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Greg Trupiano, born in Brooklyn, New York, passed away suddenly in February, 2020. He was Director of Artistic Administration at Sarasota Opera in Florida. He worked there for 33 seasons while maintaining his residence in Brooklyn. Mr. Trupiano made tremendous contributions to the arts community, especially in New York City. He assisted and consulted with several opera and theatre companies and worked various theatre jobs around the City from stage manager to producer to director. Greg’s lifelong passion for and knowledge of Walt Whitman inspired him to launch the Walt Whitman Project, devoted to the performance of Whitman’s words to the public. [Photo credit, Matthew Holler]
A man of contrasts. This personality trait enabled Greg intellectually and emotionally to take in Walt Whitman, the history of a nation, New York City, and particularly Brooklyn. Juggling overwhelming concepts?! No problem, Greg fearlessly rushed right into the middle and then managed to step into the light of truth. Being with Greg when he uncovered a fact that didn’t fit logically or hearing him tell stories that on the surface didn’t make sense, Greg would notice my furrowed brow. He would pause with a disarming, sly smile, eyes wide with pleasure. He radiated calmness as if to say, life is complex, it’s okay, together we move forward. He possessed clarity.
Working with Greg was a joy. He was cheerful and prepared. Everyone who associated with Greg knew about his high professional standards and formidable organization skills, skills needed to bring a new opera to life. When Greg was not immersed in American Opera Project’s risky ventures, or in a NYC theatre project, he was an expert in realistic restagings of 19th century Italian grand opera.
Greg taught me about operatically trained voices. He had a command of the technical aspects and could evaluate superior qualities in a human voice. When we finished auditions at AOP headquarters or perhaps after an evening performance, we frequently went to a diner—Greg was familiar with diners in every dark corner of the city—and it was fun and illuminating to compare notes and catch up about concerts and operas that we had attended. For hours we could discuss composers, rising vocal talents, iconoclastic productions, international opera trends, and on and on. Greg had the latest news about singers coming onto the scene, operas premiering around the country (and in Europe), and the gossip about opera powerbrokers, who was in, and who was out (in every meaning of the phrase).
Given Greg’s vast knowledge about opera’s cutting edge, to me it seemed a mistake that Greg was not employed by the big NYC opera companies. At AOP, he volunteered on projects for years, generously returning his small fees to the company. It often struck me as incongruous that his main work was at a conservative opera company in Sarasota, Florida, a “snowbird” resort town, known for programming traditional “warhorse” operas.
At AOP, Greg’s satisfaction came from developing operas from the ground up, for example, Paula Kimper and Wende Persons’ Patience & Sarah, which premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1998. (Anne Whitehouse was part of our team, too.) Through The Walt Whitman Project, which he founded with Lon Black, Greg established a successful track record of producing poetry in outdoor settings, finding a home base at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, a landmark park that lists Walt Whitman among its founders.
Greg continued to surprise me after more than thirty years. There was always new information coming from him: deeper, more multi-layered understandings of history and tradition, which bore fruit in Sarasota Opera’s Verdi productions. Greg possessed the spirit for the clash of opposing forces and shared his passion with anyone who would listen, in a theater lobby or on a neighborhood sidewalk. His sensitivity and empathy convinced skeptics of the power of poetry and avant-garde music theatre. In casual conversations, Greg generously revealed himself to others and teased out a commonality of interests. Every day I remember and try to use this tool.
-Charles Jarden, Director of Strategic Planning, American Opera Projects
I’ve never known anyone like Greg Trupiano, and I don’t expect I ever shall. We met when I joined American Opera Projects in 1995. The programs Greg conceived for American Opera Projects were original, innovative, and memorable. Conversations with Greg about music—genres, compositions, composers, performers, productions—fascinated me. He helped me to become a more discerning listener.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his character Jay Gatsby, Greg sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. Much of his learning and expertise was self-acquired. He was the most knowledgeable person about music, Walt Whitman, and the history of Brooklyn that I have ever met. He founded the Walt Whitman Project to realize his dream of awakening today’s readers to the beauty and humanity of Whitman’s writing and to connect Whitman’s New York to the current metropolis. Greg’s walking tours of Fort Greene Park and the Prison Ship Monument and Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn are the best walking tours I ever took, enriched by his encyclopedic knowledge and enlivened by the inclusion of musical performances and readings and prints and photographs depicting the sites we were visiting in times gone by. Like opera singers, Greg eschewed microphones on these tours, and for our edification and amusement, he corrected the errors on the historical plaques.
For decades, Greg kept to a set routine, dividing his year between Sarasota and New York City. At the Sarasota Opera, he nurtured many careers and was devoted to the summer opera camp he began for children. Despite his learning, Greg was never pedantic. He was modest and disinclined to talk about himself. He had a genuine interest in others. Aside from his long-distance commutes between New York City and Sarasota, he rarely traveled anywhere, and yet he was one of the most open-minded and least provincial people I have ever encountered.
He had simple tastes. He liked diners and Chinese restaurants. Other than books and music, he did not acquire possessions. His devotions were deep and sustaining. He could be counted on to be punctual. He showed up and forged connections between like-minded people in different artistic communities. His programming was diverse before diversity became a goal. In recent years, he was increasingly committed to education and young people.
