Phebe Berkowitz-Tanners credits Central City Opera (CCO) with launching her life’s purpose. She says it best, “Everything I’ve learned and loved in my life came from my time in Central City.” Phebe first came to Central City as a 7-year-old in 1953. Her father was a violist with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and at the time most of the musicians for CCO came from the Met or the Cleveland Orchestra. Phebe and her two siblings had never been west of Chicago prior to this trip and with the saloon doors throughout CC, the children felt like they had stepped back into the Wild West of 1853!

Berkowitz family Central City-bound, 1953

Phebe spent every summer for 10 years in Central City. She and the other kids would watch every opera rehearsal, memorizing all the songs (at the time in CCO’s history, all the operas were in English). She and the other kids—children of CCO staff, singers, orchestra performers, etc.—would then put on their own productions of the operas. In Central City, Phebe learned how to listen and appreciate opera as an art form.

Phebe went on to study opera at Indiana University and then was hired by the Hamburg Opera in Germany. She went on to work at Paris Opera, San Francisco Opera and then, from 1971-1988, as Executive Stage Manager for the Metropolitan Opera. 

Phebe returned to Central City after nearly 50 years and found that “Central City didn’t disappoint. It is even more exciting now than it was in the 1950s.” She has made significant gifts to CCO to honor her father. “Central City Opera is a unique, landmark festival with a jewel of an opera house. This is a special American story and it is worthy of our support.”

“1956 was a highlight of my summers growing up. It was the year CCO had the world premiere of The Ballad of Baby Doe. Life Magazine—a premiere publication at the time—covered opening night. Central City Opera had an open, friendly atmosphere then and it still does today!”


Hear more about Phebe’s experiences growing up at Central City Opera and the incredible, international CCO community that she encountered throughout her career as a stage director. Phebe is featured in episode 7 of our new video interview series Opera Central, “where artists and administrators come together to talk about the world of the arts.” Check it out at