Paul Musco—A Tribute

Paul Musco receiving the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2018. Left to right: Chairman of Ellis Island Honors Society Nasser J. Kazeminy, Marybelle Musco and S. Paul Musco and Jo Ellen Chatham. 

Orange County has lost a beloved man, breathtaking entrepreneur, volunteer leader and meteoric philanthropic figure who transformed many institutions while inspiring people with his joyous sense of humor, his amazing life stories and wisdom. His love for his beautiful wife, Marybelle, and family was clearly boundless. 

For Pacific Symphony, he was a catalytic investor in the relaunch of professional opera productions in Orange County.

“Opera is what results when an astounding number of things fail to go wrong.” This somewhat whimsical statement, oft quoted in the worldwide opera community, might be modified in Orange County to say “Opera is what happens when Paul Musco gets involved.” When viewed more metaphorically, “opera,” for Paul, signified a broader meaning. For him, it was a vehicle to better understand the human condition, to nurture talents and change lives.

Throughout Paul’s lifetime, and more especially in the latter half of his long and impactful life, Paul was the consummate definition of a philanthropist—a “person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” The list of worthy not-for-profits who have benefitted from Paul and Marybelle Muscos’ investments is long and varied. In some cases, they would make a modest gift to encourage a smaller organization or jump-start a fledgling project. Other times, they made a public and major commitment, which would vault a building campaign, endowment or major project that would challenge other donors to join him in reaching the fundraising goal, be it modest or seemingly beyond wildest imagination.

While Paul’s and Marybelle’s generosity was felt in many areas, they had a special interest in education and the arts. He sought ways to increase the impact of his gifts, and sometimes in less-than-obvious ways. Carl St.Clair, Music Director of Pacific Symphony, recalls a gift Musco told him about several years ago. “Paul was a strong champion of the Opera Program at Chapman University for many years,” St.Clair said.

“He felt it was illogical for the University to have an opera program without a strong program in the study of Italian. The result: the Musco Endowed Chair in Italian Studies and the Musco Endowment for Travel Courses in Italian Studies. For Paul, it was simply unimaginable not to have Italian as a focus. Great opera meant Italian operas. He loved them all, but Italian opera touched him deeply. His most favorite was Rigoletto. It was an opera he loved his whole life. He was generous, but extremely practical. Those two characteristics, combined with a real ‘hands-on’ approach allowed his many gifts to have maximum impact on the institutions and programs he supported.”

The strong commitment to giving by Paul and Marybelle addressed short-term needs as well as ambitious vision for future generations in Orange County. Whether it be a gift to fund a specific project, an endowment to help future generations of worthy students or a building that would showcase talented performers from around the world at Chapman University, Paul took great joy in giving, and shared that enthusiasm with others. He once said “I want to give away as much as I can while I am alive, so that I can enjoy the impact of those gifts.” That attitude allowed the Orange County community to acknowledge his kindness in the latter part of his life through the awarding of numerous awards and citations to both Paul and Marybelle.

The Muscos’ commitment to the performing arts is evidenced by their generosity to a number of major Southern California institutions. In the last decade of his life, major gifts to Chapman University, Los Angeles Opera and the Orange County High School for the Arts enabled those organizations to initiate major programs and shape new facilities that influence the lives of thousands, and will continue to do so for future generations. 

Pacific Symphony was among many to benefit from Paul’s giving and leadership. Carl St.Clair commented, “The orchestra began a new program of ‘semi-staged’ opera in 2012. I recalled being nervous about the scale of financial investment required, and, of course, everyone suggested we ‘go see Paul.’ I recall that meeting very well. We were allowed to dream about possibilities, but required to commit that our business model for presenting opera was strong, and that other donors were prepared to join us. That meeting resulted in an initial three-year pledge from Paul, and Pacific Symphony’s opera program was off and running. As a result, it is now an integral part of the Pacific Symphony season, and our annual operas are among the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the entire concert season.”

Carl St.Clair added “Without a doubt, Paul’s commitment to our Opera Initiative filled a huge void in Orange County’s cultural infrastructure. Through the Muscos’ support, we are able to introduce the most famous works from this body of repertoire to an eager public. In fact, the performance of even standard repertoire from the opera canon is new for some of our musicians. The addition of opera to our seasons has been a huge factor in the development of Pacific Symphony—a real game-changer.”

In the history of every institution, certain events and individuals stand-out as pivotal catalysts of change. Paul Musco is, uniquely, one of those individuals. His influence will be ongoing, whether it be to the entire Orange County community or to a single student. Pacific Symphony has been truly blessed to call Paul Musco a valued member of our Board of Directors, a generous supporter of our programs, a sage counsel, and—most of all—a valued friend.

Paul will be missed greatly.

An opera begins long begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.” —Maria Callas

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