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Stefan Hermann Haag (1925–1986)

by Margaret Leask

This article was published:

Stefan Hermann Haag (1925-1986), singer, director, designer and arts administrator, was born on 26 March 1925 in Vienna, only child of Stefan Haag, bank official, and his wife Anna, née Dittenbacher. A student at the Rudolfsheim State School, Stefan trained with the Vienna Boys’ Choir and joined the Boys’ Choir of the Vienna State Opera in 1935. Next year he entered the Vienna Mozart Boys’ Choir and in 1937-39 toured internationally with it. Stranded in Perth when World War II started, the choir was re-settled as the St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir, Melbourne. Although he had little English, Stefan was enrolled at St Joseph’s Christian Brothers Technical College, Abbotsford, and fostered with Australian families. He accepted his circumstances philosophically. From 1943 he served in the Civil Aliens Corps at Alice Springs, where, while still learning English, he began directing plays.

In 1945 Haag resumed musical studies with Adolph Spivakovsky. He gave recitals as a lieder singer (earlier using the name Louis Waters), conducted choirs, worked as a music copyist and taught in schools. In 1947 he joined Gertrude Johnson’s pioneering National Theatre Opera Company as a singer and assistant chorus master, and in 1949, at the age of 24, became the company’s producer, directing six operas, including The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, in which he also sang. Naturalised in 1950, he won a Victorian government scholarship to study overseas, worked as assistant producer at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, and had his first reunion with his mother. In 1952 he was appointed production director for the National Theatre Opera Company in Melbourne. He directed the Australian première of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul with Marie Collier and John Shaw in 1953, and The Tales of Hoffmann for a royal performance in 1954. Louis Kahan, an artist friend, designed the sets and costumes for many operas including The Consul. Haag married Sapientia Coco, a student born in Austria, on 4 April 1952 at Holy Cross Catholic Church, South Caulfield; they divorced in 1957. From 1954 to 1956 he was overseas.

After working as production manager for Garnet H. Carroll on musicals including West Side Story, Haag was production director (1956-60) and artistic director (1960-62) with the Australian (from 1957 Elizabethan Theatre Trust) Opera Company. Between 1956 and 1975 he directed more than twenty operas for the trust’s opera company (known as the Australian Opera from 1970) and was guest producer for the New Zealand Opera Company and for the Perth Festival. He directed Salome (1960) and Tosca (1968) for the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. A patient and practical opera director, he knew the repertoire, encouraged singers to develop their roles and frequently worked all night on the technical effects.

Haag was executive director (1962-68) and artistic adviser (1968-69) of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. He advocated subsidised theatre in Australia, negotiated tours by overseas companies and staged performances by Aboriginal tribal dancers in 1963 and the Asian pageant at Sydney Showground in 1964. Working with the entrepreneur Harry M. Miller and supported by Dr H. C. Coombs, chairman of the trust, Haag introduced subscription-booking procedures for the opera, ballet and State theatre companies, while continuing to direct productions such as The Fantasticks for the Union Theatre Repertory Company in Melbourne. His work, described by colleagues as `inventive’ and `extraordinarily versatile’, was often done on shoestring budgets and was dependent on his exceptional musical and technical skills.

In 1968 Haag was appointed OBE, and awarded a leadership grant by the State Department of the United States of America, where he examined developments in theatrical entertainment and encountered the musical Hair, which he encouraged Harry M. Miller to produce in Australia. Resigning next year from the trust, where management duties had increasingly encroached on his creative time, he was executive producer for Hair in 1969 and production co-ordinator for Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973, also directing a revival of the latter when it toured Australia in 1976. He produced the Australian entertainment at Expo 70 in Japan and spent two years in television, producing Barry Crocker’s `Sound of Music’ and other programs, for which he received two Logie awards. Inspired by the Australian outback since his time at Alice Springs, Haag staged appearances by Aboriginal performers at the South Pacific Arts Festival (1972) in Fiji and at the World Black and African Festival of the Arts (1977) in Nigeria.

During the 1970s Haag ran his own company, the Scenery Centre Pty Ltd, and continued to design and direct musicals. While working in New York in 1976 he wrote Beatle-mania. He was artistic director for Australia 75 (a festival of creative arts and sciences staged in Canberra) and the inaugural Indian Ocean Arts Festival, in Perth in 1979, and consultant to the 3rd South Pacific Festival of Arts, in Papua New Guinea in 1980. In 1983-84 he was director of opera at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. He also lectured and tutored at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music and at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, of which he was a foundation member.

Haag was active as a trustee, board member or adviser in many arts organisations including the Sydney Opera House Trust, the Canberra Theatre Trust, the Adelaide Festival, the Marionette Theatre of Australia, the Australian Ballet School, the Producers and Directors’ Guild, the Aboriginal Theatre Foundation and the advisory committee on cultural grants of the New South Wales Ministry of Cultural Activities (Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation). Although imbued with a European sensibility and awareness of overseas traditions and practices, he was adamant that Australia should seek artistic expression that `emanates from its own society’ rather than `pursue the artistic expression of societies far removed from it in time and distance’.

On 30 August 1958 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, Haag had married Helen Mitchell McAra, a secretary from New Zealand with whom he worked at the trust. For recreation, he enjoyed sailing his 24-foot (7.3 m) yacht on Sydney Harbour. Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died of cancer on 25 December 1986 at his Double Bay home and was cremated. His portrait (1988) by Kahan is held by the State Library of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Miller, My Story (1983)
  • J. Sumner, Re-Collections at Play (1993)
  • F. Van Straten, National Treasure (1994)
  • Masque, Dec 1968, p 8
  • Elizabethan Trust News, Mar 1975, p 22
  • H. de Berg, interview with S. Haag (transcript, 1965, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Margaret Leask, 'Haag, Stefan Hermann (1925–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Waters, Louis

26 March, 1925
Vienna, Austria


25 December, 1986 (aged 61)
Double Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.