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FALL 2019

A Half Century of Change By H eidi Waleson PLUS ▼

High-Tech Explorations ▼

First-Timers ▼

Tazewell Thompson’s First Opera

$7. 9 9


Ricky Ian Gordon & Frank Bidart Garrett Fisher & Ellen McLaughlin Danielle Birrittella, Zoe Aja Moore & Marie Howe Jeremy Schonfeld Gregory Maqoma, Zakes Mda & Nhlanhla Mahlangu Julian Wachner & Cerise Lim Jacobs Buy tickets online beginning October 1: PROTOT Y PEFE STIVAL .ORG

The premier global festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre in New York City. January 9–18, 2020

“Opera has everything to lose if it ossifies, and much to gain if it programs a little bit more like prototype.”



FA LL 2019

FA LL 2019 The Consul at Des Moines Metro Opera, 1978


The Consul at Des Moines Metro Opera, 1978


Anniversary Reflections

By Marc A. Scorca


2 5

Anniversary Reflections By Marc A. Scorca Tech Savvy

5 8

TechTax Savvy The Code’s Impact

Opera companies explore 21st-century technology. I N N O VAT IONS

Opera companies explore How has the Tax Cuts and Jobs 21st-century technology. Act affected giving?

8 Tax Code’s 10 The Change Agents Impact

How has thelook Taxat Cuts and Jobs New works Act affected giving? social justice.

10 Change Agents 12 People New works look at social justice.


12 People


14 The Real Estate Dilemma

The boons and challenges of renting versus F E AT U R Eowning S a venue 14 The Real Estate Dilemma By Ray Mark Rinaldi The boons and challenges renting versus owning 20 of First-Timers a venue Opera newbies give their first By Ray Mark Rinaldi impressions.

20 First-Timers OA NEWS

Opera newbies give their first




30 Founding 50 YEARS OF Companies OPERA A half-centuryIN of AMERICA New Orleans

25 The Field:

Seismic Shifts evolution

36 Opera Conference 2019 impressions.

25 By TheHeidi Field: Waleson

40 Director-Designer OA NEWS

A half-century 29 Focus on the of


36 Opera Conference 2019 42 Opera Grants for Female 40 Director-Designer Composers Showcase

47 42 Publications Opera Grants for Female Composers 56 My First Opera

By Tazewell Thompson

47 Publications 56 ON THE COVER Illustration by Mike McQuade

My First Opera

Seismic Shifts

evolution Future By Heidi Waleson Company leaders Beth Morrison,

29 Christina Focus on the

Future Scheppelmann Company leaders Beth Morrison, Christina Scheppelmann


30 Opera Founding Omaha,

Companies San Diego Opera New Orleans 32 Opera, The Oral Opera Omaha, History Project San Diego Opera Michael Bronson, Ann Farris

32 The Oral

History 1 9 70 sProject

Michael Bronson,

33 Critics’ Picks Ann Farris 34 Timeline 1 9 70 s

33 Critics’ Picks 34 Timeline

By Tazewell Thompson FALL 2019


ON THE COVER Illustration by Mike McQuade COVER: Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men at Seattle Opera in 1976, with Robert Moulson as Lennie and Kathy Knight as Curley’s Wife (photo: Des Gates)

FALL 2019



Season Highlights WORLD PREMIERES

2019-20 Snedronningen [ The Snow Queen] Hans Abrahamsen/Henrik Engelbrecht

Daniel Catán Crystal Manich, stage director

Virginia Opera – November 2019 Opera Southwest – February 2020 Opera Santa Barbara – March 2020

Pride & Prejudice Kirke Mechem Samuel Mungo, stage director

Peabody Opera Theatre – November 2019

Everest Joby Talbot/Gene Scheer Dylan Evan, stage director

Chicago Opera Theater – November 2019

The Ghosts of Versailles John Corigliano/William M. Hoffman Jay Lesenger, stage director

Château de Versailles Spectacles – December 2019

prisoner of the state David Lang Elkhanah Pulitzer, stage director

Barbican Centre – January 2020 Bochumer Symphoniker – May 2020 Malmö Opera – June 2020

Francisco Negrin, stage director


The Royal Danish Opera [in Danish] – Copenhagen, October 2019

Ersan Mondtag, stage director

Rued Langgaard

Andreas Kriegenburg, stage director

Deutsche Oper Berlin – March 2020

Bayerische Staasoper [in English] – Munich, December 2019

Breaking the Waves


Tom Morris, stage director

Missy Mazzoli/Royce Vavrek

LA Opera – February 2020

Opera Ventures Australian premiere, March 2020 New York City, June 2020

Die Kinder des Sultans

The Handmaid’s Tale

Avner Dorman/Ingeborg von Zadow

Poul Ruders/Paul Bentley

Anna Drescher, stage director

John Fulljames, stage director

Dortmund Opera – April 2020

The Royal Danish Opera – May 2020

Matthew Aucoin/Sarah Ruhl Mary Zimmerman, stage director

Courtesy of LA Opera

Il Postino

Anniversary Reflections



Made Visible Studio A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R

Nicholas Wise A DV E R T I S I N G M A N AG E R

Stephanie A. Carnright DIR ECTOR OF M ARK ETING AND C O M M U N I C AT I O N S

Rolando G. Reyes Mir

Opera America Magazine (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in fall, winter, spring and summer. Copyright © 2019 by OPERA America. All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission. Editorial policy: The views expressed in this publication are those of the various authors for the purpose of encouraging discussion. Unless expressly noted, they do not reflect the formal policy, or necessarily the views, of OPERA America. To contact the editor, e-mail The presence of advertising implies no endorsement of the products or services offered.


This fall marks the launch of our celebration of 50 years of opera’s progress in America, organized around the 50th anniversary of OPERA America’s founding in 1970. It has been a remarkable half-century. More than two-thirds of our Professional Company Members have been established since 1970. An American opera repertoire has emerged and earned the admiration of opera producers around the world. Opera and opera companies, through their work onstage and in partnership with other local organizations, have become vibrant parts of civic life. On October 18, we embarked on an exciting year of reflection, celebration and anticipation, in a live-streamed event from the National Opera Center. As the year continues, symposia scheduled in each of our 16 “founding cities” will localize the national narrative about opera and shine a spotlight on the ways each company has contributed to the strength of the field. We begin this series on November 1 in Omaha and continue in December in New Orleans and San Diego. I also urge you to mark your calendars for our 50th annual Opera Conference from May 13 to 16, 2020, in Seattle: the location of our first conference, held in January 1970 in conjunction with the world premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men. Our celebration will not be only retrospective; we are making progress every day. The premiere of four new works this summer demonstrated that opera resonates ever more closely with issues that shape our world. The Central Park Five (Long Beach Opera), Fire Shut Up in My Bones (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis), Blue (The Glimmerglass Festival) and Blind Injustice (Cincinnati Opera) all tell different stories about the contemporary African American experience in the United States (see page 10). Newcomers to opera worked with experienced veterans in the field to awaken our deepest emotions around identity and justice. They challenged us to understand the social and political forces that shape the lives of those we want to welcome into opera, and how much work we have to do to make people feel they belong in our art form. These works anticipate the impact of our new IDEA Opera Grants, through which we will support the projects of at least two teams of composers and librettists of color, and another new program, IDEA Opera Residencies, that will be unveiled in 2020. This issue of Opera America Magazine is the first of six that will include articles and research reports documenting the achievements of our predecessors that underpin our current work. We will examine highlights of the American opera repertoire, decade by decade, and include the voices of rising artists who will shape and interpret these works for years to come. There are many ways you can be involved in our celebration and I invite your active participation.

