Union Notables

Helena Binder    class of 1976

Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme
Lake George Opera, 2007

Helena Binder has distinguished herself as an actor, director of plays and musicals, and director of opera.  Born in Schenectady, she entered Union College in the Class of 1976, choosing to live all four years in North College rather than at home.  Her career in the theatre business seems destined from the start of her collegiate career, as she missed most of Freshmen Orientation to take part in the on-campus filming of The Way We Were

While at Union, Ms. Binder was a Fine Arts major, which included courses in art, music, and drama. In later years, when she turned her attention to opera, she found having a background in all three disciplines during her college years to have been an advantage.  She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Educational Theatre from NYU.

In the early 1970s there was no Department of Theatre at Union.  Nonetheless, Ms. Binder did get to act in productions of Moonchildren, Tartuffe, and Arsenic and Old Lace, which were put on by the student group, Montebanks.

In the 1990s she was invited back to Union College as a guest director for Ten Little Indians and Equus and she choreographed a production of When Black Patent Leather Shoes Reflect Up.  She has maintained other professional connections with the College.  She has, for instance, collaborated with Bob Bernhardt ’73, Music Director of Chattanooga Opera, on four opera productions.  Professor Charles Steckler has designed the sets for Ms. Binder’s productions of The Rothchilds and A Little Night Music.  Her interest in education has led her to work with the young artist programs of Minnesota, Portland, Saratoga, and Glimmerglass Operas and to a position as Lecturer in Acting in the Opera Institute of Boston University’s School of Fine Arts.  She is also a guest teacher in Improv at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering.

A list of her opera productions includes opera companies across the country.  A selected list of these companies and some of the works she has directed include:

New York City Opera:  Ermione, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, and Madame Butterfly

Minnesota Opera:  L’italiana in Algeri and The Tales of Hoffmann

Dallas Opera:  The Barber of Seville

Pittsburgh Opera Fidelio

Opera Toledo:  Madame Butterfly

Opera Saratoga:  L’italiana in Algeri, La Bohème and Madame Butterfly

Chattanooga Symphony and Opera:  Madame Butterfly, The Magic Flute and La Bohème

Opera Roanoke:  La Traviata and Hänsel and Gretel

Portland Opera:  Rodelinda and Fidelio.

Ms. Binder has the distinction of being the director of the oldest political satire revue in the country, namely the New York State Legislative Correspondents Association Show, which she has directed for almost three decades.   As an actor, she has performed in the United States and abroad in roles ranging from Peter Pan to Shakespeare’s Juliet.

When asked her philosophy about opera production, Ms. Binder wrote:  “I regard myself as a storyteller.  I approach each opera as new material that has never been seen before, striving to connect with the story personally and find what is real and what is truly in the text as well as the music, rather than just doing what is expected.  What is being said and how is it meaningful to today’s audience?  How do I connect with it?  And I’m always looking at the big picture.  What is the story I want to tell?”

Ms. Binder’s career offers today’s Union College students a wonderful example of what can happen when one combines talent with a strong liberal arts education.  Ms. Binder has developed skills in a variety of artistic disciplines and uses them in both the professional and educational realms.