Her gifts enriched Palm Beach Opera’s young artists program and provided scholarships for Dreyfoos School of the Arts students.
Gladys Benenson, benefactress of Palm Beach Opera’s young artists program and arts student scholarships, died on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, in New York City after a short illness. She was 93.
Mrs. Benenson, who had homes in New York City and Palm Beach, trained as a singer and pianist early in life and studied at The Juilliard School. She never lost her love of music.
When she wasn’t attending an opera, concert or ballet, she had her radio tuned to classical music. She and her late husband, Edward, shared a passion for opera and attended performances all over the world.
Mrs. Benenson loved crossword puzzles, tennis and golf. She was an ace card player. She enjoyed traveling, especially to Paris, where she would stock up on perfume and dine at the best restaurants.
"She was elegant, she was witty and she had lots of character," said Daniel Biaggi, Palm Beach Opera’s general director.
She joined Palm Beach Opera’s board in 1994, and for the past 10 years served as vice president of the executive committee.
For many years, she sponsored a prize for the annual vocal competition, which was discontinued in 2012. She played a key role in the organization’s decision to then make young artists training one of the focal points of its mission.
At the time, the company had retrenched, reducing the number of its productions, slashing its budget, and redirecting its attention from annual to multi-year contributions that would enable it to plan for the future with a more stable foundation.
Mrs. Benenson was one of the first to come forward with a multi-year commitment, when in 2012, she pledged $200,000 annually for three years, most of it aimed at upgrading young artist training.
"With her generosity she established what would become a nationally recognized young artist program to carry the name of Palm Beach Opera to the rest of the world," Biaggi said. "Her leadership in making a multi-year investment at that time inspired others to believe in the future of the company."
The training program’s top tier was renamed the Benenson Young Artist Program in 2015 when she donated $1 million to support it for four years. In 2018, she renewed her commitment with another $1 million gift spread over five years.
During the five-month residencies, the singers learn stagecraft and performance skills and receive career guidance. They cover lead roles and sing smaller roles on the main stage and perform outreach concerts. Graduates have gone on to sing at major opera houses around the world.
Mrs. Benenson’s interest in young singers stemmed from her desire to see opera continue to thrive as an art form.
When she attended opera performances she would scan the hall and say "look at all the people with gray hair," daughter Lisa Quattrocchi recalled. "All you see is gray hair. We need to get younger people to enjoy and be exposed to opera."
At the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Mrs. Benenson established the Edward H. Benenson Scholarship Fund in 2009 for scholarships for students attending summer arts programs or pursuing college degrees in the arts. Over the years, 84 scholarships totaling $210,000 have been distributed through the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation. Mrs. Benenson served on the foundation’s board from 2006 to 2017, when she became an emeritus member.
Each year, the foundation hosted a luncheon on the school’s campus in West Palm Beach when students who attended summer programs on Benenson scholarships talked about their experiences.
"She just loved hearing about where they’d gone and what they’d done with their art," said Kris Lidinsky, the foundation’s executive director.
Mrs. Benenson also was a longtime member of The Society of the Four Arts.
She is survived by daughters Ronnie Igel and Lisa Quattrocchi of New York City; son Andrew Benenson of Connecticut; grandchildren James Igel of Minnesota, Brian and Johanna Igel and Nicole, Cynthia and Kyle Quattrocchi of New York City, Nina Quattrocchi of Santa Barbara, Calif.; and great-grandchild Dylan Igel of New York City.
Contributions in her memory can be made to the Benenson Young Artist Program at Palm Beach Opera, Suite 301, 1800 S. Australian Ave., West Palm Beach, Fla. 33409 or pbopera.org/makeanimpact/.