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Placido Domingo, Deborah Voigt to headline opening of Chapman’s new arts center

Musco Center at Chapman University

An artist’s rendering of the Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University in Orange. Opera stars Placido Domingo and Deborah Voigt will headline the $78-million performance center’s opening night on March 19.

(Chapman University)

Placido Domingo and alumna Deborah Voigt will team to launch the $78-million Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University in March.

The 1,044-seat multipurpose performance hall at the private university in Orange features acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota, whose credits include Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Soka Performing Arts Center at Soka University in Aliso Viejo.

William Hall, founding dean and artistic director of the new center, said Monday that seven other Chapman-schooled singers who’ve gone on to professional opera and music theater careers will join Domingo and Voigt on opening night, and John DeMain will conduct the orchestra.

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For the Record

An earlier version of this article said William Hall was dean of Chapman’s College of Performing Arts. He is founding dean of the Musco Center.

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Chapman’s educational programs in music, theater and dance are expected to occupy the new stage up to 75% of the time, said Hall, a choral conductor who has taught at Chapman since 1963.

Consultants and a soon-to-be-hired executive director will plan the rest of the offerings -- a combination of professional touring talent and community groups that can rent the theater. Hall said the Musco Center will seek headliners willing to augment their performing engagements for the public with master classes, lectures or other educational opportunities for Chapman students.

The Musco Center is named for a Newport Beach couple who have been major donors to opera in Southern California. Paul Musco, a founder of Gemini Industries, a precious metals refining company in Santa Ana, is a vice chairman of Los Angeles Opera’s board. Chapman announced its campaign to build the performing arts center in 2009, saying that an anonymous donor had promised $25 million if the university could raise a matching amount from others. At the time, the venue was estimated to cost $50 million.

Hall said the Muscos raised their gift considerably. A university spokeswoman said it totaled $38 million, while noting that, officially, the Muscos have not been publicly named as the donors even though they led the funding campaign and the building is named for them.

Domingo is donating his performance on opening night, March 19. By then, Hall said, he should be well-acquainted with the Musco Center’s stage, having volunteered to help with the fine-tuning of sound balances during the three months before it opens.

“He wants to come in and sing when no one’s there, and I’ll walk around the hall and tell him how it sounds,” Hall said.

Domingo will be present, symbolically, at the Musco Center every time the curtain opens or closes: Hall said it’s being named the Placido Domingo Grand Curtain.

Hall’s connection to Voigt, who also studied at Cal State Fullerton, goes back to her first rehearsal as a freshman at Chapman in 1978. Her talent instantly became clear, he said.  “I’d say, ‘Sopranos, everyone sound just like that.’” Hall said that although he didn’t expect Voigt’s classmates to match her extraordinary vocal power, they could aspire to her tonal purity.

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Hall said he hit it off with acoustician Toyota in 2003 during the tuning period for Disney Hall, when the dean conducted singers to help Esa-Pekka Salonen find the right dynamic balance between orchestra and singers during choral pieces. Hall said he quipped that Salonen, then the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director, had revved the orchestral volume so high that it was blowing the voices out of the building -- and Toyota concurred.

Given that -- and how Disney Hall sounded -- he realized he had to hire Toyota for the future Chapman center, Hall said.

The Musco Center’s architect is Pfeiffer Partners, whose other Southern California cultural projects include the Colburn School of music in downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 1980s Art of the Americas building (which will be demolished if a planned makeover of LACMA’s campus becomes a reality), a 2006 underground addition to the Griffith Observatory, the Muzeo exhibition space in Anaheim and the Clayes Performing Arts Center at Cal State Fullerton.

The Musco Center is designed to allow scenery, set pieces and equipment to enter and exit easily from above the extra-large stage and from the wings, Hall said. The aim is to accommodate up to three different uses each day as well as elaborate set changes during performances.

That, Hall said, will mark a big upgrade from the campus’ current 800-seat Memorial Hall, where opera, concerts and other productions have to make do with a single, unchanging set.

The Musco Center’s opening will kick off what Hall described as a “demo season” next spring. Among the offerings will be student performances of Puccini’s one-act operas “Gianni Schicchi” and “Suor Angelica,” a theater department staging of “The Merchant of Venice” and a dance festival, C.U. Dance: A Celebration and Collaboration of Regional Dance Ensembles, including Anaheim Ballet and Backhausdance. Opera singer Rod Gilfry will inaugurate a “Great Voices” concert series on May 7.

Follow boehmm  of the LA Times for arts news and features

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