Another memory is of going backstage after a concert to meet the great Joan Sutherland here in San Antonio. Labatt was about eleven years old, and was studying the role of Amahl in Amahl and the Night Visitors. Sutherland asked him if he liked opera. When he told her that he was studying Amahl, she began spontaneously to sing the part of Amahl’s mother. He sang back. Backstage in San Antonio, he spontaneously sang a duet with Joan Sutherland. He subsequently sang Amahl in San Angelo and for the Young Persons concert of the San Antonio Symphony, where his “mother” was the great San Antonio soprano Jane Braswell
Joe Labatt went on to have many experiences in the arts. He wrote an original opera Navarro, which was performed at UTSA. He has recorded three albums of original songs as a singer/songwriter. He also wrote a play about Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant. As a student he led the Princeton Tigertones at Princeton University, and recently founded a similar student acapella singing group at Incarnate Word.
The San Antonio Opera Festival ran annually beginning in 1945, and until the death of conductor Victor Alessandro in 1975 four operas were offered every year. San Antonio was very blessed in the opera available here in those years. Richard Tucker came to San Antonio many times, and Dorothy Kirsten’s husband was a San Antonian, so she too was very much a regular performer here.
The other operas presented in 1968 were Tales of Hoffman with Placido Domingo (a year before his Met debut) and Beverly Sills (singing multiple roles), La Traviata with Anna Moffo and Sherrill Milnes, and Der Rosenkavalier. San Antonio’s opera festival was a star-studded event. Reportedly the old Municipal Auditorium, more than twice the size of today’s Tobin Center, sold over 3000 tickets for every performance.
Our thanks to Professor Labatt for sharing his memories of those glory days.