SPRING 2017â€ƒ $5.99
THE MEDIASCAPE IN FLUX SUCCESSFUL PREMIERES IDEAL BOARDS STRATEGY GURU DAVID MCINTOSH
Opera Conference 2017 Welcome to Dallas! As this year’s host company, The Dallas Opera is pleased to present the following special programming selected especially for our opera counterparts. We hope your schedule will permit you to see one or all of the following performances.
Thursday, May 4 • 7:30 PM Experience an exotic and appealing soundscape that combines elements of both the East and the West in this visually-enhanced concert performance of Douglas Cuomo’s critically acclaimed opera about life’s biggest questions. The composer melds classical, jazz, chamber and Indian musical traditions to create a work of both sweeping grandeur and hushed intimacy. Conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Nicole Paiement.
Friday, May 5 • 7:30 PM A semi-staged performance—with projections—of Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s stunningly powerful and poignant masterpiece conducted by Music Director Emmanuel Villaume. Features several stars from TDO’s 2015 world premiere. Preceded by a world premiere “curtain raiser” by Joby Talbot, inspired by mountaineer George Mallory’s attempts to summit the world’s highest peak in the 1920s, with historical film footage provided by the BFI National Archive.
Saturday, May 6 • 2 PM
THE MAGIC PIANO BREAKTHRU FILMS
This animation adventure produced in 2011 is the tale of two children in Warsaw who discover an old piano abandoned on a junk heap. It becomes their magical ride through the skies above Europe, as the kids dodge hot air balloons in France, fierce storms and darkening skies over London. With a live piano score performed by Derek Wang, a young protégé of Lang Lang, this charming yet unforgettable adventure will stick with you, long after we come back down to earth!
Sunday, May 7 • 2 PM This 19th century jewel of the bel canto repertoire is set in the tense and dangerous atmosphere of Romanoccupied Gaul. The title character, sung by Elza van den Heever, is a Druid high priestess in love with the Roman commander—so much so, that she has borne him two children. Now, his eye has strayed to a lovely, young priestess and Norma is consumed with a desire to get her revenge. TDO’s season finale features an all-star cast conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.
For additional information or to purchase tickets:
dallasopera.org • 214.443.1000
S P R I N G 2 O 17 t h e m a ga z i n e o f OPERA America – the national ser vice organiz ation for opera, which leads and serves the entire opera community, s u p p o r t i n g t h e c r e at i o n , p r e s e n tat i o n a n d e n j o y m e n t o f o p e r a EDITOR Fred Cohn FCohn@operaamerica.org ART DIRECTOR Andrew M. Prinz ASSOCIATE EDITOR Nicholas Wise NWise@operaamerica.org ADVERTISING MANAGER Vincent Covatto VCovatto@operaamerica.org DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS Patricia Kiernan Johnson PKJohnson@operaamerica.org ON THE COVER Allegory of Time, Media & Opera, 2017 by Andrew M. Prinz Opera America (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in September, December, March and June. Copyright © 2017 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 Editor@operaamerica.org. The deadline for advertising submissions is 45 days before publication date. The presence of advertising implies no endorsement of the products or services offered. For advertising rates, e-mail Advertising@operaamerica.org. OPERA America 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620
PERSON TO PERSON
By Marc A. Scorca
A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID MCINTOSH
By Marc A. Scorca
THE MEDIASCAPE IN FLUX By Ray Mark Rinaldi
BOARD RECRUITMENT: BEST PRACTICES By Fred Cohn
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR SUCCESSFUL PREMIERES By the Editors
MY FIRST OPERA
By Nicole Paiement
Timothy O’Leary Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Frayda B. Lindemann, Ph.D. Trustee, The Metropolitan Opera IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIRMAN
Perryn Leech Houston Grand Opera VICE-CHAIRMAN
Susan F. Morris Trustee, The Santa Fe Opera VICE-CHAIRMAN
Stephen Trampe Trustee, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis VICE-CHAIRMAN
Evan J. Hazell Trustee, Calgary Opera TREASURER
William Florescu Florentine Opera Company SECRETARY
Marc A. Scorca PRESIDENT/CEO
BOARD OF DIRECTORS John E. Baumgardner Jr. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP David Bennett San Diego Opera Daniel Biaggi Palm Beach Opera Wayne S. Brown Michigan Opera Theatre
Charles MacKay The Santa Fe Opera Zizi Mueller Boosey & Hawkes Esther Nelson Boston Lyric Opera Eric Owens Nicole Paiement Opera Parallèle Bill Palant Étude Arts Jane DiRenzo Pigott Trustee, Lyric Opera of Chicago Yuval Sharon The Industry Kathryn Smith Madison Opera Jill Steinberg Trustee, VisionIntoArt John G. Turner Trustee, Houston Grand Opera Dona D. Vaughn PORTopera, Manhattan School of Music Francesca Zambello The Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS Christina Loewen, Opera.ca Nicholas Payne, Opera Europa Robert Tancer
Ned Canty Opera Memphis
NATIONAL OPERA CENTER BOARD OF OVERSEERS
Keith Cerny The Dallas Opera
Robert Tancer, CHAIRMAN James M. Barton John E. Baumgardner Jr. L. Henry Cox III Douglas Cuomo Elizabeth Eveillard Sanford Fisher Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, Ed. D. Jane A. Gross Karen Kriendler Nelson Frederick W. Peters Stephen Prystowsky, M.D. Jane A. Robinson Anthony Rudel Michael Scimeca, M.D. Jeri Sedlar Thurmond Smithgall Brett Stover Gregory C. Swinehart Barbara Augusta Teichert Darren K. Woods Carole Yaley
Emilie Roy Corey Trustee, National Guild for Community Arts Education Larry Desrochers Manitoba Opera Michael Egel Des Moines Metro Opera Robert Ellis Trustee, San Francisco Opera, Opera Parallèle James Feldman Trustee, Washington National Opera Barbara Glauber Trustee, Boston Lyric Opera Christopher Hahn Pittsburgh Opera Carol F. Henry Trustee, Los Angeles Opera
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PERSON TO PERSON
ecent months have been filled with meetings of members that have strengthened our practice in areas central to the field. The Strategy Committee was followed almost immediately in December by the first convening of a new Civic Action Group. The pace continued in January with the New Works Forum, the National Trustee Forum in February and an informative meeting about race, ethnicity and casting in opera that was hosted by Washington National Opera around the opening night of the company’s production of Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s Champion. In all, we engaged more than 200 members from 60 companies to lay the groundwork for important work ahead. These discussions represent one of OPERA America’s most important services: facilitating learning among experts from within and outside our field to gain deeper insight that we can translate into resources that serve all members. We will issue research reports and meeting summaries in the coming months, and much of our learning will be shared at the annual conference in Dallas this May. The Civic Action Group was a highlight. Made possible by a special and deeply appreciated grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, representatives from seven companies (five from the U.S. and two from Canada) were invited to work with experts in community arts and civic practice and explore ways that opera and opera companies can contribute more fully to healthy communities. In the first year of this program, we elected to reinforce the work of companies that were already leaders in order to help them transfer their expertise to other members. More companies will be invited to participate in the second year of the program. Faculty members left us with gems: the “sovereignty of context” in adapting programs to local conditions; the importance of time in building trust with new partners; the need to respect the cultural capital of communities that may be new to opera, but have vibrant artistic traditions; and the importance of showing up, listening, seeing and learning as the basis for establishing mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationships. We were encouraged to live in the “realm of curiosity and questions” and to demonstrate humility despite the power of the connections and resources that are inherent to the opera community. These last points correlate with a book I’m reading, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, in which the author attributes the origin of the scientific revolution in Europe, which began around 1500, to the willingness to acknowledge how much we don’t know. (Finding a continent that no European had known about prior to 1492 was a good start!) These ideas also link to my interview with author and consultant David McIntosh, who shares his thoughts about how we learn (see page 16). Among his observations is the need to meet in person: “There’s no substitute for learning from people face to face,” he says. David will speak more about individual and institutional learning in Dallas. I hope you will participate in our collective learning process at Opera Conference 2017, enjoy four days of living in curiosity and reinvest in the collaborative relationships that are the backbone of our industry. See you in Dallas.