Marc A. Scorca President/CEO

For advertising rates, visit OPERA America National Opera Center 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620

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new thinking for tomorrow's opera

Opéra de Montréal monitors Carmenrelated brain activity.

High Tech and High Cs

21st-century technology creates new paths for the art form.



Opéra de Montréal recently got into the heads of its audience— literally. A large number of first-time attendees at its performances never returned, the company observed—some preferring the Met’s HD screenings. So it joined forces this May with Tech3Lab, a local research laboratory that specializes in user experience

(UX), to study the differences in people’s sensory responses to live and electronically transmitted opera. Companies are discovering that cutting-edge technology offers insights that can advance the field as a whole. San Diego Opera in July staged an “Opera Hack,” bringing together composers, librettists and designers with

local high-tech professionals for two days of brainstorming. Opéra de Montréal will present the results of its sensory-response study at a “Hackathon” next spring. Both the “Opera Hack” and the “Hackathon” are supported by OA Innovation Grants. The Montreal experiment, led by Jared Boasen, a Tech3Lab postdoctoral fellow,

OA’s Innovation Grants are funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

followed two sets of audience members as they watched Opéra de Montréal’s Carmen: one group during the dress rehearsal and five performances at Salle WilfridPelletier, the other via a live simulcast at Tech3Lab’s laboratory. Participants in both groups wore electrode caps to measure their brain activity using

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electroencephalography. Meanwhile, sensors measured physiological responses to the opera: physical arousal (through changes in sweat gland activity and heart rate), attentiveness (by tracking eye movements and pupil dilation) and physical-emotional state (by monitoring facial muscle movement). The goal of the study is to use qualitative research to improve the inhouse experience, increase the audience return rate and contribute scientific research about audience engagement to the opera industry as a whole. “The question is, how do we move from a company that puts on and sells operas, to a company that you want to be in a relationship

with?” says Patrick Corrigan, Opéra de Montréal’s general director. The endeavor is part of a trend in opera toward replacing time-honored, seat-ofthe-pants thinking with the kind of hard data that’s standard operating procedure in the for-profit realm. “Without this Innovation Grant, I know we would have tried to deal with these questions in the way that we have for the longest time in this business: You move forward with your instinctive knowledge and try to manage it as practically as you can,” says Corrigan. “Meanwhile, all your competitors in the entertainment field are handing you your ass, because they have access to all kinds of data. This


JUNE 26 - JULY 19 SWEENEY TODD Sondheim PLATÉE Rameau THE QUEEN OF SPADES Tchaikovsky LA VOIX HUMAINE Poulenc FELLOW TRAVELERS Spears/Pierce 515-961-6221

6  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E

project has opened us up to establishing a real authentic research function at our company.” The Montreal Hackathon will also present marketing results from Opéra de Montréal’s other high-tech collaborations; for instance, a project undertaken with CGI, an international IT firm based in Montreal, seeking to measure audience engagement levels. San Diego’s Opera Hack, meanwhile, was more broadly focused. The strategy, according to David Bennett, SDO’s general director: “You put smart people in a room, with the constraint of time, and you see what comes out the other end.” Opera Hack yielded three

disparate winning projects. Hamsafar is an augmented/ virtual reality opera that will incorporate haptic feedback, allowing audience members to feel the music tactilely. OperaMap will create a virtual reality space allowing long-distance collaborations between companies and designers. And Open Show Bible will allow the creation of interactive visual “show bibles,” sharable among all production personnel, that will replace the traditional hard-copy notation of stage-management cues. “Our goal is to create a conversation about how new technology can advance different areas of the opera industry,” Bennett says. — Steven Jude Tietjen

San Diego Opera has announced Yves Abel as its new principal conAbel ductor, beginning in the 2020–2021 season. Seattle Opera has appointed Naomi André, professor at University of André Michigan, as scholar in residence. André is the author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement.

To submit items for potential inclusion in People, or to share any news about your company, email PressReleases@

Baritone Darrell Babidge, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop and soprano Amy Burton have joined the voice faculty of The Juilliard School. The Dallas Opera has named Lisa Bury to the newly created position

The U.S. Senate confirmed Mary Anne Carter as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Carter had served as acting chairman since June 2018 Sarah Carter has joined OPERA America as director of learning and Carter leadership, having previously served as senior associate for community engagement at the Metropolitan Opera Guild.


the 2020–2021 season. Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola has been named as his successor and will serve as music director designate.


The Aspen Music Festival and School has appointed Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers as co-artistic directors of the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS, a new training programing that will launch next year. The Atlanta Opera has hired Paul Harkins, formerly development director at the University of Michigan School of Music, as its chief advancement officer.


Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced that its music director and principal conductor, Sir Andrew Davis, will conclude his two-decade-long tenure at the end of


Bass and voice teacher Robert Beattie died on August 25 at age 93. Beattie appeared with New York City Opera from 1957 through the early 1980s, creating the role of Andrew Borden in the 1965 world premiere of Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden.

Mezzo-soprano Rosemary Kuhlmann, who created the role of Amahl’s Mother in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, died on August 17 at age 97. The Rev. M. Owen Lee, a music scholar and Catholic priest

12  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E


Mill City Summer Opera has

who was a frequent voice on the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon broadcasts, died on July 25 at age 89.



The author Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Morrison Nobel Prize for Literature, died on August 5 at age 88. She wrote the libretto for Margaret Garner (2005), with music by Richard Danielpour, based on her 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. The opera had its premiere at Michigan Opera Theatre, with subsequent productions at Cincinnati Opera, Opera Philadelphia,

Opera Carolina and New York City Opera. The baritone Robert Orth, a fixture of the contemporary Orth American opera scene, died on July 12 at age 72. Orth made his professional debut in 1974 at Chicago Opera Theater, and went on to sing for the next four decades at companies like New York City Opera, Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera. Orth created roles in many new works, including Stewart Wallace's Harvey Milk, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking and Ricky Ian Gordon's The




of chief advancement and strategy officer. Most recently interim chief development officer at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bury served as Seattle Opera’s director of development from 2011 to 2018.



named Cory Johnson, formerly director of development, as executive director and Eric Einhorn, general and artistic director of On Site Opera, as artistic advisor. Crystal Manich has stepped down Consuldirector at asThe artistic of the company. Des Moines Metro Opera, 1978

Andreas Mitisek will leave his post as artistic and general director of Long Beach Opera at the close of the 2020 season. He will pursue freelance directing and consulting opportunities. The Paris Opera has appointed Alexander Neef as general director, Neef starting in 2021. He will leave his posts as general director of Canadian Opera Company and artistic director of The Santa Fe Opera.


