New general director discusses plans for the future
By Charlene Baldridge
The news is good. At its recent annual meeting, San Diego Opera (SDO) announced that it expects to complete fiscal year 2015 (ended June 30) in the black. For an organization that nearly ceased operations before the 2015, 50th anniversary season, this is something to shout about.
As for FY 2016, board president Carol Lazier has given another gift of $1 million and Darlene Shiley has given $250,000 in honor of Jack O’Brien, who stages Jake Heggie’s “Great Scott,” a co-world-premiere with Dallas Opera to be produced here in May.
O’Brien is former artistic director of the Old Globe, where Shiley has long been an active supporter. Shiley also donated $250,000 in support of SDO’s 2012 production of Heggie’s “Moby-Dick.” It was also announced that SDO has received a 4 rating from the San Diego Commission of Arts and Culture, which recommended 2016 funding of $437,356, the largest sum the company will have received from the city since 2009.
The other big news is that new general director, David Bennett, came aboard June 15. Selected by search committee to replace Ian Campbell, Bennett is a Kansas City native steeped in music since he picked up the violin in fourth grade. A former opera singer whose experience was in standard repertoire in big houses, he comes to SDO from New York, where he headed the highly successful Gotham Chamber Opera. He was formally introduced at the SDO annual meeting where he received all the good news along with staff and opera association members.
“The city commitment, added to this year’s ‘I Stand for Opera’ crowd-funding campaign, will help realize our fundraising goals,” he said in his office several weeks after taking up residence. “That’s another phenomenal story — people have once again said, ‘We want to give gifts of all kinds of sizes to support opera in San Diego.’”
Bennett, 51, is enthusiastic and full of ideas for making SDO stronger.
Lest readers have concerns, doing away with performance of standard repertory at the 3,000-seat Civic Theatre is the farthest thing from his mind. He loves the standards, and the idea of producing them fills him with something akin to glee. Be assured there is room for plenty of variety under what he called the umbrella of opera today.
“A lot of things can fit underneath it, right?” Bennett said. “Some companies are doing musical theater, chamber opera and concert opera. Zarzuela can fit, and so can operetta. Some people define opera as only works that are fully sung-through without spoken text. When you seek to define what can be under your umbrella, things that fit must be specific to their intended community.”
Right now Bennett is exploring the distinct communities of San Diego — Latino, African-American, Asian and the military — to see how the umbrella might embrace them and allow them to experiment with opera, a mode of presentation they may not have experienced before.
He enumerates works that might speak directly to these communities while the interviewer tries to ignore the tantalizing titles scrawled on the big black chalkboard in his office. On the left are tentative future seasons (I’m sworn to secrecy) and on the right a plethora of operas and musicals that are under consideration.
“What we want to do is three traditional, large operas and then three recitals in the fall,” he said. “Other things are to be explored — the umbrella of opera in San Diego is going to look a bit different than the umbrella of opera in Philadelphia, and it should because the communities are different.
“Contracts are already in place for the next few seasons for traditional opera at the Civic Theatre,” he continued. “Beginning in 2016–17 we’ll start to see those operas spread throughout the year; fall, late winter and spring, interspersed with chamber opera, concert opera, musicals, works of other cultures, opera in nontraditional spaces, presentations throughout San Diego County; and co-productions and commissions with other opera companies (and cultural institutions) with an emphasis on American artists.
“We hope to make San Diego Opera more in step and responsive, make it the place to be.”
Meanwhile, the 2015-16 season (budgeted at around $11 million, same as the last one) comprises three recitals at selected venues and three large-scale works at the Civic Theatre.
The latter are Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” Feb. 13, 16, 19 and 21 (matinee); Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” April 16, 19, 22, and 24 (mat); and Heggie’s new operatic homage to bel canto opera, “Great Scott,” May 7, 10, 13, and 15 (matinee). The three recitals are tenor René Barbera, Sept. 19 at the Balboa Theatre; soprano Patricia Racette’s “Diva on Detour,” Nov. 14 at the Balboa Theatre; and Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in a concert featuring arias from his favorite SDO performances, March 5, at the Jacobs Music Center — Copley Symphony Hall.
Whatever the future holds for SDO, it’s looking good, and you are certain to find something to your liking under David Bennett’s umbrella. For more information or to make your voice heard, visit sdopera.org or call 619-232-7636.
—Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.