Wednesday, April 18, 2018

SF Opera Annual Meeting

I was able to go to the annual meeting of San Francisco Opera this year. It was held on Wednesday, April 11, at Herbst Theater, just across the courtyard from the opera house.

There were financial and artistic reports, and also some singing. I don't have the program in front of me, so this is largely from memory. I may make some updates when I find the program.

The company's financial condition is improving, in that the endowment has been going up, owing to both contributions to it and the stock market, and the draw on it is going down. After two seasons of 9.5% draw (gulp - that is a big, bad number), the next report will show a 4.5% draw on the endowment. Ticket sales projected, producing about 21% of income. As recently as the 90s, this number was much higher, and there's no denying that everybody would like that number higher.

Someone asked, during the Q&A, about getting younger people into the house, and I was not thrilled by John Gunn's answer, which was along the lines of "Young people are often raising kids, and when their time and money frees up, then they come into the house." Sorry, won't do: young technical people making $150,000/year and up often have the time and disposable income, and really can afford to hire sitters, and many of them are making that kind of salary for years before they have kids.

Matthew Shilvock talked about the artistic side of things. He mentioned three pillars of the company's artistic vision: Community, Total Art, and Cutting Edge, if I have this right. Unfortunately, he picked the company's new Tosca production to introduce how these concepts apply, and, you know, every big company has to have a Tosca production and nobody expects it to be especially visionary. The opera is too damn grounded in specific locations on a particular day in time. Everybody knows what the Castel Sant'Angelo looks like. This was....not very convincing.

Things were a little livelier during the Q&A. I got in line with a question, and I know the poor man was thinking "OMG DO I HAVE TO HEAR ANOTHER BIRTWISTLE QUESTION FROM HER" because I could practically see the sigh of relief when I asked about Opera for All Voices instead. 

No, actually, I couldn't; he has a good poker face. (I sort of regret not asking about Birtwistle. :) In any event, a few people later, Ilana Walder-Biesanz asked about diversifying the repertory and got a non-answer from, I think, John Gunn, who dodged around a bit to mention performers, which was not her question. Shilvock jumped in at this point, without any specific repertory to name, to say that "we're in discussions with a very exciting woman composer," which of course left us guessing. 

Here are some plausible candidates for the composer they're talking to - and bear in mind that Shilvock's phrasing was vague enough that we should presume there's no contract yet. In alphabetical order, and I'm listing these composers because they're all composed well-received operas:
  • Unsuk Chin
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Laura Kaminsky
  • Missy Mazzoli
  • Meredith Monk
  • Olga Neuwirth
  • Rachel Portman
  • Kaija Saariaho
  • Du Yun
And there are a whole bunch of women out there who've written important or interesting works in other genres that SFO might be willing to commission (remember, Jake Heggie had not written an opera when he got the commission for Dead Man Walking).

In any event, I hope the discussions lead to a finished work, and I'm looking forward to more news about this.

UPDATE: Of course, I'd be happy to see performances at SFO of existing operas by any of the above composers. L'Amour de Loin, Breaking the Waves, Alice in Wonderland, Atlas, Adriana Mater, etc.


Henry Holland said...

Dear SFO:

Schedule a run of L'amour de Loin. It's "modern" so you can claim that you don't only do operas written before 1905, it's by a female composer and, oh by the way, it's a blazing masterpiece.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Yeah, that would be nice! Adriana Mater is also terrific.

CruzSF said...

I like the idea of doing an existing work by any of the composers you mention. New commissions are great, but so many promising operas disappear after the 2 companies that co-commissioned have staged it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Mazzoli, Kaminsky, Saariaho, and others on that list have written operas that have legs, though!