Christopher Mattaliano has stepped down as general director of Portland Opera to become its artistic consultant. Sue Dixon, director of external affairs, is serving as interim general Anniversary Reflections director. By Marc A. Scorca

14 The Real Estate Dilemma The boons and challenges of renting versus owning a venue By Ray Mark Rinaldi

Tech Savvy

Opera companies explore 21st-century technology. Grapes of Wrath. He was a frequent interpreter of the Richard Nixon in 8 role The of Tax Code’s Impact John in China. How Adams' has the Nixon Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affected giving? Marcus L. Overton, who a host of arts-manage10 held Change Agents ment roles over New works lookmore at than five decades, died on June 9 social justice. at age 75.

12 People

The theater director and producer Hal Prince died on Prince July 31 at age 91. Aside from his five-decade career on Broadway, winning 21 Tony Awards for hits like Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret and Company, he

of Saint Louis has made two additions to its Racette artistic team: Patricia Racette will join as artistic director of young artist programs, and Damon Bristo, formerly a vice president at Columbia Artists, will join as director of artistic administration, succeeding Paul Kilmer. OTSL also announced that Nicole Ambos Freber has been promoted from director of development to managing director of external affairs, and that Anh Le has been permanently appointed director of marketing and communications after having served in that role in an interim capacity. Le was a participant in OPERA America’s 2019 Leadership Intensive. Scott S. Stewart retired as chorus master and associate conductor for the Florentine Opera Company after serving F E AT U RE S 40 years. the company for over



F A L L 2 0Opera 1 9 Theatre

directed operas for New York 20Opera, First-Timers City Houston Grand Opera newbies Opera, Lyric Opera of give their first Chicagoimpressions. and the Met. Peter Westergaard, O A N comEWS poser of chamber music, 36 and Opera Conference opera orchestral works, 2019 died on June 26 at age 88. 40 Director-Designer A member of the PrinceShowcase ton University faculty for five decades, he wrote six operas, among Grants them The 42 Opera for Female TempestComposers (1994), Moby Dick: Scenes from an Imaginary Opera (2004) and Alice in 47 Publications Wonderland (2008). In 1983, he and conductor Michael Pratt June Opera 56 founded My First Opera FestivalBy (later called Opera Tazewell Thompson Festival of New Jersey).

ON THE COVER Illustration by Mike McQuade


HGOco, the education and community engagement arm of Houston Grand Opera, won a bronze Telly Award in the Arts and Culture category for “Boundless,” the first episode of Star-Cross’d, a streaming series of short opera videos based on personal experiences of Houstonians and incorporating themes from Romeo and Juliet. The Telly Awards honor excellence in video and television across all screens.



The Music Critics Association of North America gave its annual Award for Best New Opera to composer and sound artist Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins for p r i s m, also the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The work received a 2015 Commissioning Grant from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers proSPECIAL ANNIVERSARY SECTION gram, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

50 YEARS OF OPERA INsoprano AMERICA Canadian Andriana

25 The Field: 30 San Founding Chuchman won

Seismic Francisco Shifts Opera’sCompanies

A half-century ofShrem and New Orleans Chuchman 2019 Jan

Mariaevolution Manetti Shrem Emerging Opera, By Heidi Waleson Omaha, Stars Competition, which carriesOpera a San Diego Opera prize of $10,000. Chuchman, who 29 Focus theas Mary Hatch made her SFOon debut 32 The in JakeFuture Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s Oral Company leaders History Project a Wonderful Life last fall, was named BethStar Morrison, Bronson, Emerging of the Year based Michael on Christina a popular vote conducted online.Ann Farris Scheppelmann 1 9 70 s CO R R E C T I O N The article “Native Son,” which 33 Critics’ Picks appeared on p. 37 of the summer 34 Timeline issue, misidentified the founder of New York’s Bel Canto Opera. He was Theodore Sieh, not Vincent La Selva.

A EL R L 2019 S U MFM



Renters & Owners A company’s real estate status can affect everything from scheduling to marketing to repertoire.

14  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E


The Sarasota Opera House

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or an opera company, a good home can be a great asset, enabling the art but also enhancing the brand and cultivating an enduring bond with audiences. But even the best living situations have their bad sides. Roofs leak and carpets wear. Landlords lay down the law. Somewhere between the time utility bills come due and the roommates start complaining that they’re not getting enough personal space, even the most precious venues can start to feel like prisons. The real estate status of just about every company — whether it holds the deed, rents from the city, crashes on a college campus or cohabits with other nonprofit organizations — engenders both pleasure and pain. Some companies have achieved the American dream: a home they can call their own. Sarasota Opera has one as a result of a fortuitous maneuver in 1979. That’s when supporters came together to purchase the 1926 A.B. Edwards Theater: an elegant and ornate example of Mediterranean Revival architecture, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that over the years had hosted stars like Will Rogers and Elvis Presley. The

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company got it at the bargain price of $150,000, put it through a three-year overhaul and reopened it in 1982 as the Sarasota Opera House. The 1,119-seat theater is as much of an attraction as the music. Funders give to the cause of singing knowing they are supporting history, too, and folks just like hanging out in the place. The company’s ownership translates into income. It has rented the space out for everything from high school graduations to weddings. During the off-season, it uses the space to present a classicmovie series, a series of HD presentations of opera and ballet, and “Sarasota Opera House Presents,” featuring pop performers like Tony Danza. The cash generated has contributed to a robust financial situation, and in 2017, the company was able to add to its real estate portfolio with an adjacent 72-bed apartment complex, providing housing to visiting artists. Ownership does have its drawbacks: The theater’s size makes it perfect for Verdi and Puccini, but certain parts of the repertory are out of reach. It’s too small to generate the kind of revenue needed for a Ring cycle, and too big for chamber opera, which Richard Russell, Sarasota Opera’s executive director, says he would consider

if another venue were available. The company also has the responsibility of maintaining an important community asset. When the place needed an upgrade in 2008, Sarasota Opera alone had to raise the $20 million. Meanwhile, old buildings have their quirks: in this case, a utility bill of $16,000 a month. But one benefit outweighs all other factors: Sarasota Opera can control its performance and rehearsal schedule without having to worry about other tenants. That’s especially important in a warm-weather mecca where arts groups need to present in winter at the peak of tourism. “All of the other arts organizations here are fighting for space all the time,” says Russell. “We are lucky to have our own.” The identity of Central City Opera is similarly tied to its ownership of a historic venue: the Central City Opera House, a 550-seat ornate gem of a theater built in 1878 during the mining boom in the Colorado Mountains. Aside from the theater itself, the company owns 27 historic properties in town: houses, a barn and a hotel. Part of its charge is to act as a steward of all those properties. All are put to creative use: The barn doubles as a black box theater; the houses provide free


The Central City Opera House

PURSUE YOUR PASSION. FIND YOUR PURPOSE. Opera and Voice at University of the Pacific

STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES • Abundant performing experiences in award-winning productions • Nationally recognized faculty • Master classes with international artists

ALUMNI ACCOMPLISHMENTS • San Francisco Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Aspen Music Festival and Metropolitan Opera • Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner; Zachary National Vocal Competition finalist; Merola Opera Program participants

2020 CONSERVATORY AUDITIONS January 18 | January 25 | February 1


Alumnus Andrew Dwan ’13 2019 Merola Opera Program artist Photo: Kristen Loken

FIRST IMPRESSIONS New audience members #meetopera.