Marc A. Scorca President/CEO
SPRING 2017 3
PLUGGED-IN PROJECTS eople are amazed at how opera can deal with subjects that have a direct impact on our lives,” says Michael Egel, general and artistic director of Des Moines Metro Opera. By staging its recent production of Soldier Songs at a local military installation, the company directly engaged veterans of conflict: the group whose lives are so vividly chronicled in David T. Little’s opera. Like DMMO, companies everywhere are finding new energy — and real community impact — when they address the hot-button social issues of our day. Florida Grand Opera, which has put a priority on community-engagement projects aimed at making the art form accessible and inclusive, has gone one step further with its most recent initiative. The Cadenza Project makes opera a rehabilitative haven for some of South Florida’s most marginalized citizens: young girls who have been rescued from human trafficking. Partnering with three local organizations that assist human trafficking victims — Kristi House, Citrus Health Network and Our Kids of Miami-Dade — FGO developed the program to provide the girls with a sense of normalcy and to bolster their self-esteem. The company looked to one of its existing programs, Opera Teens, as a model, giving the Cadenza Project participants many of the same experiences: discussions about the characters and stories of FGO’s mainstage productions, behind-thescenes meetings with production staff and artists, and attendance at dress rehearsals. Working with victims of human trafficking required the buy-in and participation of everyone on FGO’s staff, from the top down. “We all had to work with the court system and go through extensive training,” says Rebekah DiazFandrei, a soprano and the company’s director of education and community engagement. “But Susan [Danis, president and CEO] wanted the entire staff to be a part of this.” This full-staff endeavor has proved a key element in making the Cadenza Project a success: The girls recognize — and feel welcomed by — everyone they see in the hallways or backstage at an FGO production. One girl
4 OPERA AMERICA
Michael Mayes in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Soldier Songs, by David T. Little
I N N O V A T I O N S
Caption here soluptat ibusciet vent. Tisita voluptas molenti bersperit
even expressed that she wanted to go to college to become a stage manager, and she now interns as an assistant stage manager, working on productions of Carmen and Eugene Onegin. Diaz-Fandrei’s personal commitment to social engagement stems from her Bronx childhood as a member of what she calls “an impoverished family.” Education programs at the Met provided her with an early entrée into opera; when she later decided to pursue a singing career, she realized that opera allowed her to present her artistry, not her origins, to the world. “It wasn’t about ‘I look down at you because of X, Y and Z,’” she says. “Instead
A talk-back session following a Soldier Songs performance at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa
it was ‘You sing really fantastic.’ Opera doesn’t care about where you come from; it just cares about where you are now.” Like FGO, Opéra de Montréal is working to address a marginalized group within its community: the homeless. In collaboration with Le Sac à Dos, an organization that provides housing and other services to the homeless, Opéra de Montréal has developed Street Opera for people who live or formerly lived on the streets. The program launched this fall, with 15 participants attending a series of workshops and dress rehearsals as an introduction the art form. “I told them, ‘Leave your problems
I N N O V A T I O N S
BIG FISH, LITTLE FISH s far as we’re concerned, indie companies build awareness and audiences for opera in general,” says Canadian Opera Company’s Nina Draganic. She’s the director of COC’s Ensemble Studio and its Orchestra Academy, and now is overseeing a new two-year COC residency program for the Toronto indie opera company Against the Grain Theatre. The initiative indicates that COC doesn’t see the indie opera scene as a threat to its hegemony, but instead as a sign of a healthy operatic ecology. “Any support we give them supports us, as well,” Draganic says. That wisdom can be seen in the relationships that big-budget opera companies — Opera Philadelphia, Fort Worth Opera, San Francisco Opera — have formed with New York-based Beth Morrison Projects. The independent production outfit puts together productions that typically land in multiple venues; in order for the business model to work, BMP needs presenting partners. “I don’t have a venue; I don’t have a lot of resources,” Morrison herself says. “Everything I do is a partnership.” The closest major-company bond that Morrison has forged is with Los Angeles Opera. The two organizations have an ongoing agreement, resulting in at least one BMP production on the LA Opera roster each season. The current Los Angeles season included Ted Hearne and Mark Doten’s The Source in October, with the West Coast premiere of Kamala Sankaram and Susan Yankowitz’s Thumbprint to follow in June. Keeril Makan and Jay Scheib’s Persona is due next season. The arrangement grew out of a cold call that LA Opera President/CEO Christopher Koelsch made to Morrison in 2013. “I saw that Beth was presiding over operas by emerging composers, and I wanted to make sure that work was heard in Los Angeles,” Koelsch says. “I wanted to come up with a model that would allow that to happen in an efficient way. The process has turned out to be remarkably easy.” The BMP partnership forms part of Koelsch’s drive to make contemporary opera integral to his company’s offerings. Mainstage productions in recent seasons have included Akhnaten, Florencia en el Amazonas, The Ghosts of Versailles
CRAIG T. MATHEW/LA OPERA
Beth Morrison Projects’ Anatomy Theater, by David Lang and Mark Dion, at its 2016 world premiere in Los Angeles. Pictured: Marc Kudisch and Peabody Southwell
and Moby-Dick. The BMP productions, presented at the 250-seat venue REDCAT and forming a significant part of LA Opera’s alternative-stage “Off Grand” initiative, allow the company to offer cutting-edge work while achieving significant economies of scale. “By presenting rather than producing, our cost structure changes significantly,” says Koelsch. “If I were to try to do it myself, it would cost 10 times as much.” The young audiences that the BMP shows attract may not be candidates for standard-repertory opera. “A lot of our ‘Off Grand’ audience will never set foot in
