Photo: Alan Brown
A native of New Jersey, Nicholas received his formal education at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in vocal performance, conducting and theater work with Herbert Blau. He subsequently studied voice in Washington, D.C. with the late Todd Duncan, who created the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess, while at the same time pursuing various conducting projects such as Dido and Aeneas at the American University and working as an ensemble member of The Theater Lab with Tony Abeson.
Relocating to New York City, he continued projects as a singer and conductor while beginning his work as a stage director. In 1982, he received a fellowship from the National Institute of Music Theater to study with renowned Metropolitan Opera singer and vocal coach Alberta Masiello in a unique program designed to coalesce musical and theatrical values. In 1983, he was appointed Principal Stage Director and Artistic Advisor to the Kentucky Opera, a position he held until 1988 when, until 1990, he served as Director of Drama with the Metropolitan Opera Young Artist Development Program.
In the late 1980’s he served as an assistant to two directors of international repute. With Jean-Pierre Ponnelle on productions of Lulu in Munich and Carmen in Chicago. He also worked with Peter Sellars in developing his acclaimed production of Così fan tutte.
From 1985 to the mid 1990s, he was active with the National Endowment for the Arts as an on-site evaluator and panelist for company and project grants. He is presently on the recommending panel of ARIA (Awards Recognizing Individual Artistry), an organization providing individual grants to promising young singers. As a freelance stage director, he has directed over two hundred productions with companies in North America, Europe, and Australia.
From 1988-1993, he served as Artistic Director of Tulsa Opera. During his tenure there, he produced and directed two American premières: Verdi’s Le Trouvère, the French version of Il Trovatore, and Rossini's Armida, both of which were broadcast on National Public Radio's "World of Opera" series.
He also directed a highly successful and controversial production of La Traviata, which was purchased by New York City Opera and presented during their 1991 and 1992 seasons.
Another innovative project while at Tulsa was The Spanish Trilogy: new productions of Carmen, Fidelio, and Il Barbiere Di Siviglia integrated into a cycle through a single concept and scenic design. These productions have since been presented in Dallas, Baltimore, Edmonton, Columbus, Nashville, and Winnipeg.
His fruitful relationship with the Houston Grand Opera and Seattle Opera has resulted in two acclaimed co-productions: Il Trovatore, which has been seen in Seattle, Houston, Tulsa, Melbourne and at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, and Norma, which has been presented in Seattle, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Additional work with Houston Grand Opera includes the world premiere of Jackie O, an opera based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that was also presented at Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada. His work at the Canadian Opera Company includes Lulu (three act version), Rigoletto, which has also been presented in Edmonton, Tulsa, Ottawa, and Minnesota, and Jenufa, which was presented in the autumn of 1996 in Vancouver and at Cincinnati Opera in 1998.
For the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, he has created productions of La Finta Giardiniera, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Iphigènie en Tauride. The Minnesota Opera is another company which fostered his early work, where he has directed Rusalka, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, and two world premieres: Libby Larsen's Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, and Robert Moran's From the Towers of the Moon.
The 1993-94 season marked his European debut at Stadttheater Gießen with La Fille du Régiment. Its success led to subsequent engagements at that same theater for productions of Idomeneo, Die Zauberflöte, and The Rake's Progress.
The 1993 season also marked debuts with Boston Lyric Opera with the American premiere of the Neopolitan version of Bellini's I Puritani, and La Bohème at the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria. In what is considered one of his most interesting projects, he directed a unique chamber version of Berg's Wozzeck in a co-production of the Banff Center for the Arts and Montreal Nouvelle Ensemble Moderne.
In 1996 he was appointed Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera Association, which boasts an impressive heritage of opera — founded in 1920, it is the second oldest company in America. COA is a summer festival, presenting four productions during the months of June and July in Music Hall, an historic theater seating 3,400. The COA collaborates with the Cincinnati Symphony, which plays for all its productions, and has one of the finest professional choruses in the country.
Cincinnati Opera has experienced impressive growth during his tenure, featuring a doubling of the company budget, expansion of the repertoire, creation and presentation of new productions, the development of a long range plan and the launching of The Festival Campaign, a blended capital/endowment drive to support future excellence.
Company premieres: Jenufa, The Turn of the Screw, Pelléas et Mélisande, Bluebeard, Erwartung, Nabucco, Dead Man Walking, Elektra, La Voix humaine, The Seven Deadly Sins and the world stage premiere of Medusa, Der Kaiser von Atlantis / The Maids (U.S. premiere).