M A RY CO RY E L L Age: 22 Home: Easton, PA Occupation: Student First Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor, Opera Philadelphia Who Brought Her: Friend

Opera Maine’s Magic Flute with Liberty Krauss (far left)

G R AC E C A S E Y Age: 17 Home: Brunswick, ME Occupation: Student First Opera: The Magic Flute, Opera Maine What Brought Her: A friend was in the cast. Opera has a bit of stigma about it. I thought of it as dry, boring and hard to follow — something that old people attend. I went to The Magic Flute because my classmate Liberty Krauss, who wants to become an opera singer, played one of the three genies. But I was worried I’d have a rough time. In fact, it was quite humorous. At moments we were laughing out loud. The kids in their costumes looked ridiculous. It had some of the best singing I’ve ever heard in my life. It was super awesome. Like any art form, opera changes with the time. You can’t base your idea of it on what your grandparents saw, or what you’ve seen in the movies.

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I’m studying tourism and hospitality management at Temple University, and one of the requirements of the program is that we do a certain amount of volunteer work. My friend Emma, who was an intern at Opera Philadelphia, suggested I volunteer as an usher. I thought that the opera was a place where you dressed up fancy and that it was very upper class, and I had never been anywhere like the Academy of Music. But everyone there was supernice. It was not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. I passed out programs and helped people find their seats, and then they let me go in and watch the performance. At first it was a little confusing. Obviously, it wasn’t in English, but with the surtitles, I could kind of make out what was happening. I’ve been to a lot of Broadway shows, and I had thought it would somewhat along those lines. But I loved it so much more. It’s amazing to hear people sing opera. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, and I’ll definitely be back.

The fact is self-evident: The future of opera depends on its ability to develop new audiences. Devoted, longtime fans, to be sure, are vital to sustaining the art form. They are the backbone of most companies’ audiences, and of their donor lists, as well. But even the most hardcore aficionado was once an opera newcomer. A key task of a company today is to reach potential new audience members and then get them into the theater, in the hope of showing them that opera can appeal to both newcomers and hardcore aficionados alike. A major hurdle to attracting newcomers can be their preconceptions of the art form. This January, OPERA America is launching a national promotional campaign — #meetopera — that aims to reshape the way people view opera and to inspire a new wave of operagoers nationwide. OA will be calling upon opera companies to participate in this social media campaign, which focuses on four key messages: Opera is diverse; opera can happen anywhere; opera involves people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and walks of life; and opera is alive. United behind the hashtag #meetopera, participants will showcase the breadth and vitality of opera and attract new attendees. #meetopera can work in tandem with the many “first-timer” programs companies have already developed to get newbies

through the door. LA Opera assembles curated, three-opera “Newcomer Nights” packages. Lyric Opera of Chicago sends targeted offers, including a 50-percent-off “come back” opportunity, to recent first-time purchasers. Fargo-Moorhead’s “Opera Jumpstart” program provides half-price tickets to newcomers, along with a “Jumpstart Kit” with background materials and a coupon for opera glasses. Opera Maine, in a program underwritten by Wells Fargo, offered free tickets to its summer production of The Magic Flute for people ages 25 and under. Nothing is more of an enticement, though, than the personal connection. Many new operagoers attend their initial performance because a friend, colleague, partner or spouse has brought them there. #meetopera attempts to replicate the personal invitation on a much larger scale, encouraging participants “to be the friend who helps people meet opera,” and use casual, welcoming language in their social media posts. Here are several people whose recent first experiences of operas might well have turned them from greenhorns into aficionados.

Visit to learn how you can participate in the #meetopera campaign.

DEBORAH AND FRANK GILL Ages: 46, 44 Home: Pittsburgh, PA Occupations: Stay-at-home mother, IT consultant First Opera: Turandot, Pittsburgh Opera What Brought Them: A neighbor’s suggestion Our neighbor Chris Cox [director of marketing at Pittsburgh Opera] suggested Turandot as an opera we could see as a family. Our children were seven, nine and eleven years old at the time, and we were a bit apprehensive about taking them. In our minds, the opera was a place where our grandparents went, and we didn’t think it would be relevant enough for the kids. But despite any stigmas about opera, we wanted to expose our kids to this art. The boys were less excited because we told them they had to put on nice clothes, but our daughter loves any kind of production. When we got there, we said, “If no one likes this, we can go home after the first act.” We were floored by their reaction: No one

Deborah with her children at Turandot

wanted to leave — even our seven-year-old who doesn’t want to sit through anything. They wanted to know how the riddle would be solved; they talked about the sets and the characters. Part of what made it a positive experience, too, was that the moment we walked into the theater, the ushers were so welcoming, commenting to the kids, “You look so nice tonight. What a special occasion it is to be here.” Watching the opera, it felt a bit like we were brought back into a time when arts and culture had more meaning. Today, the focus on the arts can feel a bit diminished, so we hope that bringing our kids to Turandot will have a lasting impact on how they view the arts the general.

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In celebration of OPERA America’s 50th anniversary, we present the first of six special sections looking at a half-century of American operatic progress.


Seismic Shifts Five momentous decades have changed the face of the industry. B Y H E I D I WA L E S O N


When OPERA America was founded in 1970, with 20 member companies, the U.S. was in the middle of an opera explosion. America had emerged from World War II with a new sense of its power and significance. Embedded in that burgeoning self-confidence was the drive to compete in the cultural realm, and cities large and small across the country began to create their own institutions to present symphonic music, ballet and opera. “It was in the ether — the idea that the arts were an essential ingredient of a strong, healthy country, and of a healthy community,” says Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. The venerable Metropolitan Opera was already a national presence, thanks to its radio broadcasts and extensive tour, and a handful of other opera companies were well-established in cities like San Francisco and Cincinnati. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the pace accelerated: Two dozen new opera companies were launched in major urban centers like Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Minneapolis, as well as in smaller ones, such as Dayton, Madison and Palm Beach. In 1956,

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Arts and Humanities Act, establishing the National Endowment for the Arts, in 1965.

