Obitutary: Washington Concert Opera Founder Stephen Crout Dies at 77

By Francisco Salazar

On Nov. 23, former opera and ballet conductor Stephen Crout died at the age of 77.

Crout died a the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.

Born in Elmira, New York, he was the younger of two sons of Dorothy Frank Bly and Walter Bly, taking the surname “Crout” upon his mother’s second marriage to Norman Crout and the latter’s adoption of Stephen and his older brother Glenn.

Following his graduation as a piano performance major at Ithaca College in 1966, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy to serve in the Vietnam War.

After the war, he joined the New York-based chorus The Gregg Smith Singers as both accompanist and a member of its tenor section, touring the U.S. and Europe and recording music from Gesualdo to Stravinsky for the Columbia and Vox labels.

During that time he also worked as a studio pianist and rehearsal accompanist for some of New York’s smaller opera companies. He would eventually join the music staff at Washington National Opera in the autumn of 1980 and he remained with the company through the 1984-1985 season. He would later be promoted to chorus master and chief of music staff.

In 1986 he founded the Washington Concert Opera and on May 3, 1987, the company performed its first opera Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” starring Jerry Hadley, Hei-Kyung Hong, and Gordon Hawkins. He would be the company’s General and Artistic Director until 2001. During his time with the company numerous artists performed rarely performed works and made significant debuts. Among them were Renée Fleming in her first performance of the title role in Massenet’s “Thaïs,” followed by a 1993 return in another signature role, Dvořák’s “Rusalka” and Deborah Voigt in “Weber’s Der Freischütz in 1992.” Denyce Graves also sang Delibes’ “Lakmé” in 1989, as well as Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” in 1992 and Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila” in 1995. Ben Heppner also sang Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier” in 1994. He also oversaw the first local professional performances of Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell,” Donizetti’s “Linda di Chamounix” and Verdi’s “I vespri siciliani.”

Throughout his career, Crout appeared as a guest conductor at The Virginia Opera, Wolf Trap Opera Company, Opera Memphis, Lyric Opera Cleveland, Colorado Ballet, and Central City Opera, and served as Artistic Director of Charlottesville’s Ash Lawn-Highland Festival from 1991-1993.

Outside of opera, he was the Music Director of The Washington Ballet from 1989 – 2001 and conducted over 200 performances of The Nutcracker at GWU Lisner Auditorium and the Warner Theater.

He is survived by his husband of 10 years and partner of 40, Peter Russell of Washington, D.C.