Autumn and the Music

So happy to be entering the part of our annual cycle that’s all about the music. Well, with a little paperwork, airplanes, and hotels thrown in. As willing as I am to deal with marketing, fundraising, box office, and other similar demons, I am always deliriously happy to find myself in October and November. There’s a reason I’m not a general director at a mainstream opera company, and this is it. I may be proven wrong someday, but there’s no amount of extra money and faux prestige that could equal the satisfaction of spending at least a few months of the year dealing with (almost) nothing but singers and repertoire.

Speaking of PR…

As often as I talk tough about not caring what the critics (official and otherwise) say about our season, I have to admit that by the end of every summer I’m exhausted by the whole subject. Truth is, when the press is good, we all have to use it as one of the public faces of our organizations. Who of us is above sprinkling annual reports and brochures with quotes from favorable reviews? (The same goes for individual performers – press packers, websites, bios…) And if all our press turned bad, we’d be in serious trouble with all our stakeholders. So we persist in caring. Or at least paying attention. Yet it’s essential not to truly believe any of it, good or bad. Face it. Any of us worth our salt knows when something works and when it doesn’t.

There was a mini-firestorm this summer in response to ionarts’ entry on our Figaro. I do appreciate the first reader comment that does the math in regards to the audience numbers. (Two performances that are half-full in a theatre whose capacity is 7,000 is still a pretty healthy calculation.) But the comments go on in a totally different direction from there. I’m faint enough of heart that I simply can’t invest much in either side of such a discussion. I appreciate that there are people who love us and what we do (thank you!!!), but I somehow can’t get fired up enough to protest.

More important to me are the discussions I’ve had at the grocery store, at church, and last night at my son’s high school. (Back-to-school night. A truly sadistic thing. But that’s another story.) Friends and neighbors who hardly ever go to the opera make a point of telling me what a beautiful evening they had at Figaro. Would we rather have 10,000 of those people instead of 7,000? Of course. And that’s why, even though it keeps me awake some nights, I persist in fussing with the damn marketing.


And, while I’m at it, for heaven’s sake, we’re a young artist training company. If you want multi-million dollar productions by an international-level company, then pay your money and go to WNO or the Met. If you want to hear some terrific music and be entertained by energetic and prodigiously talented young professional singers, by all means, give us a whirl.

OK, back to the music. Tidying up my aria playlist on my iPod this week. About 1,500 tracks that represent about 650 arias in the repertoire. (Including multiple interpretations of the most popular ones.) The aria playlist will be set on shuffle mode for the next 2 months, reminding me of the goal.

In October and November I will hear somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 arias, both in live audition and on CDs that are submitted with applications. And while I do, I have to keep my ears fresh. Before I can hear a few dozen versions of “Dei miei bollenti spiriti” by aspiring tenors, I have to go back to Bergonzi, Gigli, and Wunderlich. In order for my ears and my mind to sort out the relative merits of 50 versions of Pamina’s aria from Magic Flute, I need to go to Schwarzkopf, Janowitz, and Lear (and more recently, Dorothea R√∂schmann).

Did I tell you how much better this is than spreadsheets and ad copy?

Sorry. We keep telling all those aspiring arts administrators that our work days aren’t spent listening to music and devising dream casts and productions. And that’s true. There’s satisfaction in a water-tight budget and a well-received grant proposal. But for now, we’re on the verge of October. Let the music commence!

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