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viduals, putting their skills and philanthropy at the service of the arts, spurred this dramatic new era of growth. In the 1970s, the opera boom spread still wider and deeper into the American landscape, as more cities gathered the necessary volunteer leadership, resources and staff. Thirty-two of OPERA America’s current Professional Company Members were established in that decade, including Michigan Opera Theatre (1971), Des Moines Metro Opera (1973), Virginia Opera (1974), Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (1976), Long Beach Opera (1979) and The Atlanta Opera (1979). Founding stories varied. In St. Louis, the impresario Richard Gaddes, a John Crosby protégé, created his own version of the Santa Fe model, featuring operas sung in English translation. In Atlanta, the civic leaders who sponsored the Metropolitan Opera tour — which had reduced its scope due to high costs, and would end in 1986 — launched their own opera company. At the same time, NEA challenge and advancement grants helped both fledgling and existing opera companies make qualitative improvements to their productions and casting. And visionaries

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took the resources they found and ran with them. In Houston, newly flush with oil money, civic leaders, ambitious to put their city on the national map, backed the young David Gockley, who became the company’s general director in 1972. He promptly changed the company’s focus from star casts and standard repertory to young American singers and the creation of an American canon, and in less than a decade, built Houston Grand Opera into the country’s fifth-largest opera company. In 1987, HGO would open a grand new opera house. Scorca calls the 1970s expansion “the powerful aftershock of the earthquake of the 1960s.” Seismic tremors, he says, continued into the 1980s, when 17 current OPERA America members were founded, including the last of the largest companies, LA Opera, launched in 1986. For nearly two decades, opera in Los Angeles had been supplied by an annual visit from the New York City Opera, but in the early 1980s, the operapresenting board decided that it was time to create their own entity. Opera companies continued to grow in size. In 1980, 15 of OPERA America’s members had budgets greater than $1 million. In 1990, 45 did. And while the biggest companies still recruited famous European singers, the exponential growth in regional opera fueled the demand for American performers, who found they could make a respectable living traveling around the country, an alternative to the yearlong contract in a European house. Opera companies also realized that launching their own young artist training programs, as pioneered in San Francisco, Santa Fe and Houston, could help provide them with a steady supply of young talent. Even in the 1990s, when national audience surveys indicated that cultural participation was declining in some areas, opera continued to see growth. More new companies formed, most of them intentionally smaller operations. Some were located in areas that already

Above: Canadian Opera Company introduces supertitles with its 1982 Elektra. At left: Eugene Loring, David DiChiera and Aaron Copland review The Tender Land’s score at Michigan Opera Theatre, 1976.

had major producers, like Marin County’s Golden Gate Opera (1996); others were niche endeavors like the early-music Opera Lafayette (1995) and the new music incubator HERE (1993). The introduction of projected titles, pioneered at Canadian Opera Company and launched in the U.S. at the New York City Opera in 1983, had further galvanized the field. Titles were quickly adopted across the country, lowering the barrier to entry for audience members who no longer had to memorize the libretto before attending. Titles also helped to expand the repertory: It was now possible to follow the complicated plots of Handel operas and appreciate the works of

OA’s Founding Members Sixteen of OPERA America’s founding organizations are still Professional Company Members. They are: Cincinnati Opera Houston Grand Opera Kentucky Opera Lyric Opera of Kansas City Minnesota Opera Mississippi Opera New Orleans Opera Opera Carolina Opera Omaha Opera Philadelphia Opera Saratoga Pittsburgh Opera San Diego Opera Seattle Opera Tulsa Opera Washington National Opera



John Crosby founded The Santa Fe Opera, which would become the country’s biggest destination opera festival. The simultaneous founding of local and state arts councils, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts, created by an act of Congress in 1965, was a strong indicator that culture would now be a national priority. The resulting combination of new government support and the enthusiasm of civic-minded indi-


In the 1990s, as national cultural participation declined, opera continued to grow. Janáček and Dvořák, despite their less familiar Eastern European languages. Opera also got a boost from the international sensation of the Three Tenors, whose concert performance in Rome on the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup final reached a global audience. Suddenly, “Nessun dorma” was a hit tune, and for a decade, the trio’s concerts and recordings kept opera in the forefront of public consciousness. After 2000, however, the world altered. The September 11, 2001, attacks had a profound effect on the cultural world, especially in New York City, where people abruptly stopped going out in the evening and hesitated to purchase tickets for future events. This change in activity, which might otherwise have been temporary, masked a more profound shift. The wiring of the country for high-speed connectivity, leading to the dot-com bubble and then its bursting in 2002, also meant that audiences who once relied on live theater and other cultural events for entertainment could now stay home and enjoy a wide range of excellent content for free in their own living rooms, with no transportation, babysitters or expensive tickets required. This new reality dramatically changed the landscape for cultural institutions that had long relied on subscription to fill their theaters. This heightened competition for the attention and funds of the cultural attendee posed new challenges for opera companies accustomed to depending on a substantial core of loyal, frequent attendees. One of the most notable examples was Lyric Opera of Chicago, which had for years prided itself on selling out entirely on subscription. After 2002, that ceased to be the case. Like other opera companies, Lyric had to rethink its marketing operations and learn how to maximize sales of single tickets.

Above: Leonard Bernstein takes David Gockley’s notes on A Quiet Place at Houston Grand Opera, 1983. Right: Gabriela Benacková in the title role of San Francisco Opera’s Jenufa, 1986

The Great Recession of 2008– 2009 further shook the opera world, as financial instability translated into audience dropoff and philanthropy shortfalls. Four large opera companies, already in financial distress before the recession, shut down. The recession worsened matters at the New York City Opera, one of the country’s biggest and oldest groups, which had been in crisis for years, amplifying the effects of

a series of disastrous choices that ultimately led to its bankruptcy in 2013. Others were better able to weather the changed environment by trimming budgets and seasons. For some, the change would not be temporary, and companies that continued to present fewer productions and performances would also continue to have smaller total audience numbers. Furthermore, with subscriptions no longer a given, individual audience members were attending less frequently. From 2000 to 2010, total attendance figures in OPERA America’s Annual Field Report showed that on average, opera companies saw a 28 percent drop in total attendance. For the largest companies, the average drop was 50 percent. This change in audience patterns became part of yet another challenge. Even if companies were presenting fewer performances, their expenses were not proportionately smaller, as the primary cost driver of opera — the labor of its performing artists and stage workers — continued to rise. Ticket prices could increase somewhat, but not as much as costs. This was not a new phenomenon: The percentage of an opera company’s budget covered by ticket sales had

been declining for decades. When the opera boom first began, box office receipts could be expected to pay for 50 or even 60 percent of an opera company’s operation. By 2010, that percentage, on average, was 27.7 percent, and continuing to decline. Thus, an increasing percentage of the total had to come from philanthropy. Most of the critically important individual donors came from the audience: opera lovers who paid considerably over and above the ticket price to sustain the institution. As David Gockley, who went from Houston to run San Francisco Opera in 2006, noted at the time of his retirement in 2016: “The traditional audience, most of whom are subscribers, are being replaced by younger people who are more casual, less loyal attendees. Subscribers contribute; nonsubscribers do not contribute.” At the top level, new billionaires, who made their money in tech and finance, proved less interested in legacy cultural institutions than earlier generations of wealthy people, preferring to devote their philanthropy to world-changing initiatives like education or disease eradication. Opera companies had already seen a marked diminution in corporate support, as local entities, such

as banks, were swallowed up by national enterprises that had different philanthropic priorities. And government funds devoted to the arts, whether local, regional or national, did not increase along with arts-organization budgets, and thus represented an ever-shrinking percentage of total philanthropy. Yet despite the challenges posed by a radically altered environment, the last two decades have been marked by a new wave of opera-company creation: 40 current

