Cardon V. Burnham, Jr., 1952-1958

Tulane Opera Workshop 1952-1985

In 1922, Newcomb School of Music began what was to become a 30 year tradition of staging a Gilbert and Sullivan work each year in December. For all appearances, the department’s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan works such as The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore had become anticipated features of the winter concert season. By the early 1950s, however, the music school was looking to expand its operatic offerings. Newcomb Music School founder and director, Leon R. Maxwell, found just the person to lead this effort in Cardon V. Burnham, Jr.
Burnham had just graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1950 with a Master degree in music theory and composition. He was invited to join the Tulane faculty by Maxwell in April 1952 as an Instructor in Music and Director of Choral Activities. That fall, Burnham was teaching sight singing, ear training, and dictation at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. Additionally, he was responsible for directing what Maxwell described as a “very strong and successful” choral program which already included men’s glee club, women’s glee club, a cappella choir, Festival Chorus, and, of course, an annual Gilbert and Sullivan production.
Maxwell’s letter of hire to Burnham (available in full to the right) suggests a particular preoccupation with the development of the music school’s opera program. As Maxwell wrote, “It is in connection with the operatic presentations that your youthful strength and drive will be most needed.” He went on to reference current operatic offerings and stressed that Burnham would have to perform all duties of preparation and stage craft as well as recruitment of student performers. Burnham wasted little time in getting to work, creating the Tulane-Newcomb Opera Workshop in the spring of 1953. The first two productions of the Opera Workshop included Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea and Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone. The performance of two chamber operas in one concert as done in this inititial concert became the model for future Opera Workshop productions long after Burnham’s tenure at Tulane ended. Over the course of his six year career at Tulane, Burnham staged 14 operas and at least two concerts featuring scenes from a variety of operas: 1953: The Telephone (Menotti), Riders to the Sea (Ralph Vaughan Williams), La Vie Parisienne(Offenbach), The Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan) 1954: The Prodigal Son (Debussy), Amahl and the Night Visitors (Menotti), The Incomplete Education (Chabrier) 1955: The Impressario (Mozart), Le Pauvre Matelot (Milhaud) 1956: Nitecap (Burnham), La Serva Padrona (Pergolesi), Knickerbocker Holiday (Weill) 1957: Aria da Capo (Burnham), Malady of Love (Engel) 1958: The Medium (Menotti)

Der Schauspieldirektor, opera, K. 486: Overture