Obituary: Jerome Ray Sherk / Director of production for Pittsburgh Opera

Died April 10


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The best thing he did, it turns out, was not offer him the job.

Christopher Hahn said he was new to San Francisco from South Africa and looking to break into opera production when he sat for an interview with Jerome Ray Sherk, then the production stage manager for the San Francisco Opera.

"I didn't know the opera world very much, but I was looking for a job as an assistant director," said Mr. Hahn, now general director of the Pittsburgh Opera. He credits the encounter with Mr. Sherk with getting the backstage and organizational experience that propelled his career. "Basically, he didn't hire me, but he introduced me to someone else in another part of the company . . . and he hired me."

Mr. Sherk, director of production at the Pittsburgh Opera, died Thursday after a four-month battle with cancer. The native of Willamsburg, Mass., was 65.

"The thing about Jerry in the opera world is he is legendary," Mr. Hahn said, describing an able manager equally adept with stagehands, musicians and the world-famous performers.

"Just an enormous array of all the greats in the opera world pass through San Francisco, and he had to deal with them and he was a marvel," Mr. Hahn said. "He was so extraordinarily calm and witty. He was really the template of what you want a stage manager to be. They're very rare people."

Mr. Sherk graduated from Manhattan School of Music with a double major in theory and French horn performance. He developed an interest in working backstage and with scenery construction.

He began his career freelancing at the Lake George Opera in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and at the Kansas City and Cincinnati operas before landing a job in 1978 as technical director and stage manager for the Washington Opera under the leadership of renowned baritone George London, at one time one of the world's most-heralded singers.

A few years later, Mr. Sherk was production stage manager in San Francisco, a job he held for 21 years and had him working with Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Placido Domingo, Leontyne Price and Marilyn Horne.

After working in Philadelphia and New Orleans, Mr. Sherk came to Pittsburgh.

"I was in the happy position of being able to invite him to come to my opera company and offer him a job," Mr. Hahn said.

Mr. Sherk had a deep and "searching" interest in music and was drawn to opera by the complexity of the production and its "warring parts," Mr. Hahn said, including coupling all the stagecraft of a play with the challenges of singers and orchestras.

"We're a very complex art form, and so many things have to come together," he said.

Mr. Sherk's true legacy was the generations of stage managers and assistant directors he trained, now spread around the world in major positions in operas and theaters, Mr. Hahn said.

"Everywhere you go, every major theater, you will meet people who were given their first jobs by Jerry, and then he mentored them through the early parts of their careers," he said.

Mr. Sherk's last production with the Pittsburgh Opera was "Paul's Case," based on Willa Cather's 1905 story about a Pittsburgh boy yearning to escape to New York and is encouraged to see an opera production.

"It couldn't have been a better one for him to go out on, because it was really a little bit of what we all do in the theater," Mr. Hahn said.

Mr. Sherk is survived by his wife, Tara, their two children, Charles and Odette, and his five siblings. A service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 615 Grant St., Downtown.

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.


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