Famed Bermudian tenor Dr Gary Burgess dies
Celebrated Bermudian singer, stage director and educator Dr Gary Burgess has died at the age of 76.
Dr Burgess left the Island after finishing the Berkeley Institute when he was 16 and spent most of his life abroad.
He won a scholarship to Wilberforce University in Ohio in where he started in pre-med before switching to a music major, graduating in 1961.
Dr Burgess also earned a degree from the Julliard School of Music in 1963.
He subsequently earned his masters at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1971 and attended the Curtis Institute of Music where he received the Artist Diploma in Opera.
He also acquired a diploma from the Academia di Santa Cecelia from Rome, Italy in 1965.
Dr Burgess enjoyed a distinguished career in opera as a soloist, director and conductor, working with opera companies throughout North America and Europe including the New York Philharmonic, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Greek National Orchestra and Bermuda’s Gilbert and Sullivan Orchestra and performing alongside opera stars such as Luciano Pavarotti.
Dr Burgess later started the opera department at the State University of Buffalo, where he served a 23-year stint as professor of voice and opera, conducting and staging more than 60 productions and teaching numerous students.
While at Buffalo, his performances at solo recitals ranged from the Baroque period to the Twentieth Century, and included the major vocal cycles of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss, Mahler and Beethoven.
After returning to the Island in 1998, he spent six years working for the Cultural Affairs Department before retiring.
During the same period, Dr Burgess founded and directed the Boys Choir at the Anglican Cathedral and served as musical director for the Bermuda Philharmonic Orchestra from 1999 to 2006.
While working with the Bermuda Philharmonic Orchestra, Dr Burgess wrote and premiered two symphonies; Dawn of a New Day, and The Bermuda Symphony, based on the discovery of Bermuda.
Last night, The Bermuda Philharmonic Society issued a statement saying it was “saddened”.
“Among the highlights of his tenure was a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors in December 2000, featuring the Cathedral Boys’ Choir and a well-received Opera Gala in the spring of 2002,” The society spokesperson said. “His contacts in the musical community worldwide enabled us to enhance our concerts with international artists and add to level of performance of the society. We are grateful for his many contributions to music in Bermuda.”
Despite his retirement, Dr Burgess remained busy, and was hired by the Chinese Government to be one of the directors to open the new Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing in 2008, directing Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.
That same year, he appeared as the guest soloist with The Ensemble Singers during their tour of Barbados.
Among the honours bestowed on Dr Burgess during his career were the US National Opera Association’s Legacy Award, presented in 2003, and the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in 2011.
Dr Burgess made his operatic debut while still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, completing an apprenticeship with the Central city Opera Company in Colorado in 1973, singing Rodolfo and Reuccio in Puccini’s La Bohème and Gianni Schicchi respectively.
He made his European debut in 1973 with the Greek National Opera company in the role of Baccus in Richard Strauss’ opera Araide auf Naxos and became a regular member of the Greek National Opera singing such roles as Tom in The Rake’s Progress, the male chorus in The Rape of Lucretia and most of the Verdi and Puccini repertoire.
In later years, his career turned to the heavier repertoire singing Beethoven’s Fidelio and as Othello in Bratislava, Houston, Rochester, Seattle and Wilmington.
Dr Burgess had great love for lieder and chamber music, having performed with the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont under the late Rudolf Serkin.
His major teachers in voice were Margaret Harshaw, Julius Hughn, Sergius Kagen, Georgio Favoretto and Mario Boriello. In addition to his vocal training, he studied opera directing with Dino Yannopoulos and Rhoda Levine.
Dr Burgess founded and served as artistic and general director of the Greater Buffalo Opera company for many years. The GBO was the only professional opera company the Niagara frontier.
He regularly taught in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In addition to his role in the classics, Dr Burgess conducted the Summer Stock at Cape Cod, Massachusetts for four consecutive years, doing such works as Westside Story, Cabaret, The Sound of Music, Chicago and Oklahoma.
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