Jan DeGaetani and Turnau Opera Players

Hello, Friends,

This week, I’ve thrown myself back into research mode as I piece together Jan’s steps from Juilliard in 1955 to the year her first marriage to Tom DeGaetani ended sometime in the early 60’s.

Gems. Open one more file. Turn over one more copied ancient article or review. Read one more paragraph. Round the corner.

This past weekend, Dad came over for dinner and we streamed The Lost City of Z on Amazon. We both liked the movie a lot, appreciated the slow walk of the first half and the sudden accumulation of well-laid plot lines, characterizations and suspense of the second. (I just ordered the book.) As I sift through artifacts I found and received at Eastman in Rochester last fall and from more boxes in Carole Cowan’s attic, I feel the momentum. Press on. It is a jungle-hunt in the Amazon, following this path set decades before I cross it.

I’m endlessly humbled by the seeming chance–fate?–of what I find, I’ve what I’ve been given. The synchronicity. After all the research I’ve organized, filed, stored, there are still pieces handed to me by folks along the way: Thank you, David Raymond for your collection of seeming disparate articles. In this pile, I find the missing links about Jan’s two seasons with a fledgling New York City opera company, The Turnau Opera Players.

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild

Jan sang here with the Turnau Opera Players from NY, NY in 1956 and ’57. Woodstock, NY.

Jan spent 8 weeks in Woodstock, NY during the summers of 1956 and ’57–the group’s 2nd and 3rd seasons, singing multiple major and lead opera roles.

Dorabella in Cosi, The Queen of Spades in Ashley Vernon’s Grand Slam, Volpino in Haydn’s The Apothecary. Venus in Vernon’s Cupid and Psyche, a World Premiere. Zanetto in Mascagni’s Zanetto. 

Michael Charry was Maestro. In one review by Alexander Semmler, the company is lauded: “Sung in an excellent English translation, Mozart’s opera buffa came vivaciously to life, musically and dramatically, with all the sense of fun, musical wit, and exquisite tonal charm that Mozart’s genius for the theater endowed the work with. Here was living theatre, pure in style, yet unburdened by academic stuffiness. Here was musical comedy on the wings of great music. Here was an integrated ensemble of beautiful voices…A rather unique feature of the performance was the beautiful blending of voices between soprano Lucille Sullam and mezzo-soprano Jan Ruetz as Dorabella.

Turnau Opera Players Woodstock, NY

Turnau Opera Players’ second or third season, Woodstock, NY. 1956 or ’57. This opera was performed in repertory both seasons.

During the 1957 season, Jan sings in English Cenerentola, Miss Todd in Menotti’s Old Maid and the Thief, again, The Queen of Spades, Zanetto, and Dorabella.

  1. One review for Cenerentola from the Catskill Mountain Star dated July 11, 1957 states, “Ideally suited to the title role was Jan Ruetz, Mezzo-soprano, who brought not only beauty of voice but a beguiling believability to the exacting role. Miss Ruetz was in complete command of her pristine pure voice as it floated out beneath the proscenium arch. This
  2. blue-eyed Cinderella came into her full stature in her final aria, which is indeed a vehicle for the voice, but which she sang with a sure touch and with much beauty.”

    Jan Ruetz (DeGaetani) Professional Headshot

    This professional photo was most likely taken by the time Jan graduated from Juilliard or shortly after in 1955. It is the one she uses through the late 50’s for all promotion.

Indeed, behold that stunning photograph of her stunning self, her “headshot” for those early years of singing and performing after graduating from Juilliard.

And at the end of this review, the writer states, “ A special bravo to Tom DeGaetani for his excellence in scenic and lighting effects.”

Here’s what I mean about reading one more article, turning one more stone: Finding facts about Tom DeGaetani and their marriage in the late 50’s has not been easy. I have been able to learn details about Tom’s career (it’s interesting and for another post), but exactly when and how they met, I really don’t know (yet). Tom was director of lighting and sets at Juilliard for many years. Raymond Gilbert, a graduate student when Jan was there told me stories about working with Tom as a grad assistant and how he often saw Jan backstage, “hanging around” to be near Tom.   “She was always nice, gracious, and had a lovely reputation!”  But here is evidence of their blossoming romance: they both worked for Turnau Opera that summer of 1957; they were married in ’58.

I read this batch of articles, research the Turnau players online and learn more about those early years of Jan’s life and career after leaving school. It’s fun. I mean, to learn that she and Tom spent a summer together doing essentially summer stock (many reviewers and patrons called it this even though it was mostly opera) somehow makes them both even more human to me, and I feel as if I’ve discovered the missing city…every little nugget feels like a win as I imagine in greater detail her early life in New York as a professional singer.

And everything begins to connect. As I finished a draft last week of the piece about composer Pia Gilbert , I uncovered more about the dancer who taught Jan the importance of movement in her singing and music making. Then this week, I understand now how it was Jan would have run into this woman while rehearsing Miss Todd in The Old Maid and the Thief. More on that next time.

PS: Jan DID do summer stock during the summer of 1956 as well. She was most likely hired in the chorus at The Dixie Theatre in-the-round at the Music Fair Tent in Toronto Canada. Check out this newspaper clipping for upcoming shows.

Jan DeGaetani at Dixie Theater in the round, Music Fair Tent, Toronto Canada

Jan spent at least one season performing musical theater in Canada at the Dixie Theater in the round Music Fair Tent. She is actually featured in two articles, up front and center! Always genuinely smiling. Having a good time.


About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
This entry was posted in Friday Roundup, Fun Research Tidbit, Images, Reflecting on Jan and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jan DeGaetani and Turnau Opera Players

  1. Pingback: Jan DeGaetani and Dance | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

  2. DEBORAH LOW says:

    Thank you Dawn for your interesting work and research of Jan and Tom DeGaetani.
    You’re so right, there isn’t much history available. I would really love to learn more about them.
    I was an elementary school child during their romance and I was very far away.
    Far away, not only geographically but emotionally. I yearned everyday for some information about my father Tom….never did it come. Never did I learn anything until 1964, and that was very little.
    To this day I search and find precious little. If you have any information about them or Tom I would love, love to hear of it. Thank you, Deborah DeGaetani Low


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