The Abduction from the Seraglio,” Koelsch says. But Morrison says her shows have made a young crowd newly aware of LA Opera’s activities. “People in their 20s and 30s who came to my shows went on to see Akhnaten,” Morrison says. “It wouldn’t have been in their purview before.” Just as important, LA Opera’s recent commitment to contemporary opera has expanded its donor base, due in no small part to Morrison’s ties to the new-music community. “They’ve turned themselves into exactly what a 21st-century company should be,” says Morrison. As Koelsch puts it: SPRING 2017 7
P E O P L E T R A N S I T I O N S
of the young artist program at The Glimmerglass Festival. The company has also hired its first-ever permanent assistant conductor, Jonathan Brandani. Eileen M. Pronobis has joined Opera Carolina as deputy director of philanthropy. MATT GRAY
ichita Grand Opera’s president and CEO, Parvan Bakardiev, and founder and artistic director, Margaret Ann Pent, have announced plans to retire at the end of 2018. Karen Brooks has been appointed executive director of Mill City Summer Opera. Matthew Buckman has stepped down from his posts as general director of Fresno Grand Opera and Townsend Opera. Opera Parallèle has named Debbie Chinn as its new executive director. Chinn was previously the executive director of the Carmel Bach Festival. Walter Huff has stepped down from his position as The Atlanta Opera’s chorus master to focus on his teaching post at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Brian Kellow, former features editor of Opera News, has been named public relations manager at Florida Grand Opera. Jay McMahon has taken up the post of development director at Tri-Cities Opera. W.R. (Bob) McPhee has retired from Calgary Opera after serving as general director and CEO for 19 years. He has taken on the role of special advisor during the search for a successor. Taras Kulish, director of artistic operations, and Lauren Martin, director of finance and administration, are leading the company in the interim. Opera Grand Rapids has named conductor James Meena as its artistic director. He retains his role as general director and principal conductor of Opera Carolina. Chicago Opera Theater has announced that General Director Andreas Mitisek will depart the company in September. He will be succeeded by Douglas Clayton, who currently serves as COT’s executive director. At Seattle Opera, Kristina Murti has been promoted from associate director of marketing to director of marketing and communications. North Carolina Opera has announced that Artistic and Music Director Timothy Myers will be stepping down in September. Beth Morrison Projects has named Craig Pattison as its director of development. Minnesota Opera has selected Allen Perriello as its new head of music. Perriello also serves as head of music at Arizona Opera and director SIMON PAULY
CHICAGO OPERA THEATER
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Indianapolis Opera has announced the appointment of David Craig Starkey as general director and the return of Robert Driver — who led the company from 1981 to 1991 — as artistic and new initiatives adviser. Starkey is the founding general and artistic director of Asheville Lyric Opera, and he retains a position with that company. Hawaii Opera Theatre has hired Kevin Takamori as director of fundraising and major gifts. American Opera Projects has welcomed Anne Troy as its director of development. New England Conservatory has announced that conductor Robert Tweten will join its opera faculty as music director in the fall. Tweten is also head of music staff at The Santa Fe Opera. Darren K. Woods, the former general director of Fort Worth Opera, has begun working full time with Seagle Music Colony. Woods, who has held a leadership position with the Colony since 1996, will retain the title of artistic director but will now also lead the organization’s fundraising efforts. Opera Omaha has appointed Joan Wortmann as director of marketing and public relations.
P E O P L E
K U D O S
ezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was named the winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2017 Beverly Sills Artist Award. The $50,000 award is given annually to an extraordinarily gifted singer between the ages of 25 and 40 who has already appeared in featured solo roles at the Met. Washington Performing Arts, a D.C.-area presenter of music and dance, bestowed its 2017 Ambassador of the Arts Award on mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves for her exceptional talent and dedicated work as a citizen-artist. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington National Opera gave its 2017 Marian Anderson Vocal Award to countertenor John Holiday. The award, which confers a prize of $10,000, recognizes a young American singer who exhibits promise for a significant career. The Assembly of the State of New York honored Bronx Opera Company with a proclamation commemorating the company’s 50th anniversary and paying tribute to its founding artistic director, Michael Spierman. The Conseil Québecois de la musique presented two of its annual Opus awards to Chants Libres for the company’s 2016 world premiere of The Trials of Patricia Isasa by Kristin Norderval and Naomi Wallace. It was
I N Roberta Peters, renowned for her flexible coloratura and bell-like tone, died on January 18 at age 86. Peters shot to fame in 1950 after
named Montreal’s Concert of the Year, as well as Best Modern and Contemporary Music Concert. Los Angeles Opera’s recording of The Ghosts of Versailles, the first-ever CD release of John Corigliano and William M. Hoffman’s 1991 opera, won two Grammy awards: Best Opera Recording and Best Engineered Album in the Classical category. The CD is from Pentatone’s recently established America Opera Series of recordings. The Regional Arts and Culture Council of Portland honored Portland Opera and Portland State School of Architecture with its 2017 Innovative Partnership Award, which comes with a $5,000 prize. The two organizations collaborated on “Opera a la Cart,” a mobile performance venue designed by PSU architecture students — and inspired by Portland’s food truck culture — that the opera company uses for pop-up performances. The program received early support from a 2015 OPERA America Building Opera Audiences grant. Houston Grand Opera announced the winners of the 29th annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers: Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen won the first-place prize of $10,000; soprano Nicolette Book took the second-place prize of $5,000; and baritone Thomas Glass received the third-place prize of $3,000. At the 46th annual George London Foundation Awards Competition for Singers, the top prizes of $10,000 each went to tenor Aaron Blake, soprano Michelle Bradley, tenor Errin Duane Brooks, baritone Will Liverman and soprano Lara Secord-Haid. An additional 13 finalists received awards totaling $25,000.
