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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media – comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Local media is still his beat and he’s bringing his interest, curiosity, contacts and unique style to Cincinnati Public Radio and 91.7 WVXU. Contact John at johnkiese@yahoo.com.

First Sorg Opera House Concert Sunday

WVXU-FM archives
The Sorg Opera House in downtown Middletown.

Middletown's historic Sorg Opera House reopens with a concert Sunday, two weeks before Cincinnati's Music Hall's grand re-opening.

Credit John Kiesewetter
The Sorg Opera House property includes the Commercial Building on Main Street with retail space and an upstairs ballroom.

The 1891 performance hall at 53 S. Main St. in downtown was built by Middletown paper magnate Paul Sorg. It was designed by Samuel Hannaford, the architect who also designed Music Hall and Cincinnati City Hall. The Sorg has "nearly perfect acoustics," says Jeff Johnson, a former audio engineer and a Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) board member.

The Sorg Opera Revitalization Group, the all-volunteer non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which owns and manages the building, will re-open the theater with a 4 p.m. concert by the Butler Philharmonic Orchestra. Some of the old Music Hall seats were donated to the Sorg, which played movies as the Colonial Theater from the 1940s into the 1980s.

Music Director Paul John Stanbery will lead the orchestra playing songs by Ellington, Gershwin, Brubeck and more," says Chuck Miller, SORG board chair and former WNKU-FM general manager.

Miller fell in love with the building – and decided to rescue it – after WNKU-FM purchased Middletown's old WPFB-FM (105.1) and WPFB-AM (910) in 2011.  WNKU will cease operating FM 105.9 on Sept. 28, when buyer Grant County Broadcasters and classic country WNKR-FM acquire the station and launch a new format on Monday, Oct. 2.

Here's the SORG release with more details about the concert and revitalization effort:

Celebrate the Sorg with the Butler Philharmonic

Sorg Opera Revitalization Group announces upcoming benefit concert featuring the Butler Philharmonic Orchestra at the historic Sorg Opera House in Middletown, OH.

The Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) announces a soft reopening with the building’s first concert in over six years thanks to a partnership with the Butler Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO). “Celebrate the Sorg,” will feature the 60 piece orchestra Sunday, September 24 at 4 p.m. 

Music Director Paul John Stanbery will lead the orchestra through works by Gershwin, Ellington, Anderson, Brubeck and more. The concert will also feature vocal selections by internationally known opera soprano Jessica Rivera, fresh off her role as Musetta in Cincinnati Opera’s production of La Boheme. Sharing the Sorg’s stage will be Cincinnati Opera’s baritone Thomas Dreeze who debuts with the Cincinnati Symphony in October’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  After the performance, the BPO and SORG will host an in theater reception for all ticket holders.

A chance meeting between Ms. Rivera and Maestro Stanbery plus a tour of the 1891 Sorg Opera House was the genesis of the concert.  Stanbery asked Jessica to sing from the stage as he evaluated the acoustics and quickly decided to produce a concert in the Sorg.  In subsequent planning meetings, Stanbery’s enthusiasm for the project resulted in a signature sponsorship from Kettering Health Network, a not-for-profit network of eight hospitals, Kettering College, and over 120 outpatient facilities serving the greater Dayton and Cincinnati areas. The funding from the network’s signature sponsorship will allow the majority of the proceeds to benefit SORG’s renovation and awareness efforts.

Kettering Health Network plans to build a 67,000 square-foot medical facility on land it purchased in Middletown on State Route 122, just southeast of I-75. The facility will include a full-service emergency department, outpatient lab and imaging services, and a medical office building for physician practices. “We are so happy to support the arts in Middletown and the SORG’s renovation,” says Jarrod McNaughton, executive vice president of Kettering Health Network. “We look forward to being part of the Middletown community with the completion of our new medical facility. As a member of this community we are committed to investing not only in the health of our neighbors, but in ways that enrich Middletown—including the arts.” 

Though some work may be in progress and more work remains, the concert offers guests an opportunity to hear the acoustics as designed along with great sight lines of the stage. SORG’s Jeff Johnson, a former audio engineer claims, “We’ve tested the sound in the building and the acoustics are nearly perfect. It will be great to hear the orchestra perform on our stage.” 

“For an all-volunteer non-profit group we have had a great year,” notes SORG’s Ken Bowman. “The donation of 800 plus Cincinnati Music Hall seats was a real game changer.” Board chair Chuck Miller reflected upon the massive effort just to get the theater to its current state.  The list included: new entry doors; removal of the old seats and drop ceiling; floor prep; new seat installation; balcony railing enhancement; new fire escape doors; major plumbing repairs leading to patron restroom renovations; roof repairs; box seat restorations; reinstallation of the house theater curtain; sprinkler system repairs; and ongoing patching, priming and painting. “Our volunteers are the value and lifeblood of the theater.”

Recent grants from the Louis & Louise Nippert Charitable Foundation; the Middletown Community Foundation; Premier Health Atrium Medical Center Foundation; matching grants from Downtown Middletown, Inc, and the City of Middletown; in-kind donations from Hosea Project Movers, Safe Skies Aviation and Bohannan Roofing; public support; plus a recent benefit sponsored by the Windamere have moved the project forward. SORG notes the community volunteer efforts backed by the contracted work of Lamb & Webb; Ohio Valley Sprinkler Inspections, Beck Studios, Dayton Metal Doors; and Montesi Enterprises as being invaluable to the theater’s renovation.

Tickets for “Celebrate the Sorg” will be available starting at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, August 9 through CincyTicket.com. More information about the Butler Philharmonic and a link to purchase tickets can be found at www.butlerphil.org. A complete catalog of Sorg Opera House repair images is available on the Sorg Opera House Facebook page. Doors will open at 3:00 p.m, Sunday, September 24. All proceeds benefit SORG’s renovation fund. The Sorg Opera House is located at 63 S. Main St., Middletown, OH, 45044.

The Sorg Opera House is owned and managed by the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG), an all-volunteer non-profit 501(c)(3) organization established to provide programming and services that make an essential contribution to the cultural economy, economic revitalization, education, and quality of life of Middletown, Ohio and its region. SORG proposes to revitalize and operate the Sorg Opera House as a multi-purpose, multiple genre venue and as a catalyst for community economic development and partnerships within Middletown and the Cincinnati/Dayton metroplex.