Obituary: Pocket Opera Founder Donald Pippin Dies at 95

By David Salazar

Donald Pippin, founder of Pocket Opera, passed away on July 7, 2021 in San Francisco. He was 95.

He was born on Dec. 8, 1925 in Zebulon, North Carolina, and spent his early youth in Richmond, Virginia. He became a pianist and by 14, he was soloing with the National Symphony Orchestra. At 17, he went to Harvard on a scholarship but left before completing his undergraduate studies.

From there, he went to the bay area, where he would remain. He started giving weekly piano recitals at the North Beach nightclub, which later expanded into chamber concerts, and eventually operatic performances.

He then started organizing full opera seasons under the banner of Opera Concertante.

Pippin officially incorporated Pocket Opera in 1977, though per reports, the company was already in business as far back as the early 1960s. He was also a champion of Baroque operas, introducing audiences in the bay area to the works of Händel and Telemann. More importantly, he was at the forefront of introducing audiences to opera through English-language translations, most of which he turned out himself.

He was also known for narrating to the audience in the middle of a performance to help contextualize the story they were experiencing, allowing for a unique approach to immersive storytelling.

“I owe much of what my life today is to Donald. I never went to Conservatory–after college I got my first professional singing gig with Pocket Opera in the chorus of ‘Tales of Hoffmann,’” Nicolas A. Garcia, the Artistic Director of Pocket Opera, told OperaWire. “I went on to sing lead roles, then direct, then I became production manager, then Associate Artistic Director, and two years ago I succeeded him as Artistic Director of the company that we both love. Donald taught me to respect the text as much as the music, and that good storytelling is the key to successful opera. He leaves behind a body of work that is respected throughout the world.”

He is survived by his brother, two sisters, half-brother, and niece.