Long Beach Opera leader wins national award for opera trustees

Long Beach Opera leader wins national award for opera trustees
Sue Bienkowski, longtime board president of Long Beach Opera, has won a 2015 National Opera Trustee Recognition Award, conferred by the national service organization Opera America. (Opera America)

Members of arts boards don't have nearly as many opportunities to be applauded as the performers whose work they support, but the chance has arrived for Sue Bienkowski, longtime board president of Long Beach Opera.

Opera America, the New York-based national service organization for opera companies, named Bienkowski as one of four winners of its annual National Opera Trustee Recognition Award, which gives behind-the-scenes supporters a turn in the spotlight.


Bienkowski is in her 10th year as board president of the innovative Long Beach company, whose performances range beyond its home city, including productions during its 2014-15 season at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro and a warehouse marketplace at the Port of Los Angeles.

Opera America's announcement Tuesday noted that the company has gone from two to as many as five productions a season under Bienkowski's board leadership, its budget growing from $430,000 to $1.5 million. She is the second winner from a Southern California opera board since the trustee awards started in 2008. Marc Stern, longtime board chairman of Los Angeles Opera, won in 2010.

Andreas Mitisek, the artistic director who has led Long Beach Opera in carving out a respected niche as a producer of new and outside the mainstream works -- some of them staged in unorthodox settings -- praised Bienkowski in the announcement of her award for "inspiring everyone around her to explore the unknown and the new. ... Sue has always remained steadfast in her commitment to trailblazing, innovative programming."

Bienkowski and her three fellow winners from other opera boards will receive plaques at a Feb. 28 awards dinner in New York.

Opera America gives four annual trustee awards, for board leaders of large, mid-size, small and very small companies. Long Beach Opera is in the second-smallest bracket, companies with budgets of $1 million to $3 million.

This year's trustee recognition awards were a sweep for the West: John Nesholm, who has been Seattle Opera's board president or chairman for more than 20 years, won in the division for companies whose budgets are $10 million and over, James McCoy of Hawaii Opera Theatre in Honolulu was the honoree in the $3 million to $10 million category, and Frank "Woody" Kuehn of Southwest Opera in Albuquerque was cited in the under $1 million division.

Opera companies that are members of Opera America can nominate their own trustees, filling out written explanations of their accomplishments. A five member committee headed by Carol Henry, Los Angeles Opera's second-ranking board officer after Stern, went through the nominations and picked the honorees.

Long Beach Opera's upcoming productions are "Thérèse Raquin," by Tobias Picker and Glenn Scheer, with two performances at the Warner Grand Theatre starting Jan. 24; "Forever Marilyn," jazz bassist Gavin Bryars' take on the allure of Marilyn Monroe, with two performances in late March at the Warner Grand; and "Hydrogen Jukebox," a late-1980s collaboration between Philip Glass and poet Allen Ginsberg, which will have three performances starting May 30 at Crafted, an arts, crafts and food marketplace in a converted warehouse at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.

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