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Above: Washington National Opera’s Opera in the Outfield, 2017. Below: The Industry’s Hopscotch, 2015

of “indie opera,” which Scorca sees as a healthy reaction to the current world. “The training infrastructure of university and conservatory opera programs and young artist programs has grown tremendously, while the established infrastructure has shrunk since 2008, reducing productions and performances. So, there’s a big pipeline of training, and a smaller pipeline of hiring. But the barrier to entry is much diminished. In 1995, if you wanted to start an opera company, you had to have money to print marketing brochures and fundraising letters. Today, you can do it all on social media, websites, e-mail and crowdsourcing. Entrepreneurial artists are creating their own opportunities and fueling a second wave of development.” These indie opera companies have altered the definition of what opera can be: There needn’t be an orchestra in the pit, or flying scenery or even a theater. Companies like Heartbeat Opera have adapted classic works, rescoring them for small ensembles, rearranging and cutting them, and, in the case of Fidelio, using a filmed ensemble of

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real prisoners to sing the choruses and drive home the production’s contemporary message. The Industry performed Hopscotch, a new opera with multiple composers, in 24 limousines that drove around Los Angeles. The greatest talents honed in these kinds of enterprises, Scorca says, will find their way into the bigger companies, and shake them up, as well. “These companies may not be around for a 25th anniversary, but longevity is not the measure of their great contribution. Rather, it is their creativity, innovation and talent discovery.” Older companies have also embarked on new artistic strategies in response to economic pressures. For some, cutting back on mainstage productions has created opportunities to perform different, often riskier repertoire in smaller, alternative spaces. Moving out of the opera house has increased geographic and audience reach. It has also helped fuel a boom in the creation of new repertoire, which has accelerated dramatically in the last decade, with operas tackling all manner of contemporary subjects, including hot-button topics like war, sexual identity and race. The resulting artistic and community vibrancy and diversity of these new endeavors, even if born of necessity, have helped invigorate the art form and its practitioners. The expansion of opera beyond its traditional orthodoxies, spaces and audiences represents both a necessity and an opportunity for the future of opera in America. A major aspect of that expansion is work in civic practice: finding ways to make the opera company an essential part of the community in which it lives and to communicate its public value. Today, embracing that perspective may be a matter of survival. “Even if companies found some miraculous way to fill every house and increase every production by two performances, given the cost structure, earned income is still going to be a small share of overall income,” says Scorca. “And there aren’t enough opera-passionate

people to support a lot of our opera companies. They need support from people who aren’t passionate about opera, but realize that ‘the opera company is doing great things for the community, and we’ve got to have it here.’” Fifty years after OPERA America’s founding, its initial promise has been borne out by the sheer size and variety of the field. Of today’s 149 Professional Company Members, nearly 75 percent were founded in 1970 or later. Sixty-two Educational Producing Affiliate Members now present staged operas for enthusiastic audiences. Opera exists in major cities and tiny towns; it is a vacation destination and a tourist draw. Creative administrators and entrepreneurial artists are reinventing the art form and the institutions that present it. New creators have been welcomed, their talents changing and enriching the landscape. And while innovations like streaming and HD transmissions have increased access to opera, as did public television with Live from the Met back in the 1970s, and the Met radio broadcasts in the 1930s, experiencing the art form live, in the theater, remains vital. “Going to the opera is more than just going to the opera,” Scorca says. “It is an act of civic convergence, where you come together with your neighbors, around something that is not politically charged or intrinsically divisive. I think people still crave that civic connection, and that convening around an inspiring, neutral stimulus. It happens in companies and in cities large and small all the time, and it has a value beyond opera alone.” Heidi Waleson is the Wall Street Journal’s opera critic and the author of Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America.



OPERA America members were founded between 2000 and the present. They are, for the most part, small. (Only Opera Parallèle, Opera Naples, Beth Morrison Projects and Opera San Antonio are OA Budget 3 companies, with annual budgets of $1,000,000– $3,000,000; the rest fall in the Budget 4 and 5 categories.) Many of them represent a new flowering


The Or al History Project Key figures in OPERA America’s history offer their reminiscences.

Michael Bronson

Ann Farris

When I first joined OPERA America’s board, the NEA would convene field leaders to talk about the condition of the field and how grant programs might be adjusted to respond to those conditions. That no longer happens. In a way, OPERA America serves in that capacity. It was a great cross-pollination exercise. People got to know one another. For cost purposes, that was eliminated about 10 years ago. But one takeaway from that experience, which I still think is valid for the endowment: You can’t make an artistic evaluation of a small company in Montana when you’re also evaluating the Met. You have to be objective, but also recognize the value of the arts to those communities. The leadership of opera, symphony and arts organizations in the 70s really was optimistic. They thought that, with the establishment of the NEA and NEH, an objective of getting significant government money as a portion of your budget was realistic. And so when you served at the NEA, there was a level of excitement and commitment to making the NEA work in a way that would enable increased funding. Obviously, the mission has diminished. [Met General Manager] Anthony Bliss thought that one-third of the Met’s budget one day should come from government funding — city, state and federal. Now, it’s one-tenth of one percent, if that.

When I was working at San Francisco Opera in 1970, Glynn Ross came in one day to talk to our general director, Kurt Herbert Adler. Glynn was a fire engine, always on the go. But rumor had it that, because Glynn had tried to put together another opera company in San Francisco, he and Mr. Adler were not on particularly good terms. We were all fascinated about what the result would be, because Mr. Adler was very clear, always, about what he felt. Lo and behold, Glynn stayed in Mr. Adler’s office more than an hour. When it was done, Mr. Adler called us all in and said, “Glynn has got the best idea. He thinks that all of the professional opera companies in this country should band together and have a unified voice and an office in Washington, D.C.” So we said, “Okay, why?” And he replied, “Because the National Endowment for the Arts has become a reality, and we can only raise funds through it if we all support the process. Glynn wants me to get Carol Fox [Lyric Opera of Chicago] and Julius Rudel [New York City Opera] and Rudolf Bing [Metropolitan Opera] to come together with us and agree that the idea is sound, because without the biggies, the small won’t happen.”

Michael Bronson was technical administrator at the Metropolitan Opera and an OPERA America board member from 1974 to 1985

The Oral History Project is conducted with support from the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation, in partnership with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Arts administrator Ann Farris served as OPERA America’s executive director from 1974 to 1979.


To wa r d t h e N ex t 50 Y ea r s While it celebrates its 50th anniversary, OPERA America is introducing initiatives aimed at spurring the field’s progress over the next half-century. Grants for Subsequent Productions will help recently premiered American operas gain a foothold in the repertory by providing opera companies with funds to stage them in new productions. Last year, OA launched its IDEA Opera Grants (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access), providing funds for composers and librettists of color to develop new works; a new program, IDEA Opera Residencies, will build on this initiative by offering residencies to New York-area creators of color at OA’s National Opera Center, giving them space to incubate new operas. More information about both grant programs will be available next year.

