BU website embellished biography of opera director

Sharon Daniels conceded errors. Sharon Daniels conceded errors.
By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / December 18, 2009

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By many measures, Sharon Daniels is a star at Boston University. She heads the school’s Opera Institute and is one of the most prominent voice instructors and stage directors in the city. The New England Opera Club honored her with an award in 2003, and her stagings of classic operas such as “The Marriage of Figaro’’ have garnered rave reviews.

Yet, Daniels’s biography on the BU website embellished her professional experience. Though it said she performed in starring roles with several A-list companies in Europe and San Francisco, a Globe review has found that four institutions have either no record of her or cast her in minor parts. In one case, in which she is listed as principal soprano, she was actually the fifth of six flower maidens in a 1974 production of Wagner’s “Parsifal.’’

Boston University officials and Daniels herself acknowledged yesterday that they were made aware of some discrepancies in her official biography as far back as January, but failed to correct them. After the Globe raised questions Wednesday, the biography was immediately changed, though not completely corrected.

Confronted with the embellishments, Daniels explained in an interview yesterday that a BU staff member had condensed her curriculum vitae for the online biography and that she and BU officials did not become aware of any errors until a colleague on a faculty review committee raised concerns about the biography when her contract was up for renewal last school year. She said she was led to believe that the director of BU’s School of Music would correct it.

“When my bio was condensed from my vitae, there were just some things that got smushed together and became misleading,’’ Daniels said. “I honestly don’t go online and read my bio all the time. I did not ever intentionally puff up my work.’’

BU officials said yesterday that they did not know until they were contacted by a Globe reporter that Daniels’s biography had not been corrected as planned. They are in the process of rewriting portions of it.

“The bio that was online should have been changed in a more timely basis when it came to our knowledge that it was misleading at best,’’ said Walt Meissner, dean of the College of Fine Arts at BU. “It wasn’t accurate, and it needed to be corrected.’’

Her biography said Daniels, who started at BU in 1989 as an artist in residence, sang principal soprano at two respected international venues - the Netherlands Opera and the Edinburgh Festival. But representatives at the Netherlands Opera, upon checking their archives dating back to 1965, said Daniels never sang there.

A spokeswoman at the Edinburgh Festival said Daniels was listed as an understudy for the part of Pat Nixon in “Nixon in China’’ while touring with the Houston Grand Opera in 1988.

Daniels said yesterday that she was paid to tour Edinburgh and the Netherlands as an understudy because she was one of only two sopranos in the world who knew the role of Pat Nixon at that time, but she acknowledged that she never actually sang the part overseas.

BU has deleted all references to the Netherlands Opera and Edinburgh Festival from the Daniels biography on the university’s website. But the website still indicates that Daniels sang principal soprano roles at the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Symphony, two companies that dispute those claims.

Daniels held just a minor role in a mainstage production with the San Francisco Opera.

“There were six flower maidens, and she was one of them,’’ said Robin Freeman, an opera spokeswoman. “I wouldn’t call it a principal role. That’s definitely an exaggeration.’’

Daniels did sing a principal role of Luigia Boschi in Donizetti’s “Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali’’ in 1975. But that was with the San Francisco Opera’s Spring Opera Theater, a small touring company that did not perform on the main stage, Freeman said. That spinoff company no longer exists.

A San Francisco Symphony spokeswoman, Caitlin Hartney, said Daniels also never sang a principal role with them. She sang there once, in 1974, during a pops concert.

“Saying principal soprano is a definite stretch,’’ Hartney said. Daniels said she considered her performance with the symphony, where she sang several arias, a “legitimate solo opportunity.’’

“I was very young, and it was very exciting,’’ said Daniels, 66.

BU’s delayed response to setting the record straight freshly highlights whether the college is rigorous enough in verifying faculty credentials, after an earlier high-profile case of misrepresentation in the school’s communications department.

Daniels said the controversy surrounding her performances more than three decades ago should not overshadow her accomplishments at BU. “These things are very old,’’ she said. “They’re very unimportant to me now.’’

The questions surrounding Daniels’s online bio first surfaced in January and were investigated last spring when a faculty review committee was considering her contract for renewal, Meissner said. They questioned Daniels and were able to validate all parts of her curriculum vitae and other credentials submitted to the panel. Although the online bio was not officially submitted as part of the review process, Meissner asked that it be rewritten.

“The faculty felt her bio needed to be clarified, but they didn’t feel it was intentional on her part or egregious in a way that made it relevant to her reappointment or relevant to reprimand her,’’ he said. “I questioned it and asked her about it and was satisfied it had been carefully reviewed. At the time, I was under the impression that the rewriting of her bio would be taken care of.’’

Meissner said he was disappointed to learn this week that the School of Music staff had not made the change. Daniels said she was happy to delete the inaccuracies, and acknowledged that she should have noticed they had not been changed.

Administrative staff typically extract professors’ online bios from their CVs and ask the individuals to validate what is ultimately posted on the website, Meissner said. Faculty are supposed to review and update their bios every year, but Daniels’s had not been changed for about four years, he said.

“There is some negligence here,’’ Meissner said. “Some faculty are rather sloppy about reviewing their bios online. It’s really the university bragging about who their faculty are.’’

Daniels, a former elementary school teacher, runs a voice studio where she has produced award winning singers; she counts BU’s provost, David Campbell, among her pupils.

In 2006, BU’s former dean of communications, John J. Schulz, resigned from the post after colleagues raised concerns that he had exaggerated accomplishments on his resume. His BU biography online also said he had covered the Soviet War in Afghanistan, when in fact, he covered it from Islamabad, Pakistan, and did not enter Afghanistan. A committee investigating the incidents, however, concluded that he had done nothing wrong.

Tracy Jan can be reached at