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San Diego Opera General Director Previews 2019-20 Season

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Speaker 1: 00:00 David Bennett took over as general director of the San Diego opera in 2015 he sits down with KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando Amando to preview the new 2019 2020 opera season that kicked off on Saturday with Aida.

Speaker 2: 00:15 David, we are at the beginning of the 2019 2020 opera season. So where is San Diego opera at right now? How do you feel about the season? I feel very good. We are in a very good place sort of institutionally. We're in very good shape financially, which is a good place to be. Having that sort of pressure off your shoulders is wonderful and we have a very exciting season. Artistically I think we've assembled without a doubt. Um, and I eat a cast that cannot be topped by any company in the country.

Speaker 3: 01:08 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 01:08 and I understand that this Aida is a little different than what people may have experienced in the past. So tell us about it is, it's a, it's a production that we have produced here. It's a production we own. We've taken a section of that production away and we've replaced it with the orchestra. And by doing that, we've actually been extended the stage into the house of the civic theater, which actually brings the singers into the same space as the audience. And so we have a beautiful sense of intimacy with our principal singers and our audience, which is very exciting. And does this then place more emphasis on the voices and the music by staging it like this? I think it draws attention to the beautiful writing of Verity across the board. So very actually made a comment, um, in his compositional style or referred to something in his compositional style right before he can post Ayita of a new idea about composing operas.

Speaker 2: 02:02 That's with sort of a, uh, intention across all musical spectrum of actually honoring the orchestra in the same way as he honors singers. And I think we're doing that with this production. And you'll also have some other interesting productions coming up that people may see the opera in a new way. Hansel and Gretel is coming up. We have a beautiful Hansel and Gretel that actually involves really magical and fantastical, uh, puppetry elements. So it will be very family friendly, very engaging. Um, but also very beautiful. It's a wonderful score for those of the, uh, those of our audience that don't know the square pants and the Gretel, you know, Humperdinck was a composer at the same time as Wagner. So it's very lush, very grand, beautiful score. And when you say puppetry, are these marionettes, are these larger than life puppets? What are they like? There's a variety of styles of puppetry and most of them you actually see the puppeteers on stage. So the puppeteers are actually a part of the element of the magic of the puppetry. It's very,

Speaker 1: 02:59 and one of the things that you brought into the opera is the detour series. Yes. And remind people what the intent was behind this.

Speaker 2: 03:07 Well, you know, when the community here said they wanted opera but they wanted opera to be a little bit different, we decided to try some new things. And so we have this series and if you think of the word of a detour, a detour is, you know, along the same direction, but maybe a different path, right. Getting you to the same place but a different path. So this is everything other than what we think of as traditional grand opera, mostly chamber opera, but also concerts. We're going to begin to do some performances out of doors, a lot of things in a lot of spaces. And our detour series this year is very exciting. We're bringing a production, uh, well first we begin with a concert in December, a wonderful concert that features two very important, uh, uh, Hispanic opera singers with a real focus on Hispanic music.

Speaker 2: 03:48 So that'll be in December. And then we bring a production, uh, from New York by a wonderful producer of opera named Beth Morrison. And the production is called aging magician and it's a very beautiful, engaging, uh, family friendly story. Wonderful. And then we closed the detour season with the new commission falling in the rising, which is a very exciting partnership with a branch of the military. The army, Navy and field band actually began this commission with several opera companies, including San Diego opera. And it's a wonderful, uh, vehicle for us to be able to demonstrate the honor of service through opera. It's a very wonderful, wonderful story.

Speaker 1: 04:24 And this isn't the first time that you've looked to soldiers and honoring veterans.

Speaker 2: 04:29 True opera. This is our third a detour production in I think our, we've four years of detour now that we've produced something that actually features and looks at the wonderful community that we have here with our veteran community and our military community.

Speaker 1: 04:42 And some of those are operas that deal with very contemporary settings and our kind of modern operas. How is that working out in terms of blending the modern and the grand opera? And are your audiences embracing both or are you developing two different kinds of audience?

Speaker 2: 04:58 It's mostly the same audience, believe it or not. Um, I'd say 75% of our detour audience are our regular operagoers. That 25% that are not is very exciting. And we're actually seeing some, uh, return the other way around. So we're seeing some people now that didn't attend our main stage opera is that found a way to San Diego opera through the detour performances and are now coming to main stage. So it's a path towards, uh, exploring opera for new audiences. So it's very exciting for us. One of the things we hope to achieve.

Speaker 1: 05:27 Is there anything else you're doing in terms of outreach to try and develop younger audience or reach younger audiences or find a new audience for opera?

Speaker 2: 05:35 Well, we certainly have a lot of community engagement activities that we do throughout the community. We have a series called taste up opera that we do that is sort of a um, engagement but entry point to the opera and through a fun activity of each one of our opera. So we have that information on our website about each of those activities. We've just launched a new initiative called opera in Espanol that be a multi year opportunity for us to explore works that are in Spanish language, but also engaging artists that are Hispanic and directors and designers and really understanding how we can mimic in a way or overlap, uh, what we do with San Diego opera that mirrors what the community of San Diego really is an international community.

Speaker 1: 06:19 And just to return to Aida, because this is the opening week for it. Talk a little bit about Zandra. Rhodes has done the costumes for this. She is a superstar on her own. She is so a, what does this bring to the office?

Speaker 2: 06:32 Well, you know, she's a member of our board, which is a wonderful thing. So we think of her as a, you know, a part of our family. She's a phenomenal designer, a phenomenal designer in her own right. And as a fashion designer, but also as a theatrical designer. She really captures a beautiful sense of magic and a place in her design. So the costumes are by Zandra. The, uh, scenic elements are by Michael, who, who's a Tony award, winning a scenic designer. And bringing those two beautiful designers together have given us a very evocative but modern world and modern look at Aida

Speaker 1: 07:02 and I've heard it described as having rock concert lighting. So what does that mean for opera?

Speaker 2: 07:07 Well, it's just another way for us to think about, you know, if we're putting the orchestra on stage, right, which is a decision we've made, how do we use that as an opportunity to engage an audience in a different way? So we have a brilliant lighting designer, Chris Wren, who is actually an architectural lighting designer as well as a theater lighting designer, is a resident of San Diego and he's just lighting in a little bit of a different way than I think we'll be engaging. So we'll let that be an opportunity for your audiences to come see performances here and discover that.

Speaker 1: 07:34 So would you say that grand opera here is taking a little detour of it's own?

Speaker 2: 07:38 Actually a very good metaphor, right? We actually have thought about that. We've talked about it. We said, why don't we think about applying some of the learning that we've taken from detour and see if we can put a little bit of that on main stage.

Speaker 1: 07:49 All right, well I want to thank you very much for talking about the new season. We're very excited. Thank you. That was Beth Armando speaking with San Diego opera as a general director. David Bennett. Aida has three more performances, including one tomorrow night at San Diego civic theater.

The 2019-2020 San Diego Opera season opened with "Aida" over the weekend. General Director David Bennett previews the upcoming season.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.