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OUTSTANDING WORKS , DEC ADE BY DEC ADE Leading critics select their favorite American operas T H E 1 9 70 s


W Y N N E D E L AC O M A c o nt r i b ut o r, M u s i c a l Am e r i c a

Treemonisha (Scott Joplin)

PAT R I C K D I L L O N c o nt r i b ut o r, O p e ra C a n a d a , O p e ra Ne w s

Sweeney Todd (Stephen Sondheim/ Hugh Wheeler) JANOS GEREBEN c o nt r i b ut o r, S a n F ra n c i s c o C l a s s i c a l Vo i c e

Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass/ Christopher Knowles)

MARK GRESHAM c o n t r i b ut o r, Ar t s AT L

Einstein on the Beach

NOEL MORRIS, p r o d u c e r, W F M T R a d i o Ne t wo r k

GEORGE LOOMIS, c o n t r i b ut o r, F i n a n c i a l T i m e s, O p e ra

FR ANK OTERI, c o - e d it o r, Ne wM u s i c B o x

Einstein on the Beach

K Y L E M AC M I L L A N , c o n t r i b ut o r, C h i c a g o S u n -T i m e s

Summer and Smoke (Lee Hoiby/Lanford Wilson) S A R A H B R YA N M I L L E R , c r it i c , S t . L o u i s Po s t- D i s p a t c h

Miss Havisham’s Fire (Dominick Argento/John Olon-Scrymgeour)

Sweeney Todd

Einstein on the Beach

FR ED PLOTK IN, c o n t r i b ut o r, WQX R . c o m

Of Mice And Men (Carlisle Floyd)

JOHN ROCK W ELL c o nt r i b ut o r, O p e ra , Financial Times

Einstein on the Beach

R ICH A R D SA SA NOW o p e r a e d it o r, B r o a d w ay Wo rl d

J EN NA SI M EONOV e d it o r, S c h m o p e ra

Einstein on the Beach

STEV E SMITH e d it o r, Na t i o n a l S a w d u s t L o g

Einstein on the Beach

BR IN SOLOMON c o nt r i b ut o r, Na t i o n a l S a w d u s t L o g

A Water Bird Talk (Dominick Argento)

H E I D I WA L E S O N c r it i c , T h e Wa l l S t r e e t J o u r n a l

Of Mice And Men

Sweeney Todd


Einstein on the Beach

Einstein at LA Opera in 2013

A revolution to some, an aberration for others: Einstein on the Beach, the five-hour opera in four acts by composer Philip Glass and director/producer Robert Wilson, was unlike anything that had come before it. Eschewing virtually all operatic conventions, the watershed work — introduced in Avignon in 1976, and reprised later that year when Glass and Wilson rented the Metropolitan Opera House for two performances — offered a dreamlike sequence of sublimely lit tableaus. The libretto, comprising texts by Christopher Knowles, Lucinda Childs and Samuel M. Johnson, was declaimed rather than sung; a chorus intoned numbers and solfege syllables offstage. Dancers occupied the stage, their angular, repetitive movements echoing Glass’ rumbling drones, gentle arpeggios and frenetic surges. Whether the work was meant to evoke an atomic apocalypse remains subject to debate — but Einstein on the Beach blew wide open doors of possibility for contemporary opera, and firmly established Glass and Wilson as eminent figures in the art form for decades to come. —Steve Smith

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he Opera Conferences of recent years have each been organized around a single overarching theme. This year’s outing marked a change of course. Opera Conference 2019, held in San Francisco from June 12 to 16, offered three thematic tent poles — “Examining Traditions,” “Exploring Business Innovation,” and “Deepening Civic Practice” — each introduced at a general session, where speakers offered “provocations” about the theme, with smaller subsequent discussions exploring the topics further. It soon became clear that none of the themes could be isolated from the other two. Any discussion of business innovation, for instance, will necessarily encompass the manner in which the field and its practitioners approach the heritage of opera, along with companies’ roles as civic practitioners. Over the four days, a record-setting 700 attendees explored these broad themes, while also diving into topics tailored to the various professions within the opera field. With San Francisco Opera as the host of the conference, attendees had the chance to take in three mainstage productions — Carmen, Rusalka and Orlando — as well as a preview of Merola Opera Program’s first-ever commission, If I Were You by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. The conference also provided numerous opportunities for social gatherings, the highlight of which was the Host Company Reception at SFO’s Wilsey Center, where attendees could experience a demonstration of Meyer Sound’s Constellation acoustic system, which allows the Center’s performance hall to take on a range of acoustic environments. To view select sessions from the conference, visit OPERA America’s YouTube channel. Next year’s conference, OA’s 50th, will take place May 13 to 16 in Seattle, with Seattle Opera as host company.

Ann Farris, archive associate at San Francisco Opera and former executive director of OPERA America, and Chidi Ozieh, managing and media director at Ardea Arts

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“What percentage of your company’s energy and output is devoted to your large-scale productions?” asked Roger Weitz, general director of Omaha Opera. “What percentage of your company’s annual budget is supported by ticket sales to those performances?” Weitz’s questions, addressed to attendees of the June 14 “Exploring Business Innovation” general session, proposed that opera companies broaden their range of focus in defining their operations, looking at themselves not simply as purveyors of opera productions, but as civic resources, serving their communities through activities both on and off the stage. The afternoon’s explicit focus was on business practices. The breakout sessions that followed the general session addressed issues like collective-bargaining tactics and audience-building strategies; Matthew Shilvock, San Francisco Opera’s general director, led a session on his company’s new strategic framework. But inevitably, the discussions raised topics encompassing the full range of opera’s operations, from repertoire and production choices to education and community engagement. The discussions encouraged opera professionals to address the idea of innovation itself. In some ways, the field’s measured rate of change may be tied in with its self-definition: After all, the industry expends a good proportion of its resources to maintain an ingrained repertory of standard works. Annie Burridge, general director and CEO of Austin Opera, observed that the field’s “core value is not innovation; it’s preservation.” Alexis Gonzalez-Black, an organizational-change professional with the consulting firm August Public, suggested that, given the inherent structural difficulties of amending ingrained practices, the best tactic is to stress “incrementalism” over “transformation.” Whatever strategy the field pursues, though, the sessions highlighted the real need to look at present practices and make informed decisions about how innovation can be applied. “Becoming an agile organization is deep, valuable work that impacts every part of the operating model,” Gonzales-Black said. “It starts with the courage to try and fail — to take the heat, and learn your way forward.”

Librettist Cerise Jacobs with Robert Marx, president of the Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation


Conference Crosscurrents


M AT T H E W S H I LV O C K General Director, San Francisco Opera

“Innovation is an act of creativity, and it needs to have a playfulness and ephemerality to it, staying flexible, learning, adapting and pivoting. That kind of playfulness can be anathema to opera companies for which perfection is often an ideal. We need to think of ourselves as creative companies, not just companies with creative products.” ROGER WEITZ General Director, Opera Omaha

“For a field that is both reliant on philanthropy and often accused of being irrelevant, should we not focus more energy on serving those who can’t afford or choose not to attend our largescale productions? What innovations might be possible if we thought of ourselves as cultural resources for our communities rather than just opera companies?”