M E M O R I A M
making her Met debut at age 20, filling in for an indisposed Nadine Conner as Zerlina in Don Giovanni. She went on to enjoy one of the longest careers in the Met’s history, singing more than 500 times over 35 years, while also appearing at Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Cincinnati Opera. The telegenic singer established herself as pop culture figure in the 1950s and 60s, frequently appearing on programs such as The Voice of Firestone and The Ed Sullivan Show.
PETERS AND GEDDA PHOTOS COURTESY METROPOLITAN OPERA ARCHIVES
Nicolai Gedda, one of the leading lyric tenors of the 20th century, died on January 8 at age 91. In a career spanning nearly 50 years, the Swedishborn singer mastered a
wide-ranging repertoire — everything from Mozart and German Romanticism, to bel canto, French grand opera and verismo. In the U.S., he made the Met his artistic home, singing 367 times from his debut in 1957 to his final appearance, as Alfredo in La traviata, in 1983. Gedda originated the role of Anatol in Barber and Menotti’s Vanessa (1957), and sang Kodanda in the 1964 U.S. premiere of Menotti’s The Last Savage. He leaves behind a discography of more than 200 recordings.
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DOUGLAS R. LANGDON
LEARNING CURVES A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID McINTOSH
avid McIntosh is the founder and president of Creative Business Breakthroughs LLC, working with executives and their organizations at the intersection of innovation and effectiveness. He served on the board of directors of OPERA America from 2001 to 2007, the final two years as treasurer. Here he talks with Marc A. Scorca, OPERA America’s president and CEO, about how organizations — opera companies included — learn and innovate.
SCORCA: The world of opera is constantly changing, which means that the people in our field have to develop a lot of flexibility and a real capacity for learning. So, my first question to you is how do people — and organizations — learn? McINTOSH: People like to think that you learn from your mistakes, but more often we learn from our successes. We do the same things again and again because they worked the first time. We may also learn from our enormous failures. Mark Twain said, “A cat that sits down on a hot stove lid will never sit down on a hot stove lid again,” but the cat may not understand why she doesn’t go on the stove again. Often organizations or corporations have problems doing something, but they don’t even realize what’s going on psychologically. It seems to me that’s just natural — we tend to be so caught up in the affairs of the day that we don’t take time to reflect. 16 OPERA AMERICA
There’s both incremental learning — learning how to do something a little bit better than you’ve been doing it — and learning how to do something completely new. These come from different sources. Learning to do something a little bit better takes concentration, takes focused attention. We’ve all heard that you should practice something for 10,000 hours before you’re really good at it. But just practicing for 10,000 hours doesn’t make a difference: It has to be focused practicing — listening to what you’re doing and trying to get better. Just sitting at the piano for 10,000 hours can make for unhappy parents and unsuccessful pianists. You need a conscious approach to improvement, and that’s hard for people; that’s hard for organizations. Sometimes learning comes from ideas that stimulate your thinking. Where do you search for new ideas? When you look at advances in any particular field — science, biology,
computer science, art — they often come from people coming from outside of the field. I think there’s no substitute for learning from people face to face. The people who are best at learning look at the broadest range of people — not just the ones you work with or socialize with, but people who are doing interesting things in all sorts of disciplines and pursuits. I think we’ve gotten really bad at mingling, on a serious level, with other people doing other things — at sitting down to dinner with a heart surgeon or a schoolteacher or a policeman and finding out what is interesting in their jobs. How are they doing things differently than they did five years ago? There’s an enormous amount of learning that you can have in that conversation, but you have to be real and be present, and you have to value the person you’re listening to. How do you learn from other people? And how do you determine whom to learn from?
I’ll give you two examples of people I’ve learned from. One is the principal at my children’s middle school, who was brilliant at what he did. I realized I could learn an awful lot from him, not just about HR issues, but crisis management and vision and leadership and collaboration. A completely different case: The earlymorning barista at my local Starbucks is somewhat developmentally impaired, but she is the heart and soul of the store. When you go in, she is happy to see you, she recognizes you. When she asks your name, she makes a little joke that she’s forgotten it. In fact, she’s never going to learn it, but the way she interacts with her customers is something that I can learn from and I can emulate. Finding people you can admire, especially if they’re doing things different from what you do for a living — that’s where you can have advances in your learning. But sometimes, instead of other people, don’t you learn from the flow of new ideas? Well, if we think that innovation is a matter of seeing new ideas and getting on the bandwagon, we’re going to miss out on most of the innovation. In some sense, there aren’t really all that many new ideas; there are new successes. But everything is really just recombination. The ideas may be new in one domain, but they’re old hat in another. We aren’t looking for an idea that has appeared Venus-like on the half shell; we’re looking for ideas that are new to us. I’d like to translate this to the lives of overworked opera company leaders. How do people put these practices into place in the context of lives that are commandeered by other demands? Again and again, the urgent overtakes the important! You should always step back and say, “Am I doing more than I need to? Do I need to be involved, or are my fingers in too many pots?” Your time might be better spent cultivating the connectors in your life — the people who spend time finding out what’s going on right now. “What’s the news? What’s the buzz that I need to be aware of?” In the context of an opera company, those people could be board members; they could be major donors who are leaders of industry in their own realms; they could be staff members who have a penchant for reading and staying in touch with things. Right. Here’s a lesson I learned
traveling: The first time I ever visited Turkey, I bought a Moleskine notebook and kept a journal — not a record of places I had been or meals I had eaten, but instead of what surprised me, the things that opened my eyes a little bit. A great conversation starter with the people you’re using as your filtering system is to ask, “What happened this year in your company — or in your job or your city — that really surprised you?” And looking for those surprises can trigger your ability to see them in your own domain. When we do research reports, we’ve often found that some people have trouble taking action in response to the findings. Not everyone can convert research into action; not everyone can read a research report and realize, “We have to redo our subscription brochure because we aren’t conveying the message we should be conveying.” I’d like to push back a bit. This is not a solo sport. It’s not incumbent on a single person to look at the data and come up with the conclusion. I even disagree with the idea of best practices. There is virtually no domain with a single right way of doing things. The situations are always different; the people are always different; the background is different; the objectives are different; the capabilities are different. The question is always “What’s right for us?” with the critical word being “us.” You need to work with other people to go through the process of recognizing that something is going on, gathering the data, doing the analysis and coming up with alternatives. The “great man” notion that someone can look at the data and see the future and map out what needs to be done through sheer intellectual or charismatic willpower — that’s bogus. The way people make things happen is through other people. That certainly speaks to a style of leadership that is collegial, teambased, intergenerational and diverse. I’m glad you said “intergenerational” because I think we should learn from our elders and learn from our children. The default case for most people is learning from the leaders, learning from those who are most successful right now. Okay, there’s something to be said for that, but you’ve left out the other two parts of this picture. There’s a great idea I ran into in a book, Unleashing the Killer App — look to see what the unencumbered, what the newcomers, are doing. In my own life, my children
had to teach me to never leave phone messages. They don’t need to hear: “Benjamin, it’s your father. Wanted to see how you are, give me a phone call.” No, they just need to see on their phone that Dad called at 8:03 p.m. They grew up in a different world, and they had to train me. Learning from our elders is equally valuable but really very different, because in many ways they’ve already faced the new problems that we’re facing. How do you introduce new ideas into an organizational culture? In many instances, those who are leading opera companies have grown up in a kind of orthodox practice of opera, which makes change difficult to embrace internally. What have you discovered in your work as a consultant with companies about how organizations best absorb new ideas and then put them into practice? Organizational change happens, as a rule, when it has to. More often than not, organizations change reactively instead of proactively. I don’t want to say that’s good or bad: It’s just human nature. What pushes organizations to innovate are changes in what their competitors are doing, what their customers are looking for or what the costs of doing certain things are. Those are all reactions to changes external to the organization, but they’re still really good reasons for making changes. Bringing that into the opera world, if our customers are not used to buying subscriptions and are doing everything spur-of-the-moment in 20-minute increments on their cellphones, we need to say, “If this is how customers are behaving, what do we want to do?” If competitors are doing things — if they’re changing their seasons, if they’re bringing acrobats in — and if we’re losing business to them, or if there are changes in the cost structure — what used to be less expensive is now prohibitive, or occasionally vice-versa — that should lead to a type of innovation. Jane Jacobs wrote in The Economy of Cities about how innovation happens when people are doing some type of work to expand their footprint, often horizontally. The Dodge brothers in Detroit originally were making transmissions before they extended it and got into motors, and then eventually complete automobiles. Or Sony in Japan was making vacuum tubes before they got into radios and bigger systems. That really is a perfectly normal and healthy type of SPRING 2017 17
M ED I ASCAPE
AS TRADITIONAL MEDIA OUTLETS CHANGE — OR DISAPPEAR — OPERA COMPANIES ARE SCRAMBLING TO FIND NEW APPROACHES. BY RAY MARK RINALDI
imothy Mangan has all the qualities that define a top-tier classical music critic in the 21st century. He’s informed, insightful and direct, and he’s a deft communicator who can write about a complicated art form in ways that are both exciting and accessible. He’s also unemployed. Mangan was laid off in June from Southern California’s Orange County Register, where he spent 18 years reviewing operas, orchestras and string quartets. And he isn’t being replaced. His departure leaves a considerable information gap for readers of the country’s 15th-largest newspaper. “When things aren’t written about in a newspaper, frankly, a lot of people don’t even know they are happening,” says Mangan. Major publications across the country — nearly all facing declining circulation and profits — have shed their music critics, creating a vacuum of mass media coverage for opera companies of all sizes. For decades, major newspapers employed staff writers with considerable knowledge of classical music. Opera companies knew them and trusted them, and even if things got awkward over the occasional pan, they counted on them as a bridge to the community. “A traditional newspaper outlet is just invaluable,” says Suzanne Calvin, who handles media for The Dallas Opera. “A good advance feature can still blow the lid off the box office.” Now there are fewer previews of events that help to sell tickets, and fewer reviews that enable a company to build its reputation or get a sense of how well it is doing artistically. “About 20 years ago, I was able to count 65 full-time classical music critics in North America,” says veteran critic Scott Cantrell. “I can come up with about 11 now. That tells the story right there.” 20 OPERA AMERICA
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B OA RD THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RECRUITING TRUSTEES BY FRED COHN
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ou can never overestimate the importance of the board,” says Deborah Sandler, general director and CEO of Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Like many opera-company administrators, Sandler has learned that the people who sit around the board table are as important to an opera company’s health as the people who occupy its administrative offices. The board’s vital role makes the job of identifying and recruiting new trustees a supremely important one — a process that may in fact shape a company’s future. The issue of who sits on a board has taken on an added measure of sensitivity as companies address the challenges of producing opera in our era. “Company leaders need to think strategically about all the things they need in their trustees: their skills, their spheres of influence and diversity in every dimension,” says Marc A. Scorca, OPERA America’s president and CEO. “In order to be of the community, the opera company has to give up some of the old-fashioned social constructs that are associated with board service.” Holly Mayer, board chairman of The Dallas Opera, refers to this historical shift as a transformation from a “club model” into a “business model.” “Having board members look around and finding [only] people like themselves,” says Cathy Adams, chairman of The Atlanta Opera’s board, “is not going to sustain us going forward.” Although the word “diversity” most generally has a racial connotation, that is only one element of the range of characteristics that a 21st-century opera board must possess. A healthy board will represent a range of professional skills, spheres of influence, geographic areas and ages, all geared toward turning the board into an effective, energetic community force — one that can sustain the opera company as it moves into the future. “We have a matrix we look at: Who’s on the board and what fields are they involved with?” says Sandler. “Then we look for areas we need to develop further.” “You have to recruit thoughtfully,” says Bruce Thibodeau, president of Arts Consulting Group. “What advice do you need? What connections? I used to run an organization where you’d look around the table and everybody was lawyers or their spouses. Why would you need that?”
Drawing on his own experience in advising boards, Scorca urges a close look at the social and economic forces that shape a company’s region. “What are the drivers in the city?” he asks. “If I were building a board for an arts institution in New York City, for instance, I’d want to make sure we had someone from the real estate industry, someone from financial services, someone from educational institutions, someone from the tech industry. I’d want people from the boroughs represented, from various suburbs, all of them bringing different sensibilities and points of view. I would need board members who will open doors for me — whether it’s at a university or at the largest hospital in the city. What are the driving industries where I hope our opera company will have an entrée?” Enlisting board members with diverse professional profiles widens the kinds of expertise available for board operations.
