Thursday, September 8, 2016

L. Wayne Batty (1922-2016)

L. Wayne Batty, the longtime voice professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and impresario of hundreds of productions of opera and musical theater in Richmond since the 1950s, has died at 94.

Perhaps most widely known for staging Christmas-season performances of Gian
Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl
and the Night Visitors” at the Altria Theater, Batty was the teacher and mentor of generations of singers in Richmond and well beyond. His best-known student, tenor Thomas Moser, became a major figure in opera in Europe, singing on the roster of the Vienna State Opera and with other major companies.

Staging locally produced opera, often in tandem with his wife, Mary Jane Ellis Batty, with the Richmond Opera Company and in Festival of Arts productions at Dogwood Dell, Batty devoted special attention to contemporary American scores. He led one of the first performances of Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa” following its premiere in 1958 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

(In 2002, Batty accompanied me to a Washington National Opera revival of “Vanessa,” with Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role and Rosalind Elias, who portrayed Erika in the original production, as the Old Countess. Attending that performance, I missed the biggest news story to come of Ashland during the 27 years I lived there – the southernmost attack in the killing spree of the Washington snipers. The musical lore that Batty recounted during the trip more than compensated for my missing the big story.)

After singing with the World War II-era Army Air Corps Stage Band led by Henry Mancini and completing musical studies, Batty joined the faculty of what was then Richmond Professional Institute in 1949, and subsequently served for 12 years as chairman of the school’s music department. When he retired in 2007 after 58 years, he was both the longest-serving VCU professor and the longest-serving state employee.

An obituary by Ellen Robertson in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: