort of rock star. Because although Borowitz is the Nevada Opera’s artistic director and conductor, he’s not your average maestro.

First, he does a lot more than selecting shows and conducting. He also rolls up his sleeves to find and rent sets, costumes and props, pulling all those elements together on stage.

Plus, he does pre-show talks one hour prior to every performance, in the Pioneer’s Exhibition Hall. During these talks, Borowitz’s animated, down-to-earth style shines as he tells his always-packed house, in plain language, about the opera they’re going to hear. He also plays piano samplings of the music.

“Some maestros are superior and don’t know how to talk to an audience,” says William Russell, Nevada Opera’s executive director. “He’s very engaging, and that has an incredible effect.”

With early aspirations to become a singer, Borowitz earned his undergraduate degree in voice performance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania but soon changed streams because “it’s hard! Only a few have the talent and voice to pull that off.” He earned his master’s degree in collaborative piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

“My next move was to be a pianist for singers, but doing recital work is not a money-maker, and there are very few opportunities to do it,” says Borowitz. “The real jobs are in opera and theater, which is how I ended up as a conductor.”

He went on to become director of musical studies with Pittsburgh Opera, then artistic director of Cleveland Concert Opera. He’s been on the faculties of several universities; guest conductor for Rimrock Opera and Opera Columbus; and assistant conductor with the Metropolitan Opera, Indianapolis Opera and Cleveland Opera. He joined Nevada Opera in 2003. He also does freelance conducting for opera companies around the country, including the Ohio Light Opera, a 12-week summer festival.

When he returns to Nevada each season, “it’s like the sunshine coming out,” says Russell. “He’s a joy to work with, and he brings great energy.”

“Normally in a position like this, maybe one of five things in a production is in shape, and the rest is crap, so you have to take up the slack,” says Borowitz. “It’s the conductor’s and singers’ job to save it. There’s none of that in Nevada. Everyone’s involved, and they’re all talented. So I’m very lucky. My colleagues are jealous.”

He likes to stretch his wings every season, even if that means taking a little criticism for it. Last season’s Orpheus in the Underworld was offbeat and risqué, which provoked some scathing reviews. That didn’t bother Borowitz.

“I firmly believe that if you go out and pay money for a ticket, you damn well better get a good night’s entertainment. You’d better be moved. Honestly, I think a scathing review is better than one that says, ‘It was lovely.’ That’s a vase of flowers. ‘Lovely’ means I haven’t done my job.”

The upcoming season, the Opera’s 40th, should do it—it includes Verdi’s Aïda, its first time on stage in Nevada in 18 years. This 40th anniversary fittingly coincides with another—Borowitz’s 40th birthday.

“Nevada Opera began as a place where students would have a place to sing professionally, and it’s created talent that is sought after from around the world,” says Russell. “Michael continues that tradition. We’re extremely fortunate to have him.”