At times Ross' devotion to Italian opera appears almost charmingly naive. He was surprised to discover, when a production of Don Giovanni sold out a few years back, that Mozart could sell--failing to recognize a war-horse in German.
The scheduling of a La Donna del Lago is an example of Ross in his teacher mode. The director often succumbs to the curious habit of opening a season with long, stuffy works, such as this season's version of Verdi's mammoth Don Carlo, a five-act opera light-years beyond the attention span of all but the most devoted aficionados. Light operas, operettas, even short, modern one-acts, all the bread and butter of other regional companies, have never been a part of the Arizona Opera under Ross. One gets the feeling that Don Carlo and La Donna del Lago are there not because they're good for business, but because they're what Ross likes and thinks his audience should see.
Stuffy or not, there's no arguing that the Arizona Opera has attained financial stability under Ross.
Arriving in Arizona in 1984--at the behest of Pat Tully, the wife of former Arizona Republic publisher Duke Tully--Ross took over a then-struggling Arizona Opera. By cutting deals and costs, Ross put the opera back on a solid financial footing in less than two years. Since then, as the Phoenix and Tucson symphonies, Ballet Arizona and Arizona Theatre Company all ran up deficits--ATC's at one time exceeded $1 million--the Arizona Opera Company remained that rarity, an arts organization in the black. A company that was a half-million dollars in debt the day Ross arrived now boasts a $250,000 cash reserve and a $250,000 endowment fund. In addition the Opera owns $500,000 in real estate, which includes its Tucson headquarters, a house in Scottsdale and its office building in Phoenix. Always ready with a good quote, Ross cites a financial theory that goes back to his Nebraska boyhood.
"There's an old Swedish proverb I learned from my mother," he says, flashing the toothy grin that is one of his trademarks. "I learned early in the game to take from the top of the sack rather than the bottom."
@body:In his long and varied career, one experience changed Ross the most. In 1954 he journeyed to Bayreuth, Germany, to see Wagner's Ring cycle produced firsthand. Ross learned much from the festival's director at the time, Richard Wagner's grandson, Weiland Wagner, acknowledged as the most creative member of the family to control the festival.
The Ring became for Ross opera's finest expression. It would become a passion that would literally give him something to live for nearly 40 years later. According to Ross, his life has been a series of fortunate accidents controlled by "a choreographer that watches over me." It began, improbably enough for a future opera director, on December 15, 1914, in south Omaha, Nebraska. Ross' father, Herman Aus, was a Norwegian immigrant turned Texas cowboy who drifted north and married Ida Carlson, another Scandinavian immigrant who had grown up in a sod house in Nebraska. The family, which included Glynn and his older brother, moved to a farm in Sarpy County outside Omaha in 1921. Raised on the Great Plains during the Depression, Ross learned the value of money after his father died in 1936. Taught by his mother to "take a dime and give a nickel to the church and a nickel to the bank," Ross came to believe in the virtues of hard work and thrift. He was not raised with culture or music. In fact, his most vivid musical memory from Nebraska concerns hearing what he labels "Bohunk dance music."
Some of Ross' personal history seems embroidered, if only because he's repeated it so much. The self-proclaimed "hot property" of his high school glee club and drama class, Ross left Omaha after being fired for sleeping on the job at a meat-packing plant. His high school drama teacher had gone to the Leland Powers School of Radio and Theatre in Boston, so in the summer of 1937, Ross wrote them and said he was coming. At the Powers School, Ross became enamored of Shakespeare, which led him to Stratford-upon-Avon where, in the summer of 1938, he worked as a gofer. After two more trips to England before the war, Ross returned to the States on a ship he now calls "a Who's Who of the arts." His shipmates included the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, pianist Arthur Rubinstein and the Russian tenor Vladimir Rosing. After landing, Rosing asked the 26-year-old Ross to accompany him west to assist Albert Coates, then conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in forming an opera company there. In the spring of 1940, Ross gained his first directorial experience assisting Rosing in a production of Faust that included sets and costumes by the Works Progress Administration.