On the Chartreuse Couch: Margaret King Stanley

View of Reality from a Chartreuse Couch. Photo by Ansen Seale

Gene: So, Margaret, Welcome to the  Chartreuse Couch. Where the arts come to converse.

Everyone loves the arts here in San Antonio and you have been a main instigator of this spiritual awareness all these many years with dance, the symphony, and now opera. And I know you want to speak on that topic and the new Tobin Center. I am always interested in political art and world control. How do you think we can get opera to take over the world? Let’s start a conspiracy. People love conspiracies. We’ll call it the Opera Conspiracy.

Margaret: I don’t think that opera can take over the world. Opera demands knowledge and some background to really enjoy. Especially, one must want to try opera. People are often afraid of opera, even though it is just like a musical or a novella, but more so!

Gene: Oh, I think you are wrong about that. Opera has already taken over some parts of the world. Major cities have succumbed to this strange power: Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Houston, Santa Fe. It’s a major force bringing murder, mayhem, sex, violence, death, betrayal, intrigue, tales of other worlds, lovers’ quarrels. I could go on and on. And now this Opera Conspiracy is about to infiltrate the San Antonio community. It’s terrifying!!!!! What do you think we should do to protect our innocent San Antonio community?

Margaret King Stanley

Margaret King Stanley

Margaret: Opera lovers need to talk up opera and encourage people to try it.

Gene: Well I knew you would have some sensible advice on the matter. What do you think it would take to convince these doubters that opera is a good idea?

Margaret: People need to attend a performance with someone who enjoys opera and support the local opera company, Opera San Antonio.

Gene: And your favorite opera is?

Margaret: I’ve always loved Tosca. The music is supreme. What’s yours?

Gene: I do have to admit that I greatly enjoyed Nixon in China. Having it in English is a big help. And I think any new modern topics would interest me. I really want to see the new British opera about Anna Nicole Smith. That sounded outrageous. And of course I want to see the one about Harvey Milk.

Margaret: I’d love to see Anna Nicole as well. Although I love the traditional opera, I also greatly admire and enjoy the new and avant garde. I especially like John Adams’s operas, Nixon and Dr. Atomic.

Gene: You also have always been involved with getting symphony and opera into the elementary schools, too. I think we would like to hear about that.

Margaret: Education has always been one of my main interests. I used to teach and know what a good teacher can do to help children learn. Sadly, the arts have been cut out of the schools to save money, and so I decided to bring the arts to the children through our Opera Guild education program. This program, in association with UTSA,  exposes over 16,000 children to opera each year. They love it!

Gene: We are glad to hear that. And art education in the schools is always a struggle. Why is that?

Margaret: Yes. It is arts education that is a struggle. Why don’t politicos understand that the arts, music especially, help children learn?

Gene: And we all should make a point of asking art questions of our representatives. I have brought the topic up to District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, State Rep Mike Villarreal, and District Attorney candidate Nico LaHood. But I feel like other artists don’t bother to do this. What do you think?

Margaret: Certainly expressing our interests to our representatives is important. The more who do this, the more it will make an impression on the politicians.

Gene: You have really been an inspiration to all of San Antonio through the years, not only with the San Antonio Performing Arts Association and your interviews with musicians on the Trinity radio station but just being available to always speak to groups and people who want your opinion. What kind of advice do you have for those of us who want to be arts leaders when we grow up?

Margaret: If you love the arts as I do–and believe in the great power of the arts, you will want to share it with others.

Gene: Yes, the power! Do you think there are any young, inspired art leaders coming up in San Antonio?

Margaret: I am sure! Young people still get excited about opera and museum shows–often it is all new to them.

Gene: You travel a lot. What other ideas from other cites do you think would work well here?

Margaret: We will probably never be Vienna or Berlin in terms of opera performances and operatic devotion, but certainly we can emulate them in our smaller way, bringing the arts to our starved community. A season of rock stars and Broadway musicals may be fun, but real music–the Symphony and the opera, will prove to be more lasting. And now we have a really promising ballet company, which impressed me very much on opening night at the Tobin.

You probably remember how exciting it was when I brought the Joffrey here and the Lila Cockrell Theatre was sold out and people were screaming for encores! We need more of this.

