As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a big fan of opera. My experience with performing operas was very limited until I joined the Knoxville Symphony which plays for Knoxville Opera Company's productions. There is a lot that I don't know about the inner workings of an opera company. Knoxville Opera Company's General Manager and Conductor, Brian Salesky, was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.
Katy Gawne: How do you make programing decisions and how far out do you plan the season? Do you program operas around the singers you would like to work with or do you pick the opera, then pick the singers?
Brian Salesky: Operas are chosen based on several factors: popularity, how far back they were last produced by KO, and our ability to budget for particular operas. In these difficult economic times KO is forced to delay its planning decisions due to our projections of funding which are increasingly difficult to do with accuracy. Casting comes after programming is confirmed.
K.G.: The symphony began rehearsals for the opera last week. When do rehearsals start with the Opera Chorus? With the Principals?
B.S.: The KO Chorus begins music rehearsals 2-3 months prior to each production. Principals usually arrive 21 days prior to the final performance.
K.G.: As Music Director, I know you make all the musical decisions, but is someone else responsible for deciding staging / costume / etc or do you do that as well?
B.S.: I make all final production decisions based on conversation with my Production Manager, Stage Director and Artistic Committee.
K.G.: Is there anything you would like a first-time opera goer to know?
B.S.: There are no barriers to enjoying opera for today's audiences. Projected English translations of every word make it possible for all to understand every nuance of the drama. There are no dress codes as there might have been 50-100 years ago. People should come in whatever makes them feel comfortable. The magnificent Tennessee Theatre has fabulous acoustics and every seat is a good seat. Our ticket prices are very affordable, starting at $15 for adults and $10 for students and children. As to the expenses, it costs $250,000 to mount one opera production (and that is low compared to similar budget companies). Therefore we depend on contributions from various sources to support our company. Most importantly, just like foods and cars, each opera is very different in its (musical and dramatic) content. Until one experiences the majesty and overwhelming experience of being at a live performance, one cannot appreciate the thrill of opera!
Knoxville Opera's production of Rigoletto will be performed February 13th at 8:00 and February 15th at 2:30. More information can be found on Knoxville Opera's website.