Jim Sees Nixon in Denver!

Posted by Vanopsmd On 4:14 PM

Greetings from Denver!

The National Performing Arts Conference is in full swing, with OPERA America/Opera.ca right in the middle of things. I’d like to share two of my experiences.

Mentoring Young General Directors

On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, I had the privilege of joining retired Dallas Opera General Director Plato Karayanis in “mentoring” and advising a group of ten first-time or nearly-new opera company general directors, all around 38 – 42 years old. We visited with them about the problems and challenges they identified as they settled into chief executive roles for the first time. Not surprisingly, most of their concerns had to do with working with their boards of directors and establishing their “authority” and their credentials with their staffs and in their (mostly new) communities. It was challenging and exciting to spend five or six hours with them discussing these and other issues, doing some role playing, and attempting to breakdown their resistance to admitting vulnerabilities.

It is worth noting that all ten were men, and only one a person of color. This perhaps not only speaks to the group’s reluctance to admit to their individual vulnerabilities and weaknesses, but also says volumes about the professional opera world’s – and indeed the entire not-for-profit performing arts world’s -- challenge of identifying and nurturing women and people of color, as well as younger people in general, for leadership roles in our organizations. OPERA America and Opera.ca (the association for opera in Canada) recognize this challenge and is developing programmes to help solve it. It was a pleasure and honor for me to work with this outstanding group of young leaders.

Nixon in China in Denver

Tuesday evening I witnessed Dick and Pat Nixon arrive in Peking – as we then called it – and be greeted with a symbolically very important handshake from Chou En Lai. No, I wasn’t hallucinating or watching the History Channel: I was in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House watching a terrific performance of John Adams’ opera Nixon in China. The work, often dubbed “the first CNN opera” because of its foundation in contemporary events, which premiered in the late 1980s, is establishing itself firmly in the North American operatic repertoire.

I am very excited to say that Vancouver Opera is planning a brand new production of Nixon in China to premiere in March 2010; it will be the Canadian premiere of the work. We are hard at work with director Michael Cavanagh and our production designer to present to our audiences a contemporary, compelling vision for the opera, and will cast the show over the summer.

You will hear much more from me in the coming months about this great 20th Century opera, and our new production, in the months ahead.

Finally, a note about the Ellie Caulkins Opera House: it was a wonderful experience to read the English and Spanish translations of the opera libretto on the back of the seat in front of me. This technology is revolutionizing accessibility of opera to non-English speaking audiences, and helping English speaking and reading audiences understand the nuances of the text without the distraction of an overhead screen projecting the text in just one language. As the system is constantly being improved, expect simultaneous multiple language translations soon!

James Wright

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