LYRIC OPERA OF KANSAS CITY
“The most important element of a great board is that the members have to be able to develop a passion.” —Dory Vanderhoof, consultant
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PHILIP GROSHONG/CINCINNATI OPERA
building blocks What are the components of a successful premiere? A panel of top opera creators puts them together. The Opera Fusion: New Works workshop of Fellow Travelers
uccessful operas don’t emerge full-blown from their creators’ craniums. Instead, they often reach their final shape through an elaborate development process whose components may include workshops, orchestral readings and showcase presentations, with revisions large and small until opening night. This January, as part of OPERA America’s New Works Forum, President/CEO Marc A. Scorca moderated a panel of leading composers and librettists to examine the components of a successful premiere. The discussion, titled “Good Parts = Good Premieres: Structuring Commissions,” brought together seven artists, all of whom launched successful operas in 2016: composers David T. Little (JFK), Missy Mazzoli (Breaking the Waves), Paul Moravec (The Shining), Jack Perla (Shalimar the Clown) and Gregory Spears (Fellow Travelers); and librettists Mark Campbell (The Shining) and Royce Vavrek (Breaking the Waves and JFK). The panelists offered a frank assessment about which pre-premiere processes helped them move forward — and which were hardly worth the effort. Nearly all agreed that piano/vocal workshops, ranging from a few days to as long as three weeks, can offer tremendous support in shaping a piece; in fact, Moravec called them “absolutely indispensable.” The Shining received two piano/vocal workshops at Minnesota Opera: one when only the first act had been completed; the second of the full-length piece. The company’s artistic director, Dale Johnson, its music director, Michael Christie, and its then-head of music, Robert Ainsley, took part, along with director Eric Simonson. “I asked for feedback, and boy did I get it — good and hard,” Moravec said. “Their suggestions were spot-on. Whatever success this opera has, I owe as much to 30 OPERA AMERICA
them as to Mark [Campbell] or anyone else.” At a Breaking the Waves workshop, director James Darrah suggested that the first scene of the second act should be moved to the end of Act I. “I was having a heart attack,” Mazzoli recounted, “because for a composer, a beginning of an act is so different from an end — you’re setting up energy that reverberates through an entire act. But we came up with a compromise.” One inherent limitation of these workshops is that a piano takes the place of a full orchestra. “Pianos don’t sustain — it’s a completely different sense of time and texture,” Moravec said. “It’s really difficult to know what a piece is going to be based on a piano/vocal workshop, so I am wary of situations where the workshop is used to assess the work as if it were finished,” said Little. “Workshops absolutely provide an opportunity to address details of vocal writing, dramaturgy and pacing, and this can be very valuable, but it’s just a step along the way.” In some cases, producers will organize libretto readings earlier in the process to give the creators a sense of how the opera works as a piece of drama. But the panelists found these readings fairly unhelpful as a development tool. One problem is the inherent dissimilarities between spoken theater and opera. “A libretto is not supposed to be spoken; it’s supposed to be sung,” Campbell said. “I think it’s fine to do a private reading if a composer requests one. But there’s also a danger in actors giving line readings that throw a composer off from their true meanings.” “A big part of the composer’s job is to create characters through music,” said Little, “That’s why I try to avoid readings where the libretto is performed in such a way that the characters are being defined for me through the actors’ delivery.”
Vavrek, for his part, discourages formal readings of his librettos. “It’s money that can be spent elsewhere,” he said. “You spend so much time getting actors’ intentions rather than just what you’ve put on the page.” He prefers instead to gather a project’s creative team and read the libretto himself. Vavrek’s readings “give me all I need to move forward and create the characters in music,” Little said. Often, piano/vocal workshops will culminate in a reading in front of an audience — a practice that elicited differing responses from the afternoon’s panelists. Moravec said he was glad to have a workshop audience for The Shining. “The audience is the third element in the process — it isn’t just the creators and the performers,” he said. “You learn a lot from people who are listening cold, especially if you have funny elements: You need to know if the jokes are landing, and if they aren’t, nobody laughs. Or they might laugh inappropriately, which is another problem.” American Lyric Theater’s workshop of JFK and Fort Worth Opera’s world
AMERICAN LYRIC THEATER
premiere of the opera
“I recognize that having an audience at a workshop can be important institutionally for an opera company, and I respect that,” said Little. “But what I gain most from a workshop is being an audience member myself and listening to the piece straight through as if I hadn’t written every note.” “We didn’t do feedback sessions [for The Shining],” said Campbell. “We didn’t go around saying, ‘Did you like it? Weren’t you scared?’ It’s enough to feel what’s going on during the workshop, and whether the story is making a connection with the audience or not.” The presence of an audience at Fellow Travelers workshops, produced by Cincinnati’s Opera Fusion: New Works program, gave Spears some necessary input for honing the work. “It gets me excited in a devilish way because they’re the ones who are on stage for me,” Spears said. “There’s a moment in every opera, except maybe a perfect opera, where you can feel the audience’s attention shift: The audience makes the decision about where the structural flaw is in a piece. When I’m in a workshop with an audience, I’m not really listening to the piece all that much — I’m listening for that shift.” The workshop process inevitably provokes feedback from many different quarters. The panelists reported that deciding what to take in and what to ignore can be a delicate operation. “It’s up to me to process it,” said Campbell. “It’s not necessarily useful if some nasty donor comes up and says, ‘I just don’t like this story.’ But if Dale Johnson whispers, ‘I think things are kind of floaty right now,’ I know what he means.” Little requests that feedback come through e-mail, which allows him time and space to process the comments. “If I were to be barraged with comments, they would all disappear — I wouldn’t remember a single one,” he said. “Write me what you think, and I promise I’ll consider everything, but I need to go through that at an appropriate time. I feel it is vital that I understand my own reactions to a work before I can begin to consider the reactions of others.”
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N E W S
THE TRUSTEES GATHER
PERA America played host in February to opera trustees and patrons from around the country for National Trustee Weekend: four days of discussions, performances and social events. The annual New York City assemblage, held this year from February 22 to 25, featured the National Trustee Forum, a peer learning group of operacompany board members who discussed topics such as fundraising strategies, leadership transitions and production budgeting. They were joined by members of OPERA America’s own Board of Directors, its National Opera Center Board of Overseers and its philanthropic Ambassador Circle for an array of activities, including performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School, as well as a trip to
The Frick Collection. The centerpiece of the weekend was the 10th annual National Opera Trustee Recognition Awards Dinner, supported by Bank of America and honoring four American trustees for their exceptional leadership: Jerry Clack of Pittsburgh Festival Opera, R. Marsh Gibson of Opera Memphis, Carol Lazier of San Diego Opera and Holly Mayer of The Dallas Opera. The evening also recognized Evan Hazell of Calgary Opera, who received the National Opera Directors Recognition Award from Opera.ca, OPERA America’s sister organization in Canada. As a tribute to Bank of America for its 10 years of program support, OPERA America commissioned the song cycle Fierce Grace: Jeannette Rankin, with music by Kitty Brazelton, Laura Kaminsky,
Laura Karpman and Ellen Reid, set to texts by Kimberly Reed. During the dinner, mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson and pianist Mila Henry performed a selection from the cycle, a treatment of the life of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress. The event also featured soprano Michelle Bradley and tenor Kang Wang from the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. The final day of the gathering included the dedication of the Leontyne Price Service Desk, located on the eighth floor of the National Opera Center. The occasion was marked by an interview with Ms. Price’s brother, Brigadier General (Ret.) George B. Price, who spoke about growing up with his sister in Laurel, Mississipi.
National Opera Trustee Recognition Awards Dinner — 1. Timothy O’Leary, OPERA America chairman, and Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO; R. Marsh Gibson, Carol Lazier and Holly Mayer, recipients of the National Opera Trustee Recognition Awards; Carol F. Henry, chairman of the award committee; and Evan Hazell, recipient of Opera.ca’s National Opera Directors Recognition Award. Not in attendance: Jerry Clack. 2. Kitty Brazelton, Laura Kaminsky, Heather Johnson, Mila Henry and Ellen Reid. 3. Ned Canty, Wayne S. Brown, and Cynthia du Pont Tobias and Terrence Tobias 4. Bruce Hyman and Simone Quarré, Keith Sorgeloos and Andrea Bruckner, and Anne and Stephen Bruckner. 5. Marc A. Scorca presents sheet music from Fierce Grace: Jeannette Rankin to Rena De Sisto of Bank of America. 6. Marc A. Scorca, fourth from left, with past award recipients Ruth Orth, Jacqueline Badger Mars, Elizabeth Eveillard, Susan Bienkowski, Frank “Woody” Kuehn, Cynthia du Pont Tobias, John F. Nesholm, Susan F. Morris, G. Whitney Smith and Jane A. Robinson. 7. Tenor Kang Wang. 8. Soprano Michelle Bradley. 9. James Gulotta, Nancy and Jim Barton, Stanley Rabinowitz and Pamela Rigg. Photos by Jeff Reeder. Dedication of the Leontyne Price Service Desk — 10. George B. Price, Wayne S. Brown and Marc A. Scorca. Photo by Noah Stern Weber.
42 OPERA AMERICA
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WOMEN OF THE YEAR
artists composing for the operatic medium, as well as to raise awareness of talented female composers. The next round of awards, to be issued this summer, will be Commissioning Grants, which provide opera companies with up to $50,000 in support of commissioning fees to female composers. Professional Company Members of OPERA America may submit a letter of intent for Commissioning Grants by April 19. Visit operaamerica.org/Grants to learn more.
he composers of eight new operas have been awarded a total of $100,000 through OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program. These Discovery Grants, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, will help to fund the composers’ development processes. Since its inception in 2013, the Opera Grants for Female Composers program has awarded a total of $600,000 to both composers and opera companies in support of works by women. The program was conceived to increase gender equity among
GRACE OBERHOFER Composer, ICONS/IDOLS Libretto by Helen Banner This trilogy of choral plays, written for over a dozen woman singers, tells the stories of three Byzantine empresses in the eighth and ninth centuries: Irene, Euphrosyne and Theodora. All three sacrifice personal relationships in order to gain power and end iconoclasm within the Eastern Church. TAWNIE OLSON Composer, Sanctuary and Storm (working title) Libretto by Roberta Barker Inspired by actual historical correspondence, Sanctuary and Storm imagines an impassioned and wideranging dialogue between two titanic women of the 12th century: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Hildegard of Bingen. The women wrestle with their own mortality as they fiercely debate questions of power, beauty and the divine. 44 OPERA AMERICA
CLAIRE GALLOWAY WEBER LIZ LINDER
ELLEN FISHMAN Composer, Marie Begins Libretto by Julia Curcio As a modern woman, Marie lives in a world of endless possibilities. But on her 30th birthday, she realizes how little she has actually achieved. The audience guides Marie’s trajectory in this interactive work, making choices for her at the end of each two- to six-minute scene to help her pull her life together.
FRANCES POLLOCK Composer, Stinney: An American Execution Libretto by Frances Pollock and Tia Price Steeped in Southern music, Stinney follows the true story of George Stinney Jr., the youngest person to be legally executed in 20th-century America. In 1944, the fourteen-year-old black boy was wrongfully accused of raping and murdering two white girls, and was subsequently arrested, tried and executed via electric chair. KATE SOPER Composer, The Romance of the Rose The Romance of the Rose is a loose adaptation of the eponymous medieval French poem, a tale of courtly love that covers a dizzying philosophical landscape. Running the stylistic gamut from medieval poetic forms to electronic “noisescapes,” the opera uses allegorical figures to dramatize humankind’s response to emotion, desire and music itself.
FAYE CHIAO Composer, Island of the Moon Libretto by Anton Dudley In this chamber opera, the queen of a sinking island hopes to save her people by moving them to a neighboring realm. But first she must marry her son Akoni off to the princess of the nearby island. Akoni refuses to carry off the scheme, worrying that the move will mark the end of their island’s culture. The queen responds by setting forth an impossible task: He may marry the woman who shatters the moon.
DALIT WARSHAW Composer, Delusion of Grandeur Libretto by Carol Hebald The Fat Lady from the Coney Island Zoo unexpectedly wakes up in heaven. Poets storm the Tower of Babel rallying to abolish misunderstanding through a universal language and a quarrel escalates to the brink of war. God, asleep since the Holocaust, is roused from his nap and reveals the Fat Lady’s true identity. The action culminates in a symbolic marriage uniting all racial and religious denominations.
GEORGE J. KUNZE
THE FOLLOWING COMPOSERS RECEIVED 2017 DISCOVERY GRANTS:
CYNTHIA LEE WONG Composer, No Guarantees Libretto by Richard Aellen In this romantic comedy set in the future, a secret attempt to use an android as an understudy for a real-life lover has unexpected consequences.
P U B L I C A T I O N S SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY OPERA AND THE SOUND OF THE COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE By Emily Wilbourne The University of Chicago Press Examining the roots of early opera, Wilbourne argues that the sound qualities of commedia dell’arte theater — specifically, the use of dialect and verbal play — taught audiences to respond to the sonic content of spoken words rather than just their literal meaning. Case studies explore Monteverdi’s lost L’Arianna, as well as his Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea; Mazzochi and Marazzoli’s L’Egisto, ovvero Chi soffre speri; and Cavalli’s L’Ormindo and L’Artemisia.
