Mark Richter, founder and artistic director of the Alamo City Opera, is remembered as "a visionary leader" in San Antonio opera. Credit: Courtesy / Facebook

Mark Richter, the founding artistic and general director of Alamo City Opera, has died at age 51.

Richter died Sunday night at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, where he had been hospitalized for about 10 days, said Carol Karotkin, founding president of the opera company’s board. Richter, who Karotkin said had not been feeling well for several weeks, was sedated during his stay, and “he never was in pain,” Karotkin said, praising the care of doctors and nurses in the unit.

Funeral arrangements were not yet available.

Karotkin said his death was a great loss for her personally “and for the city, too.” She praised Richter’s passion for opera, his humility, and his capacity for running an arts organization.

“He had remarkable record of being a creative mind in the music world,” she said, noting that he maintained deep relationships throughout the opera world, including producing two major San Antonio performances by Placido Domingo, at the Alamodome and AT&T Center.

Overall, Richter produced more than 80 works for the stage, said Kristin Roach, Alamo City Opera’s music director, while leading organizations including the Pocket Opera, the Lyric Opera of San Antonio (which became San Antonio Opera), then Opera Piccola, and finally Alamo City Opera. The company, founded in 2012, mounted smaller-scale productions than the grand opera staged by Opera San Antonio.

“He was just a force,” Roach said. “He brought together all these forces from the City and the County to develop a funding base for opera and for the arts in general. I don’t think any of us have any idea all the different things he had his hand in.”

Richter told the Rivard Report in 2018 that the form of small opera, such as Alamo City Opera’s production of María de Buenos Aires, was perfect for San Antonio’s audiences and culture.

“Not to take anything away from grand opera, which is very powerful,” he said, “but people across the country are looking for new elements of entertainment, and intimate opera is flourishing.”

Alamo City Opera’s January production of the popular contemporary opera As One was notable in part for being the first production with a transgender performer, Liz Bouk, in the lead role. Written in 2014, As One was the newest opera Richter had produced, Roach said, but his range extended to the classics of the form, like English composer Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas of 1689.

That opera is sometimes considered a “museum art form” stuck in the 19th century bothered Richter, Roach said. “The field of opera is constantly changing,” she said. “We’ve done all kinds of different things [with Alamo City Opera] just because he thought it was important to help people to understand just how many facets there were to opera,” she said, citing the Star Trek-themed version of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, produced in 2016 in collaboration with the Pacific Opera Project.

“He was just a visionary leader,” Roach said.

Karotkin said Richter’s vast experience in the arts was a boon to the community. “It was staggering how many people would call him to ask for advice,” she said. Yet, “Mark never bragged. You’d never hear him talk about it. If anyone did it was me, because I was so proud of all he did. I know he will be missed.”

“Mark made his mark on San Antonio,” said Kathleen Weir Vale, San Antonio Symphony board chair. Vale recalled her days singing more than a decade ago with the San Antonio Choral Society, from whose members Richter would frequently choose to sing in productions such as Italian composer Pietro Mascagni’s Cavaleria Rusticana.

“He was really something,” Vale said. “He was just driven. That was his lifeline … he ate, slept, and drank opera.”

Richter produced grand opera even at a time when skeptics told him it couldn’t be done, Vale said, and Roach agreed.

“If he said he was going to do something, he did it,” Roach said. “And he would almost always be up against this wall of people telling him ‘You can’t do that.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, just watch me,’ then off he’d go.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a noted opera fan, commissioned Richter to lead the production team for the first phase of the Tricentennial Opera Sueños de Bexar, performed in 2016 and called him “a good friend.”

“We always supported his operas financially,” Wolff said of the county. “He found a niche for himself. … We’re going to miss him.”

“Mark is a giant in our world. He will greatly missed,” Roach said. “I don’t think any of us can possibly fathom the reach that he’s had. He had such a passion that just kept growing.”

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for Richters’s family and funeral expenses, accessible through this link

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...