The Music Academy of the West announced two major gifts in the space of a few days last week. Shirley and Seymour Lehrer of Santa Barbara have donated $3 million in support of ongoing programming and facility upgrades, which includes a $1 million challenge grant that will be used to complete renovation on the Academy’s recital hall. The second gift announced was that of Santa Paula soprano and Music Academy alumnus Irene Cummings, who bequeathed her 16-acre avocado ranch in Santa Paula to the Music Academy specifically to endow future Academy opera productions. News of this gift was greeted with cheers and applause at the opening night of A Wedding, the Music Academy’s opera offering for 2008.
The Lehrers previously donated another $1 million to fund the construction of the Lehrer Studios at the Academy, which were completed in 2006. They have been active participants in the Academy’s Compeer program, which brings together donors with Academy fellows and other members of the community for informal social events throughout the summer, since 1998.
Cummings, who appeared on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s television program The Ford Show in the late 1950s through 1961, attended the Music Academy in 1951, studying with John Charles Thomas, Richard Lert, and Lotte Lehmann. Cummings has remained a close friend and associate of Marilyn Horne, the distinguished mezzo-soprano who directs the Academy’s vocal program. In a statement released accompanying the announcement of her bequest, Cummings said that “Marilyn has said she wants to make sure there will always be opera at the Music Academy. Through this gift I am doing my part to make Marilyn’s wish an enduring reality.”