Gene: I do remember the Joffrey and the ballet that you worked so hard to get the city to provide money for. It would be good to see that again–Jamboree–I think it would really inspire new patrons to know that happened. San Antonio is the only city to commission a ballet, and thanks to you for that. I also remember a great Early Music Festival that was presented while you were the director for the San Antonio Performing Arts Association. Tell us about that and how neat it was. Maybe someone will get an idea from this.

Margaret: The Chicago Tribune devoted a half page to our festival the first year. This was a major event done in cooperation with the Dutch Government and, later, Germany and Mexico. Early music groups from all over the world came here to perform and visitors attended from as far as Australia. I loved seeing visitors on the street with an Early Music program in their hand, walking to the next event. Nearly all of the events were downtown in churches and historic places. The festival spotlighted San Antonio’s Missions and beautiful King William homes. It could have been a major attraction for years in the city. Very sadly, the Board of San Antonio Performing Arts wasn’t “into” early music. I thought it was the most important thing I did.

Gene: Yes, it was a superb idea. To go from a church to the back yard of the Alamo to places on the river, then to parks and the missions. And this event lasted for a week. You are always ahead of the curve when it comes to presenting the new stuff to San Antonio. And this is the kind of thing that the hotels are looking for because of the business that it brings to them. Yes, that was a really great event. It made full use of downtown. We felt like we were in a quaint European city.

You were honored at a recent Arts San Antonio dinner.

Margaret: Arts San Antonio gifted me with a beautiful Baccarat butterfly award thanking me for “Lifetime Service to the Arts.” A great honor!

Gene: I want to know what is your favorite place to eat here, and have you ever seen a UFO?

Margaret: Well, that’s coming at me from two directions! I’ve never seen a UFO to my knowledge and I’m still looking for my favorite place to eat!

Gene: About Robert L.B.Tobin. He is a hot topic at the moment. You knew him and you know about the Santa Fe Opera to which he provided great support. Inform our listeners about Robert.

Margaret: Robert Tobin was a brilliant man, very knowledgable on many subjects, especially opera and the arts. He loved the arts from boyhood and had friends around the world in the field of arts. He was guided at the beginning by his fabulous mother, Margaret Tobin. The two of them have given San Antonio a lasting legacy–his collection at the McNay, his Oakwell Farms estate, and many libraries and parks named in his honor, including the new Tobin Center. I could go on for pages on the Tobins’ contributions to life in San Antonio, New York, and Santa Fe.

Gene: And the thing I enjoy the most is his huge theater-arts collection [at the McNay], with the drawings of costumes, miniature stage designs, and just the collecting of ideas on paper that artists have lying around their studios. Anything else we should discuss?

Margaret: Let’s talk later when we can look at how our new theater has worked out.

Gene: Well, we know how it worked out for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was a success. This was performed in the black-box theater at the Tobin. Your thoughts on our first opera at the Tobin?

Margaret: All of the four performances were sold out, but then the theater is very tiny. It is really too small for even a small opera production. You are losing money, even sold-out, before you open. So I hope in the future our operas can be in the large theater called the “H-E-B.” Salome will be there in January. Mr. Fox was not in there since the Tobin staff did not leave enough time for any rehearsals in the big hall, and the singers must rehearse at least a few times with the scenery in the space that they will sing in. The Tobin staff needs to learn about the needs of opera since the H-E-B is being used for so many things, from classical to pop performances.

As for the Alvarez theatre, I think it is fine for small theater productions. It is intimate, and I like that about it. But you can’t make back the costs of opera without a whopping ticket price, which we don’t want to have.

Gene: I always let my guest ask me the last question.

Margaret: I think you are a wonderful friend. Are you aware of that?

Gene: I am now. But that’s not a question, that’s a compliment. Well, I am glad that I have a photo of you presenting an award to Martha Graham in the Time Capsule that I curated for the San Antonio Museum of Art–to be opened in 2181 AD–when you were the executive director of the San Antonio Performing Arts Association. I am planning on reincarnating then, and I hope you will, too.

Margaret:  What a great idea!

Gene: And then you get to sign the Chartreuse Couch.

Margaret: Thanks, Gene. You are special.

Gene: What’s special is to be invited to have tomato aspic with you. When we talk again I would like for you to give everyone your recipe. That is my favorite place to eat.


Gene Elder is the archives director for the HAPPY Foundation and an arts activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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