Report from Opera America: New Realities, New Strategies

Last week, General Director Allan Naplan, Director of Development Beth Tolles, Trustee Martin Barrett, Trustee Sally Miley, and myself (Brian Hinrichs, Manager of Communications and Community Outreach), embarked on an expedition to Los Angeles for the Opera America National Conference, hosted by the Los Angeles Opera in the midst of their first Ring Cycle. This meeting of the operatic minds proved to be invaluable for us all.

As a group, we were challenged by the composer Daniel Catan to change the premiere system for new American works. Consultant David McIntosh asked us to look outside of the arts to gain inspiration for new business models. Washington Post critic Anne Midgette told us to embrace bloggers. Tenor Placido Domingo (above, with OA president Marc Scorca) reflected on the changes he has witnessed over the course of his legendary career. And that’s just the start.

Perhaps the greatest value of the conference was the opportunity to talk with and learn from colleagues in our own departments across the country, to see what’s working in Denver or Houston or Birmingham and how that might apply to Madison. For instance, on the first day of the conference I was enlightened by Marc Van Bree, Ling Chan, Margo Drakos, and Ceci Dadisman in a seminar focused on social media. Madison Opera’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter networks might already be extensive, but there are many more exciting apps and initiatives we may adopt to spice things up and streamline our communications, so stay tuned on that front!

Opera America usually pivots the conference on a performance by the host company. This year, LA Opera presented Richard Wagner’s Die Walkure in a production by the artist Achim Freyer, whom we also had the unique experience of hearing talk about his training under Bertolt Brecht and his aesthetic philosophies. It’s a controversial interpretation, but we all left stunned by the power of the visual world Freyer created. And what a thrill to hear Placido still singing Siegmund at the age of 69!

Lest you think this was a vacation of sorts, let it be said that my poor digital camera only took 4 pictures in 4 days! Here you have the the beautiful Disney Hall, the home of the LA Philharmonic designed by Frank Gehry and conveniently located at the corner of our conference center:

It was a jam packed few days, and while there was much valuable, practical advice to be taken home, the energy to try new ideas and excitement for the vitality of our art form that we all left with is immeasurable. Garry Marshall–the actor, comedian, TV producer, film director and opera buff–made a guest appearance at Opera America’s 40th Anniversary Gala on Friday night. In addition to some truly hilarious anecdotes, he maybe said it best: “The magic is still there in opera…keep doing that magic.”

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Benjamin Taylor

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