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Patrick L. Veitch, 59; Ex-Director of Orange County's Opera Pacific

May 03, 2003|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Patrick L. Veitch, the controversial general director of Orange County's Opera Pacific from 1996 to 1997, died Sunday in Cincinnati. His death was ruled a suicide by the Hamilton County coroner's office. He was 59.

A former head of Pennsylvania Ballet and the Australian Opera, Veitch took over a financially troubled Opera Pacific in 1996, facing a $1.1-million deficit -- one-fifth of its overall budget. Then, as now, the company put on four productions a year at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

To reduce costs, Veitch cut the staff of 20 in half, reduced the number of performances for each production from six to four, eliminated double casting and canceled plans to co-produce the premiere of American composer Lowell Lebermann's "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

Within a short time, key board members, staff and volunteers began resigning, citing Veitch's abrasive style and autocratic manner. Some major donors also complained.

Still, it was Veitch who was credited with improving the artistic product by providing the Santa Ana-based company with more rehearsal time and by hiring conductor John DeMain, former director of Houston Grand Opera, in 1997 as Opera Pacific's first music director.

"It was Patrick who decided we should restructure our rehearsal schedule to spend more time in the theater," DeMain, who is now artistic director, said Friday. "That was a significant contribution, which began to lay the groundwork for us to improve the quality of our productions."

Veitch also pleased patrons by moving curtain times up to 7:30 p.m. so that they could get home earlier.

Veitch left the post abruptly in 1997 after 15 months in the job. Neither Veitch nor then-board Chairman Patrick T. Seaver would explain the departure. By then, despite Veitch's cost-cutting efforts, the deficit had grown to nearly $2 million.

Veitch's term at Opera Pacific mirrored events during his years at Pennsylvania Ballet (1989-91) and the Australian Opera (1981-86) -- resignations, firings and hirings of key personnel, recriminations, and increasing financial problems, all mixed with artistic successes.

Conductor Richard Bonynge, who worked under Veitch at the Australian Opera, told the Australian newspaper on Sunday that "although we didn't get on 100% due to artistic differences, he did some very good things for the opera."

A memorial service for Veitch was held Friday in Cincinnati.

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