Long Leaf Opera Staff
Executive and Artistic Director
Randolph Umberger, PhD (1942-2011), retired as a Senior Professor of Theatre at North Carolina Central University, where he chaired the department for seven years and taught for forty. In addition to teaching courses in Shakespeare, theatre history, playwrighting, European and American dramatic literature, and theatre administration, Dr. Umberger was also the supervisor for the undergraduate Critical Foundations Division of Arts and Humanities. He held a B.A. from UNC-CH in Dramatic Art, English, and British History; an M.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill in Dramatic Art; and a Ph.D. from Tulane University in Theatre Literature and Criticism.
The author of over a dozen plays and musicals, he was the author of two North Carolina outdoor dramas, The Liberty Cart (ran for thirteen years) and Strike at the Wind! (ran for thirty years), and wrote or adapted a large number of plays for professional and university productions. Remembered Nights, with music by composer Benjamin Keaton, was written for the 125th anniversary of Thalian Hall in Wilmington. Of Mules and Men, which he wrote and directed, won the Kennedy Center Medal for the American College Theatre Festival as best new university play in the nation and was performed at the Center three times to critical acclaim in 1991.
He directed over one hundred productions, including classical and contemporary plays, musicals, operas, and outdoor dramas. He served as Artistic Director for the Durham Savoyards, Ltd., and directed the entire full-length Gilbert and Sullivan canon several times. He was artist-in-residence and/or lecturer at Furman University, Duke University, NC School of the Arts, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Chapel Hill, Pembroke University, and directed for the Carolina Playmakers, Opera House Productions in Wilmington, The Durham Theatre Guild, Jenny Wiley State Theatre of Kentucky, Opera Ft. Collins (Colorado), plus touring productions in northern England, and for Chez Nous Productions in Paris.
In 1998, he co-founded, with Benjamin Keaton, Long Leaf Opera. This professional opera company, dedicated exclusively to the production of opera written originally in English, is the only company in the nation with that mission. Since its founding, the multi-cultural company has produced over fifty operas, ranging from classic America pieces to cutting-edge world premiers. In only twelve short years, the company has become recognized around the world as an enduring presence in the American musical scene. At a Trustee Awards banquet in New York, it was recently recognized by Opera America as one of the most significant new forces in the encouragement of American composers and opera today.
Umberger and Keaton have single-handedly directed – and often commissioned – much of this repertoire, including seventeen regional, national, and world premiers. The critical acclaim of the company has grown with each successive production.
A published poet and composer, Randolph authored the theatre section of a Humanities and the Arts text book and the recently published Brighter Leaves, the history of the arts in Durham. His latest play, Bye Bye, Blackbirds, played a month's limited engagement at the Harlem Theatre Company in New York City, and his adaptation of the G&S musical, Utopia (Un)limited, was performed in Cornwall, England, as the summer touring show for Cambridge University.
Randolph (his friends called him Ranny) traveled extensively in Europe and in the Southwestern United States. As a result, he painted Southwestern landscapes, which he called "isolations", because they contain no references to a human presence. He had one-man shows at the North Carolina Arts Gallery in Carrboro, the Bill Hester Gallery in Chapel Hill, St. Philips Art Show in Durham, and New Elements Gallery in Wilmington. He also completed three novels and a book of meditations.
Umberger sat on a number of boards, including a professional ballet company, a salon in Paris, and an organization that funds housing and rehabilitation for prisoners and drug offenders. He was an active member of St. Philips Episcopal Church, a socially committed parish in downtown Durham, and sat on a board which provides educational funds for Native Americans in graduate studies.
Maestro Benjamin Keaton is a well-known composer and conductor who has directed opera and musical theatre throughout the southeast. Mr. Keaton holds an undergraduate and master's degree in music from East Carolina University with additional graduate study at UNC-Chapel Hill. He taught in the Department of Music at North Carolina Central University for eighteen years and has been musical director for the Carolina Playmakers, The Durham Theatre Guild, The Liberty Tree, Jenny Wiley State Theatre of Kentucky, The Lost Colony, and Opera House Productions of Wilmington. He has also served as conductor for Opera Ft. Collins in Colorado, has conducted in northern England, and is opera advisor for Chez Nous Productions in Paris.
He was music director for the Durham Savoyards, Ltd., for whom he has directed the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon twice, together with Places, Please!, his four-movement symphony for chorus and orchestra based on themes from all thirteen operas.
He has composed the music for four outdoor dramas, including Paul Green's Lone Star, and Randolph Umberger's The Liberty Cart. He composed the score for Remembered Nights, the 125th anniversary musical for Wilmington's Thalian Hall, and has composed a number of song cycles and choral anthems. His re-settings of traditional Christmas carols are performed by choral groups throughout the country.
Benjamin has established scholarships for voice majors and opera productions at his alma mater, ECU, and is a contributor to many opera companies and charitable organizations outside of LLO and throughout the United States. He was awarded an Outstanding Citizen Award by the Durham Jaycees for his contribution over the years to the cultural enrichment of the Triangle.
Two new works for chorus were premiered this year by St. Phillips Episcopal Church in Durham, and his collaboration with Umberger on Utopia (Un)limited was also performed in a summer production by Cambridge University.
Ben sits on a number of boards, including Legacy Ballet Company and ACRA. He was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award for 2009 by the School of Music of East Carolina University, and in the same year was made a Life Loyal Sinfonian for having established a lifetime of loyalty and commitment to Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Most recently he received the prestigious Trustee Award for 2010 from Opera America for his exemplary leadership and generous monetary support for American opera and for emerging composers of English language opera around the world. The award was presented at a glittering banquet in NYC, sponsored jointly by Bank America and Opera America.