Pittsburgh Opera's chief leaving for D.C.

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In the end, Mark Weinstein couldn't say "no" to Placido Domingo.

Mr. Weinstein, the Pittsburgh Opera's general director, has accepted the position of executive director at Washington National Opera, where he will work with its general director, the renowned tenor Mr. Domingo, in running the $32 million company.

The Pittsburgh Opera enjoyed financial and artistic progress under Mr. Weinstein's tenure. He also made a mark outside of the company, as a leader in the merger of ProArts and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance into Pittsburgh's first Arts Council and as its first chairman. He was a key figure in getting the city to repeal its amusement tax on nonprofit groups and in attracting the first-ever National Performing Arts Convention in 2004.

"It is very difficult to leave," said Mr. Weinstein of Squirrel Hill. "It is just that to work with an artist such as Placido Domingo and to be in the nation's capital with the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center is an opportunity of a lifetime. I couldn't refuse Placido when he asked me to come."

Important in Mr. Weinstein's decision was that the Pittsburgh Opera is in a good place.

"I am leaving the company now in the strongest financial position it has ever been in its history," he said yesterday. "And to have achieved back-to-back productions -- 'Billy Budd' and 'Madama Butterfly' -- that are the height of what opera can be, it is the right time to move forward and for me to accept another challenge."

In the fiscal year that ended in June, the Pittsburgh Opera, which has an annual operating budget of $8 million, had a surplus of around $300,000.

"Basically, we have made our budgets for 10 years in a row," said Mr. Weinstein, who arrived in 1997 as executive director under general director Tito Capobianco. He succeeded Mr. Capobianco in 1999.

Back then, "the company faced a large accumulated deficit. ... Within a year and a half, the deficit was erased, the banks were paid and we invested more in education," he said.

Mr. Weinstein said that the Pittsburgh Opera has grown from $4 million in net assets to an anticipated $25 million by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. In addition, Pittsburgh Opera, which performs at the Benedum Center, Downtown, recently purchased a home in the Strip District for its offices and rehearsals, and a significant portion of an $8 million capital campaign to fund its purchase, renovation and maintenance has been raised.

Mr. Weinstein also presided over the hiring of artistic director Christopher Hahn, who has brought the company into the mainstream of operatic developments and has been credited with increasing the quality of productions.

"We are in such good shape, and it is due to his leadership," said Michele Fabrizi, chairwoman of the Pittsburgh Opera's board of directors. "If Mark is going to leave, now is the time. We are certain to attract an amazing amount of talent to look to succeed him."

"He was a real leader in the local arts community," added Jim Rohr, chairman of PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. "We will miss him. He was an innovator and a good fund-raiser."

Mr. Weinstein will begin his tenure in Washington Feb. 1.

In 2000, Congress named the District of Columbia company the "national opera," leading to its name change.

"My goal is to fulfill the promise of truly being America's opera company ... and to find funding for Domingo's great vision," said Mr. Weinstein. The company stages roughly eight productions a year and about 60 performances.

"Mark's leadership, management and fund-raising skills make him the ideal person for this job," said Kenneth R. Feinberg, president of Washington National Opera, in a statement.

Terms of the appointment were not disclosed.

Mr. Weinstein said he does not know yet if his wife, mezzo-soprano Susanne Marsee, will continue to teach at Carnegie Mellon University.

Ms. Fabrizi is certain what Washington will get in its new executive director.

"Mark is a very focused leader. He has a passion for the opera and is a very strong businessman. He is up for a challenge," she said.

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.


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