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Longtime sponsor of Santa Fe Opera, Chamber Music Festival dies

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Anyone who set foot inside the home of Edgar Foster Daniels immediately knew what the man was all about.

“His house here in Santa Fe is just filled to the brim with recordings of operas, literally thousands of recordings, and historic ones, and books about music and signed programs from operas he has attended as well as dozens of operas that he had funded with opera companies all over the world,” said Robert Meya, general director of the Santa Fe Opera.

Edgar Foster Daniels, a longtime sponsor of the Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, has died. He was 88.

The home also revealed a man who loved the visual arts and was an avid art collector, Meya said.

A longtime and major supporter of the Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Daniels, whose health had been declining in recent years, died on July 31. He was 88.

Steven Ovitsky, executive director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, said, “Edgar was in many ways a larger-than-life person, a character. He loved music and lived that life to the fullest, and there aren’t that many people like him who are also generous and believe in the arts so deeply that it becomes a focal point of their lives.”

Daniels was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. His grandfather owned the News and Observer Publishing Co., which published the Raleigh News and Observer. Daniels, however, was not interested in the news business. Instead, he was drawn to acting.

He began studying acting at the University of North Carolina and later attended Columbia University, where he graduated with a degree in drama and theater arts.

He began his career with roles on Broadway and then moved to California where he performed in television, film and theater for the next three decades. He retired from acting in 1983 and relocated to Santa Fe.

After his family’s publishing company was sold in 1995, he turned his full-time attention to philanthropy and established the Edgar Foster Daniels Foundation, which provided financial support to opera companies and musical endeavors throughout the United States and around the world.

Daniels underwrote productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera and the San Francisco Opera. He also supported Austria’s Salzburg Festival, Germany’s Bayreuth Festival and England’s Glyndebourne Festival.

“He was kind of a Renaissance man. He was vivacious and witty and loved to tell jokes,” said Meya, a friend for two decades. “Edgar was also very connected to people in the opera world. All of his friends were aficionados, and the people he loved to socialize with were equally knowledgeable about opera and about music.”

Daniels had been a supporter of the Santa Fe Opera for at least 40 years, and a major donor since 1992, Meya said. Particularly fond of Richard Strauss, Daniels sponsored 15 of the German composer’s operas. Seven Strauss operas had their American premieres in Santa Fe, Meya said.

Daniels was a member of the opera’s Summit Society, people who have donated more than $1 million; the Aria Society of planned giving; and a former opera board member, vice chairman and honorary director.

“He provided such significant funding that it created the foundation upon which we were able to produce very elaborate productions with beautiful scenery and beautiful costumes, and it helped the opera attract some of the best singers from all over the country and sometimes from all over the world,” Meya said.

As a supporter of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Daniels sponsored the noon concert series starting in 2006, Ovitsky said. He later increased his sponsorship, “which allowed us to go from six noontime programs to 10,” he said.

“Edgar loved vocal music, and we decided to do a vocal series at noon. Edgar added a considerable amount of sponsorship to that, so we could do a new series of five more noon concerts,” Ovitsky said.

Daniels became a member of the festival’s board of trustees in 2007, and in 2009 was a recipient of the Gifford Phillip Award for his contributions to arts, and the festival in particular.

In 2015, Gov. Susana Martinez honored Daniels’ philanthropy and presented him with the Governor’s Award for the Arts.

“Edgar was the most gracious host,” Ovitsky said. “He had these wonderful parties at his home to celebrate people who came to Santa Fe to perform. At one end of his living room he had a raised section, like a little stage, and the Chamber Music Festival did private performances for 60 or 65 people. Sometimes he’d host outdoor receptions at his home. It was just glorious.”

Daniels, he said, was “totally devoted to music and opera, and he loved being able to support that. He was one of a kind.”

Daniels is survived by several cousins and other extended family members. He was buried in the family plot in the historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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