Remembering Louise Dieterle Nippert
I had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Nippert for 27 years. Liesl was not only lovely and gracious, but also talented, informed, witty, and whip-smart. She and her late husband Gus did so much for so many people and organizations and never wanted recognition or acclaim. She said just seeing the smiles on the faces or the positive results of what she did was all the thanks she needed.
Cincinnati Opera would not be the company it is today without the decades of support provided by the Nipperts, and Cincinnati would not be the wonderful city it is without their visionary generosity. Her legacy will live on through the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund, which ensures that Cincinnati Opera will continue to have one of the finest orchestras in the world playing for us for years to come, in addition to all of the many other anonymous gifts to the Opera and the community that she has made over the years.
Patricia K. Beggs
General Director & CEO
July 23, 2012
I keep only a few photographs on my desk. Memento clutter is not my style, so I choose the images I look at nearly every day with care. You can imagine perhaps several of them: my partner Thom, my mother, and something funny to keep me grounded and remind me I’m not doing brain surgery or rocket science. Not much else. One photo that has long held pride of place was taken in the Music Hall Green Room several years ago. I treasure it today more than ever. In it, I’m kneeling alongside Louise Nippert, the now-late doyenne of arts philanthropy in Cincinnati.
She had just been to a Cincinnati Opera performance and had come back to the Green Room, as was her longtime practice, to greet and welcome the artists. In recent years, she was confined to a wheelchair and sparing in her speech, but her presence was cherished by the artists and her warm smile spoke volumes. Mrs. Nippert died this week, and with her passing an era comes to a close. She was the last in a line of formidable women in Cincinnati history who made Cincinnati arts institutions matter at home and famous abroad.
Both the Symphony and the Opera were founded primarily by women. Though their fortunes began with their husbands, those men were wise enough to know that successful philanthropy always needed the mental and emotional balance only a woman can bring to the table when it comes to sensible and passionate artistic stewardship. In Cincinnati, those names are legendary: Anna Sinton Taft, Mary Emery, Patricia Corbett, Irma Lazarus, Elizabeth Wohlgemuth Herschede, and of course, Louise Dieterle Nippert.
Patricia Beggs, our Cincinnati Opera General Director and CEO, was close to Pat Corbett, as well as “Bee” Herschede and Irma Lazarus. Patty also knew Mrs. Nippert for nearly three decades, and from what Patty tells me, I would have loved knowing all these women in the high noon of their years. As it is, I have been fortunate to know Mrs. Nippert for all eight years of my tenure as Artistic Director at Cincinnati Opera. Patty made certain that Mrs. Nippert (“Liesel” to her family and close friends) was one of the first people I met after my appointment.
It seems like yesterday that I first entered her drawing room at Greenacres, her beloved home and farm in Indian Hill. The room is bright, airy, filled with loving photographic and painted memories of her husband Louis, her friends and the countless artists whose lives and careers she helped over seven decades. A piano is prominent in the room, appropriate for a woman who sang with professional skill for many years.
She was a patient listener as I (slightly nervous) explained my background and my enthusiasm for the job I was about to undertake. I did not come empty-handed. Two of our Young Artists of that season came with me to serenade her. Her smile at the end of the first aria sealed the deal. I was OK. As it would be for the next seven years, two or three times each year, our mini concert for her was always followed by tea, elegant crustless chicken salad sandwiches and Greenacres signature mango raspberry tea – a Louise Nippert specialty. I understand that had I attended such an event a few years earlier, Mrs. Nippert would have prepared the repast herself.
If I have a singular happy memory of Mrs. Nippert, beyond regular encounters at the Symphony, Pops, CCM and of course, Cincinnati Opera performances, it is one important afternoon at Greenacres. Mrs. Nippert had given a substantial gift to help us create a Cincinnati-inspired production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger for our 2010 90th Anniversary Season. When the economy tanked in 2008, we had to abandon the original concept of a brand new production, and purchase a set from Germany at a savings of nearly one million dollars. However, we still needed Mrs. Nippert’s substantial gift to make Die Meistersinger possible in the “new” economy.
Her loyal associate Carter Randolph said that the best way to approach this was to simply speak directly to Mrs. Nippert. So, off to Greenacres Patty and I went, with my wonderful colleague, Marcus Küchle, whose fluent, native German was always a pleasure for Liesel to hear. We walked her through the plot of the opera, and just when I got to the point in the story where Beckmesser unknowingly makes a total ass of himself in front of the entire population of old Nuremburg, Mrs. Nippert pealed forth with the most hearty laugh I’ve heard in a long time. She smiled and said: “I love it” and our production was secure.
That was the essence of Louise Nippert. She knew herself so well. She knew what mattered in being a philanthropist. Her generosity to Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Ballet, May Festival, CCM, and countless other institutions in our city carried on the legacy of those great women who came before her.
Will we see her like again? Probably not. The way in which money is made and given has changed. So many worthy causes vie for the precious philanthropic dollars in any city. It is my hope, however, that if you are reading this, you will remember her example and perhaps if Dame Fortune smiles on you, man or woman, you will think about this: the arts in a community help define its value not only to the world at large, but to those who live within its boundaries. Louise and Louis Nippert not only paid it forward, they kept it at home, where it could do good for those close and dear to them personally. Give. Please give to worthy national and international causes, but save some of your largesse for “home.” For those gifts, your children and their children after them will thank you.
The Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director
July 25, 2012