Composer Kamala Sankaram with Courtney Rizzo, director of financial planning at LA Opera

Composer Jake Heggie and director Daniel Kramer


Claude Debussy once noted that his ability to innovate came from his knowledge of musical tradition. His pronouncement might have served as a starting point for “Examining Traditions,” the first of Opera Conference 2019’s three plenary sessions. The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott, the event’s moderator, led off with the observation that the tension between tradition and innovation wasn’t just about aesthetic preference, but also a matter of financial and civic responsibility. Kennicott focused on audiences, asking panel participants, “How do we make opera relevant to communities? What is the value of a core tradition?” Panelists responded in myriad ways, ranging from what 50 years ago might have been considered heretical — producer Beth Morrison suggested axing Die Entführung aus dem Serail from the canon — to director/administrator Daniel Kramer’s proposal to cut and rearrange canonic staples. An opera company’s audience, and the community from which that audience is drawn, is key in considering the role of tradition in its programming. Timothy O’Leary’s audience (Washington National Opera) is going to be different than Nicole Paiement’s audience (Opera Parallèle). Matthew Shilvock, the general director of San Francisco Opera, said that an examination of tradition involves an understanding of audience expectations, and the necessity in maintaining that audience’s trust. In his company’s case, he said, this takes the form of respecting expectations around a small body of works, and then being “really thoughtful and diverse when looking at the rest of the repertoire.” From the perspective of Elise Brunelle from Cape Town Opera, balancing innovation and tradition means respecting the needs of a community of emerging and early-career singers. “What we choose to do is very singer-driven,” she explained, describing partnerships with the University of Cape Town Opera School. Beth Morrison argued that working against tradition is a form of civic duty. Kramer for his part warned that tradition should not be a set of blinders preventing companies from “shattering expectations.” — Megan Steigerwald Ille

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was taken from my mother and father at a very early age and made a ward of the state. My parents’ criminal behavior kept them in and out of prison through all my childhood and most of my teenage years. They were deemed irresponsible, unsafe and unsuitable — not fit to raise children. Separately, I suppose, under a lessill-omened star, they might have led respectable lives and contributed, in some way, to my upbringing and to society. My father was a struggling alto saxophonist; my mother devoured Jet, Ebony and movie magazines. I inherited a love of old movies, storytelling and laughter from my mother; from my father, a secretive, selfpossessed, cagey nature. I’m a loner, holding everything close to the chest. I’ve only lately, in the last several years, begun to share publicly who I am and where I’ve come from. Together, my parents were a disaster. There were warning signs. They fought on their wedding day, walking up the aisle in the church after exchanging vows. Five and four years after bringing me and my younger brother, respectively, into the world, their tragic team negligence resulted in a fire in our home. I was saved; it took my brother’s life. Tossed about for two years in uncertain residences, I was finally placed at St. Dominic’s Convent in Blauvelt, New York, and spent the next eight years of my childhood there. I was a boy soprano in the choir and an altar boy. I learned how to read music, and also read and write Latin: a great advantage later in life when I directed opera all over the world in various languages. At St. Dominic’s, I did not know, nor was I introduced to, the music of my culture — Negro spirituals, gospel, blues or jazz — nor much of the Gregorian chants, liturgical music or hymns of my new religion, Roman Catholicism. No, my music was opera.

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Playwright and director Tazewell Thompson wrote the libretto for Blue, with music by Jeanine Tesori. The opera had its world premiere this summer at The Glimmerglass Festival.


My First Opera


Sister Benvenuta taught music on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A tall, thin, elegant figure in her white Dominican Sisters’ habit; black hard-arched veil; chunky black lace-up practical heels. Her long boney fingers with a pitch pipe eternally clutched to her like a third hand; a smooth comforting whisper of a speaking voice; a sweet soprano singing. She would wheel a metal, cage-like trolley with a record player on top and, in the two compartments below, her prized collection of long-playing opera records, compliments of the Longines Symphonette Society. She told us all the plots of the great opera warhorses. She played the highlights and taught us what to listen for. She waxed ecstatic over the voices that filled the classroom: Callas, Caruso, Tebaldi, Sutherland, Corelli, Tucker, Robeson, Sills and Leontyne Price. She would speak of size and range and use expressions like “fresh,” “silvery,” “silky,” “shimmering,” “bell-like,” “brassy,” “coloratura,” “fireworks” and “bombastic.” Today, whenever I hear an aria, no matter who’s singing, I associate it with the time I first heard it with Sister Benvenuta. My first opera was Dialogues of the Carmelites at New York City Opera. I was in high school, and I don’t recall the production very much. I do, however, remember the intriguing sounds from the wonderful orchestra and the stage full of nuns. Ten years later, I saw John Dexter’s brilliant Metropolitan Opera Carmelites production from the cheapest standing room section, near the roof of the opera house. When the slow curtain revealed the company of nuns lying face down on a raked stage, lighted in the shape of a cross, I wept. Dexter’s production remains for me one the most memorable in my opera-viewing experience. Dialogues of the Carmelites remains my favorite opera. The libretto, inspired by a true story, has real human beings, not pasteboard operatic characters or mythological creatures. I love it all: the assertive orchestrations; the abundant fund of sensuous melody; the perfect choice of harmony for vocal expression; the stretches of recitatives and parlando; music that is spare, precise, subtle, nuanced, gut-wrenching; themes of pride, fear, faith, courage, community. The Salve Regina at the end of the opera still emotionally affects me as I recall it even now. I’ve directed my own production at Glimmerglass, New York City Opera, Vancouver and Indiana. It is a great work. A beautiful work. A major work. I am blessed to have had Dialogues of the Carmelites so deeply embedded in my life — as it turns out, from childhood.

SALOME Richard Strauss

Jan 25, 28, 31, Feb 2, 2020 | Cobb Energy Centre


SALOME Jennifer Holloway JOCHANAAN Nathan Berg HEROD ANTIPAS Frank Van Aken HERODIAS Jennifer Larmore NARRABOTH Adam Diegel

National Opera Center 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001

OPEN YOUR MIND TO OPERA | MARCH 20 – APRIL 5, 2020 OPEN YOUR MIND TO OPERA | MARCH 20 – APRIL 5, 2020 Dynamic Productions, Spectacular Artists, Meaningful Connections Dynamic Productions, Spectacular Artists, Meaningful Connections ONEFESTIVALOMAHA.ORG ONEFESTIVALOMAHA.ORG

MARCH MARCH 25, 25, 27 27 & & 29 29 APRIL APRIL 4 4& & 5, 5, 2020 2020


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Conductor Stephen Stubbs Conductor Stephen Stubbs Director Christopher Alden Director Christopher Alden

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Bellini Bellini

Conductor Christopher Allen Conductor Christopher Director James Darrah Allen Director James Darrah

Profile for OPERA America

Opera America Magazine: Fall 2019 Preview  

Opera America Magazine: Fall 2019 Preview