As Greg nurtured the careers of many singers, he helped me become a better performer of my own work. Participating in his Walt Whitman programs, I noticed that the singers were invariably better readers than the writers. They came prepared and rehearsed, whereas the writers winged it, and the results showed. I began to understand the many connections between singing and speaking, and I tried to think as a singer when preparing for a reading of my work. When I give a reading, I think of Greg. It is a way for me to keep him with me as a sustaining spirit.
-Anne Whitehouse, writer and former Development Consultant, American Opera Projects
Trupiano. That’s how Greg Trupiano signed every missive to me, never Greg. As if we were on a high stakes mission together. And indeed we were. There was a lot to do and time was of the essence. Trupiano was my comrade on a trajectory to, as Whitman would say, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”
Trupiano was an Advisory Board member of Compagnia de’ Colombari and, signing on to that role, he became a rare friend to me, to Compagnia de’ Colombari and to all the projects including More Or Less I Am, the opera Judith, The Merchant of Venice and all the others. He listened hard to all of us at board meetings. Civility and practical wisdom marked his every contribution to the company, but nothing replaced his particular joy at witnessing the performances of the actors and singers themselves. They were the heart of the company and their presence was paramount to him.
The Whitman Project was Trupiano’s “urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge” in which he single handedly brought Walt Whitman into the consciousness of New Yorkers as a force to be reckoned with. In a persistent grassroots movement, he led countless tours of folk around the many neighborhoods of Brooklyn, freely offering knowledge of Whitman and New York history. His lucky auditors always left these itinerant gatherings ecstatic: deepened in their knowledge and renewed in their New York citizenship. If it were up to me, I would designate Trupiano a New York landmark.
Trupiano’s other great love was the opera: he was Associate Artistic Director at the Sarasota Opera where his knowledge was indispensable and where he galvanized a great variety of singers. He was a go-to repository of all things operatic and theatrical. Yet, making connections and bringing people together to serve shared missions was of greatest delight to him. A democratic soul, he relished meeting people, more than anybody I know and, remarkably, kept everyone’s name and history perfectly unmuddled.
Words mattered to Trupiano. If we spoke of something happening, he always kept his word, a surefire bond in a slippery time. I was a beneficiary of that integrity and attention. When Greg Trupiano left us suddenly in February 2020, I was struck by the vast resounding silence his absence carved. Yet just now, now, I begin to hear him challenging and encouraging us all in this extraordinary American moment—along with his beloved Walt, “What is known I strip away….I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown.”
-Karin Coonrod, Founding Director of Compagnia de’ Colombari
Two of the most important events of my
life happened in 1981. In May, I moved to New York City. Three months later,
August 15, 1981, I met Greg Trupiano. We were at a theatre party in the East
Village. This wasn’t a love at first sight story, but within a year our
relationship evolved into something beautiful and Whitmanic that lasted 38
years. August 15 became our anniversary date. To Greg, the Ides of August.
On my first day in New York, I knew I was finally home. Then Greg appeared and became my custom Welcome Wagon. He was a native Brooklynite, he loved his city, and he was eager to show it to me. “He was a welcoming presence” wrote a friend after his passing. What made him so welcoming? These other descriptors used in tributes to Greg will explain: kind, gentle, respectful, compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, generous, inspiring, funny, professional, organized, smart, a treasure, a true gentleman, an incredible human, a true ray of sunshine, a class act, one-of-a-kind.
In our early years, we were together all the time, working at the same job during the day (William Morrow Publishers), rehearsing plays together (me acting, Greg directing), and seeing performances together (theatre, opera, cabaret, film). For most of the 1980s, we were in a theatre or opera house an average of 5 times a week. Broadway, Off- and Off-Off- Broadway, The Met, New York City Opera.
We wandered the city together. We visited the popular touristy and sought the obscure. Many of our jaunts were in Downtown Manhattan and the West Side when Battery Park City was just landfill.
In the late 1980s Greg started getting out-of-town jobs in opera so we’d be apart for up to 5 months in a year. For 33 years, Greg worked at Sarasota Opera in Florida and was a vital force there as Director of Artistic Administration.
We managed these relationship fluctuations with ease which was a testament to the strength of our partnership.
Greg was a fervent Walt Whitman ambassador. He loved people. He created community. He had a zest and reverence for life. He embraced Whitman’s words on democracy and the spirit of America.
In 2000 Greg launched The Walt Whitman Project. We produced readings, tours and related events. Greg’s specialty was Whitman during his Brooklyn years. He created tours of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene Park. We commissioned composers to create music based on, or using, Whitman’s words. Greg’s intention was to bring the words of Whitman, spoken and sung, to the people. It was an expression of his celebration of life that he shared with Walt.
There were some sticky years in Greg’s health story. He almost succumbed to a subdural hematoma in 2014. In July 2017, Greg began a new chemotherapy regimen for chronic lymphocytic leukemia that he had been managing since 2004. As a result, he regained a vibrancy not experienced in several years. His death in February 2020 was sudden and unexpected.
It was easy for Greg to bolster people’s spirits. He freely gave moral support and career guidance. He was a good listener. He could make you feel safe and quickly garner your trust. It made him a positive force for so many people. I was a fortunate recipient…24/7.
I’m still receiving. I was always intrigued by the final, periodless line in Song of Myself, and after Greg’s passing it has even more significance.
“I stop some where waiting for you”
-Lon Black, Greg’s life partner and Artistic Director of The Walt Whitman Project