CHERUBINO’S LEAP: IN SEARCH OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT MOMENT By Richard Kramer The University of Chicago Press The author, a professor emeritus of music at the CUNY Graduate Center, leads a journey through the Enlightenment imagination by taking key musical works and highlighting specific moments: chromatic moments in instrumental pieces by Emanuel Bach, Haydn and Mozart; poetic moments in settings of Klopstock’s odes; a moment of recognition in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride; the sorrowful moment when Kostanze sheds tears in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail; and Cherubino’s daring moment of escape in Mozart’s Figaro. Throughout, other players from literature and the arts — Diderot, Goethe, Lessing among them — enrich this journey through the Enlightenment imagination.
GREAT WOMEN ON STAGE: THE RECEPTION OF WOMEN MONARCHS FROM ANTIQUITY IN BAROQUE OPERA Edited by Kerstin Dross-Krupe Harrassowitz Verlag This volume at looks at how Baroque-period librettists, composers and stage designers interpreted ancient source material in order to present female rulers on stage. One case study examines gender representations in Handel’s Agrippina; another focuses on the character of Cleopatra, specifically the scenic environments that stage designers crafted to suit this ambiguous, often highly sexualized ruler. An introductory essay from the editor describes how opera seria became a medium for reinterpreting female rulers of the ancient world.
SOUND KNOWLEDGE: MUSIC AND SCIENCE IN LONDON, 1789–1851 Edited by James Q. Davies and Ellen Lockhart The University of Chicago Press This collection of essays examines how, in 18th- and 19th-century London, scientific truth was accrued by means of visual and aural experience, and in turn, how musical knowledge was influenced by empirical scientific practice. The contributors consider a crucial 60-year period, beginning with Charles Burney’s ambitious General History of Music, a fourvolume study of music around the globe, and extending to the Great Exhibition of 1851, where the immense glass-encased collections of the Crystal Palace included musical instruments alongside the marvels of science and industry.
BEYOND REASON: WAGNER CONTRA NIETZSCHE By Karol Berger University of California Press Beyond Reason relates Wagner’s works to the philosophical and cultural ideas of his time, centering on the four music dramas he created in the second half of his career: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal. The author seeks to penetrate the “secret” of large-scale form in Wagner’s music dramas and to answer those critics, most prominently Nietzsche, who criticized Wagner for his supposed inability to weld small expressive gestures into larger wholes.
DR. BARTOLO’S UMBRELLA AND OTHER TALES FROM MY SURPRISING OPERATIC LIFE By Christopher Cameron Seraphim Editions Cameron, a bass who spent 30 years on the concert and opera stages of Canada, offers an irreverent memoir detailing his journey from ordinary suburban teenager to professional musician, sharing anecdotes about backstage life, insights into the mechanics of singing, and historical contexts for the works he performed. While showing a deep reverence for the art from, Cameron employs a genial, approachable tone aimed at readers of diverse ages and interests.
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BY NICOLE PAIEMENT
never went to the opera as a young girl. I played piano and bassoon and I went to the symphony and theater with my mother. But then when I was 20, I was studying at McGill University and they asked me to be an assistant conductor on a production of Handel’s Julius Caesar. The experience left me awed by opera. It felt so encompassing, as opposed to playing in an orchestra or practicing my piano alone for hours. I was very attracted to the idea that this was such an interdisciplinary art form. I was also very moved by Handel’s music, and how it conveyed the story. As an orchestral musician, I had played tone poems, but there was such a difference in having sung text. I thought, “This is certainly the ultimate art form.” I’ve always had the highest respect for singers. When I was 14, I went to the Orford Arts Centre in Quebec, a summer institute for young musicians, to study piano and bassoon. I also enrolled in a Baroque chorus they had — I always enjoyed singing as a young girl — to do a Bach cantata with Emma Kirkby, who was one of the soloists. I greatly admired her commitment to be a complete artist, as well as her generous spirit. The colony had all these small cabins in the forest where you could practice. Since I was a very diligent young person, I would get up early in the morning to go into a cabin and make sure I got in my many hours of practice. Kirkby came into my little hut one day to talk to me about practicing — about what it is to learn and understand music. She had observed 64 OPERA AMERICA
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me practicing industriously in the early mornings and thought that perhaps I should play less and think more about the music. Her wise advice had a great impact on me. Now when I study a score, I not only deeply analyze it, but I sit at my table and look at the score — think about what is on the page. I like to go beyond the written score and use it as a blueprint for my own interpretation. As a conductor, I quickly found myself drawn to interdisciplinary repertoire — especially works that involved the human voice. When I started my first professional group, Ensemble Parallèle, I didn’t yet have the goal of producing strictly opera, but I wanted to explore how music works in parallel with other art forms. I quickly realized that the magic of storytelling was unique and that opera would be at the forefront of my conducting career. The example of conductor Ernest Ansermet has always been a great inspiration to me. He was a strong advocate and supporter of so many of the important composers of his time, and he has inspired me to get involved with new music and try to enlarge our canon. One of the things that made me fall in love with the operatic form was that it could make contemporary music more accessible. We live in such a visual era, and the multidisciplinary aspect of opera, along with the power of its storytelling, opens great possibilities. It’s so much easier to get people to
One of the things that made me fall in love with the operatic form was that it could make contemporary music more accessible.
listen to new and perhaps more difficult music when it’s story-based. Think of the beginning of Joby Talbot’s Everest, which I premiered at The Dallas Opera in 2015. The opera begins with the “musical crackling” of the mountain. The sound world is very innovative. Having the set of the mountain in front of you, being able see what was happening, made you appreciate the music even more and made “contemporary music” appeal to a large and varied audience — an important goal for me. STEVE DIBARTOLOMEO
I love to study scores. When I was younger, I considered being an architect, and this is where my love of architecture comes through: When you look at a score, from whatever period, you can see how it’s constructed to make a great opera. But once I start rehearsals, the score becomes just a point of departure — not the end of the process, but the beginning. When you’re conducting an opera, being a team player is so important — knowing when it’s time for you to lead, and knowing when it’s someone else’s turn. It brings this collaborative art form to an even greater level, and I so enjoy the process. Conducting is certainly a demanding discipline. But I believe life takes you where you should go. I feel fortunate that it has taken me to this place and always humbled by the talent and creativity that surrounds me during a production.
Nicole Paiement is the founder and artistic director of Opera Parallèle, the San Francisco company dedicated to contemporary opera. She is principal guest conductor at The Dallas Opera, as well as an active guest conductor.
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