Last week, we reported the passing of Peyton M. Hibbitt, 93, who died March 1 of natural causes at his home in Binghamton following several years of declining health.
For many in our arts community, Hibbitt’s is a familiar name, but for those who don’t know his impact on Broome County, allow BAMirror to share some of the highlights:
Hibbitt and Carmen Savoca (1924-1998) performed a musical miracle in 1949 when they founded Tri-Cities Opera. The company, which began with modest productions sung by regional talent, evolved into one of the preeminent opera training companies in the United States. As a vocal teacher and coach, Hibbitt guided numerous singers to their full professional potential. Several developed significant international opera careers.
Peyton Hibbitt was born on August 27, 1925, in Los Angeles. His family later moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., where he graduated from Kalamazoo High School. After serving as a naval sonar technician during World War II, he attended the Philadelphia Conservatory and the Philadelphia Music Academy. Subsequently, he studied voice with renowned Metropolitan Opera tenor Paul Althouse.
While still a student, he served as assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Oratorio Society. It was in Philadelphia that he met his future TCO partner, Carmen Savoca.
At TCO, Hibbitt served as music director, principal conductor and vocal coach of the Resident Artist Training Program during the company’s first 50 seasons.
For 20 years, Hibbitt also served as adjunct professor and co-director of the Master of Music with a specialization in opera program at Binghamton University in conjunction with Tri-Cities Opera. He received the University Medal, which is one of the highest honors that the university can bestow.
As a guest conductor, Hibbitt made his European debut at the Teatro Regio in Parma, Italy, conducting the Arturo Toscanini Symphony Orchestra. He also led performances at the Bilbao Opera Festival in Spain. In the U.S, he held the post of music director of the Elmira Symphony from 1960 to 1966. His American guest conducting credits include the Chautauqua Opera Association, Arizona Opera, Wichita Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Syracuse Opera, Opera Theatre of Greater Lansing, Cincinnati Opera, Rochester Opera and a critically acclaimed New York City debut with the Chamber Opera Theatre of New York.
He was the founder of the New York State Opera League, was appointed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to the advisory panel of the New York State Arts Council and served in the U.S. delegation to the International Conference on the Education of the Young Singer in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 2008, he received the Broome County Arts Council’s prestigious Heart of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hibbitt is predeceased by his parents, Mildred Plumb Hibbitt and Ralph Hibbitt, and his siblings, Ralph Hibbitt and Annie Leavens, as well as by Savoca and by Duane Skrabalak, who became Artistic Director of TCO after Hibbitt retired.
He is survived by his former student and lifelong friend, Paul Arnold; his dear friend Shelley Washington and his many devoted students. Toward the end of his life, his devoted caregivers were Wanda Battle, Marilyn Torres and Gail Finley.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday (March 9) at Main Street Baptist Church, 117 Main St., Binghamton NY 13905. Burial will be at Vestal Hills Memorial Park in Vestal. No calling hours are planned.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Main Street Baptist Church; to the Alzheimer’s Association, 401 Hayes Ave., Endicott, NY 13760; to Tri-Cities Opera, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton, NY 13905; or to the Duane R. Skrabalak Memorial Award in Music Fund (details at http://donorswhocare.org/skrabalak/).
– – Barb Van Atta