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Muriel Wolf, UB Music Professor, Opera Director Dies

Release Date: December 28, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Muriel Hebert Wolf, 84, emeritus professor of music at the University at Buffalo, where she taught voice and directed the very successful University at Buffalo Opera Studio, died Dec. 10 at her home in Waltonwood-at-Main, Rochester Hills, MI.

Wolf, a native of Nashua, NH, was an influential member of the Western New York music community and a member of the faculty of the UB Music Department from 1965 until her retirement in 1993. She taught, produced and directed opera in the Buffalo area during that time, including two productions a year at UB.

Wolf eschewed exclusive concentration on 19th century opera and her credits extended over a wide range of traditional, American and contemporary works. She commissioned an opera to celebrate the American bicentennial and mounted major productions with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and at Artpark and at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. An educator to the bone, she also made it a practice to prepare opera scenes for presentation in area schools.

In the early 1980s Wolf began to use innovative techniques like amplified sound and the inclusion of bits of film in her productions – years before it became a practice of such institutions as the Metropolitan Opera.

"The university should be a laboratory for the creation of new works, new concepts," she said, and insisted that human experience and extreme emotions addressed by opera made it "terribly relevant" to contemporary life, noting that, when properly presented, opera had the same gripping power as soap opera.

She demonstrated as much with "Psychopera or Madness in Opera," a series of lectures she developed in the 1980s with UB psychiatrist Stuart Keill in which the two presented opera as psychological thriller. Wolf discussed the opera's composer, plot, and such troubled operatic figures as Shostakovich's "Lady MacBeth of Minsk," Othello, Mimi, Tosca, Lucia di Lammermoor and Madame Butterfly.

Performers sang arias that demonstrated psychopathologies that UB's Keill claimed were inherent in the characters. He pled insanity on behalf of many of the operatic killers and the audience served as a jury. They presented their lectures in Buffalo and were a big hit at the 1984 American Psychiatric Association meeting. They also put together a special series for UB graduate students.

Wolf was the founder and director of Music Theater Advocates, Inc., an organization that worked to establish a permanent opera company on the Niagara Frontier and was an associate editor of Opera Quarterly, the journal of the National Opera Association.

Wolf held master's degrees in voice and musicology from the New England Conservatory, where she met and married her first husband, the late flutist and composer Anton Wolf. She spent two years as a Fulbright Fellow at the Max Reinhardt Seminar for Theatre Arts at Vienna's University of Music and Performing Arts, and the university's Mozarteum in Salzberg.

Upon her return to the United States, Wolf became Soprano-in-Residence at Brandeis University. She and her husband next taught at an experimental school for gifted children in Arizona before joining the faculty of Indiana University. They came to Buffalo in 1965 where he joined the music faculty of Buffalo State College and she became a member of the UB music faculty.

Both were very active in the Buffalo music community as was her second husband, bassist Albert P. Steger, a longtime member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Wolf taught many successful vocal artists, including Ellen Lang, a touring soloist who performed with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and other major venues.

She is survived by Steger, her sister Marjorie March and brother Fred Hebert, both of Nashua, NH, stepson Paul Steger of Portland, OR, and stepdaughter Christine Klein of Royal Oak, MI.

Her funeral was held Dec. 15 at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak.

Donations can be made in Wolf's memory to Alzheimer's Association, 20300 Civic Center Dr., Ste. 100, Southfield, MI 48076 or Odyssey Hospice, 2592 S. Telegraph, Ste. 102, Southfield, MI 48034 or to a charity of your choice.

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