Sold-Out Opera America Conference in San Francisco

Janos Gereben on June 10, 2019
Composer Jake Heggie and S.F. Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock are shown here with Diane Wilsey, a major contributor to the Opera

Opera America’s initial announcement of the organization’s 2019 conference stated: “Conference sponsors and exhibitors will reach an anticipated 500+ general directors, administrators, trustees, donors, volunteers, and artists this year in San Francisco.”

Now, with the June 12–16 meeting about to take place this week, the website says registration is closed, and the organization “looks forward to seeing nearly 700 people in San Francisco.”

Already a success, at least by the larger than anticipated attendance, the Opera America conference is surveying the state of the art which it represents and to which it contributes more than $2 million annually through a variety of grant initiatives.

Founded in 1970, Opera America has a membership of 150 professional opera companies, 350 associates in business and education, and 1,600 individuals. It also has some 40,000 subscribers and followers on e-communications and social media. Next year, it will have its 50th anniversary conference, May 13–17, 2020.

Scene at an Opera America conference

A persistent issue for Opera America is the ongoing difficulty of opera in America — building budgets, increasing audiences, finding ways to produce new works. “At a time when opera is faced with a combination of challenges and exciting opportunities,” says Opera America President and CEO Marc A. Scorca, “field leaders have to draw on innovative ideas from within and outside the performing arts to thrive.”

At the meeting, Scorca says, “a faculty of experts from San Francisco and across the country will be at the center of intense and stimulating discussion.”

Participation in the Thursday general session, titled “Examining Traditions,” will include a large number of prominent speakers, including composer Jake Heggie, S.F. Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, and Opera Parallèle Artistic Director Nicole Paiement. Chaired by Washington Post critic Philip Kennicott, the panel will also include Elise Brunelle from Cape Town Opera, Daniel Kramer from the English National Opera, and Washington National Opera General Director Timothy O’Leary.

Shilvock told S.F. Classical Voice that his presentation will make these basic points:

Tradition, creativity, expectation, innovation: these concepts are bound together in fascinating ways on the opera stage. All play important roles in the relationship between audience and art.

Tradition can allow audiences a great resonance — we take comfort in the timelessness of human emotion. At other times, a creative updating can allow audiences to understand a work anew through a wonderfully contemporary lens.

It’s a delicate balance to determine when to lead with tradition and when with a contemporary aesthetic, but the sine qua non has to be good storytelling. The audience has to be able to connect to the work and its essential emotions.”

Other sessions will explore business innovations, connections with the community, and numerous other subjects. The conference culminates with the spring meeting of the New Works Forum, a gathering of producers, artists, publishers, and others involved in creating new operatic repertoire.