- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

Martin Feinstein, the Washington National Opera’s long-time general director whose know-how turned Washington into a serious musical contender, died of pancreatic cancer Feb. 5 at his Potomac home. He was 84.

Best known for raising the opera’s performance standards, Mr. Feinstein served a 16-year stint there after leaving his post as the first executive director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Under his direction, the number of opera performances jumped from about 16 annually to nearly 80. The $3 million annual budget grew to about $12 million, and ticket sales soared from about 30,000 annually to more than 85,000.

He steered the opera toward becoming the first U.S. opera company to produce a repertory season in two separate theaters. The theaters also began to use English supertitles to help audiences better understand the operas.

Eugene B. Casey, the Washington Opera’s life chairwoman, said Mr. Feinstein crafted a new musical motif that drew new talent and international stars — think Placido Domingo and Gian Carlo Menotti — and influenced the growth of arts throughout the metropolitan area.

“He made an invaluable contribution to our opera company and to the development of the arts in general in Washington, D.C.,” said Mrs. Casey, who met Mr. Feinstein when he was appointed general director in 1979.

“He really educated me and my fellow trustees about many aspects of opera production, and educated the community about opera as well. He personalized opera for us. The opera world will mourn him his passing,” Mrs. Casey said.

Born April 12, 1921, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Feinstein picked up his first violin at age 10 and saw his first opera, Alfredo Salmaggi’s production of “Lucia di Lammermoor,” at age 12.

“The curtain went up; they came out in kilts and sang, and I was hooked,” he later said of the production.

He graduated from the City College of New York and worked 25 years as public relations assistant to legendary impresario Sol Hurok.

The Kennedy Center hired him in 1971, and he played a pivotal role in its planning and construction. In addition to pioneering changes at the Washington Opera beginning in 1979, Mr. Feinstein served as president and chief operating officer of the National Symphony in 1980.

“He was a master at what he did,” said Linda Reynolds Stern, widow of violinist Isaac Stern and Mr. Feinstein’s assistant for nearly 25 years. “I don’t think they make impresarios like that anymore.”

“I think his legacy is the joy and the music that he brought to literally thousands of people through his work, which he loved,” John Feinstein said of his father.

A 1994 article in The Washington Times article described the opera impresario as “dapper [and] at-ease,” “trim and compact,” “poised [and] comfortable.”

“I think the Washington Opera is highly respected by the artists in the field,” said Mr. Feinstein, who earned a master of arts degree from Wayne State University and a doctoral degree in fine arts from the University of Maryland, among other degrees. “I think we’re an important opera.”

He retired in 1995 to pursue “bigger and better challenges.”

“The important thing in this business is to never feel you’ve accomplished everything,” Mr. Feinstein said. “There’s always more to do.”

After retiring, he became a professor of arts at the University of Maryland at College Park and served as a consultant for the Washington Opera.

Mr. Feinstein and his wife also ran an antiques business, and he worked with the National Endowment of the Arts and with Opera America, where he critiqued opera companies across the country.

Survivors include his wife of 11 years, Marcia Teller Feinstein; two sons, John Feinstein of Potomac and Bob Feinstein of McLean; a daughter, Margaret Feinstein of Arlington; a brother; a sister; and six grandchildren.

Sonny King, 83,Vegas entertainer

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Sonny King, a longtime sidekick of Jimmy Durante and a veteran Las Vegas lounge singer, died Feb. 3 after undergoing treatment for cancer. He was 83.

Mr. King was Mr. Durante’s partner for 28 years until Mr. Durante died in 1980. They appeared together on Ed Sullivan’s show five times in the 1960s.

Mr. King broke into the Las Vegas entertainment scene at Sahara’s Casbar Lounge in 1955 and later was dubbed “Lounge Giant” by Frank Sinatra.

He performed in Las Vegas through last summer, when he became too weakened from radiation treatments to continue.

While Mr. King was never considered part of the Rat Pack, he was close friends with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and its other members. He also appeared in the Rat Pack movies “Robin and the Seven Hoods” and “Sergeants 3.”

He roomed with Mr. Martin for 6 years during their formative New York years and introduced him to Jerry Lewis, who became Mr. Martin’s partner.

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