Opera San Antonio Looks Ahead
After a successful production of his family opera "Fantastic Mr. Fox" at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Opera San Antonio's Artistic Director Tobias Picker shares his plans for the future of the young company.
Nathan Cone: For this first season, what are your hopes? And then what would you like to do in the future?
Tobias Picker: My hopes for the first season are that we sell every seat in the house for every one of our performances, so that we reach as many people in the community as possible, and can demonstrate that we are a company that’s offering opera at the highest level. As high a level or higher than other major opera companies. [I want people to see that] the way we do things, the artists that we attract, from the singers to the designers and creative teams, are people who only work at the best opera companies in the world. I want our neighbors to be proud of having an important opera company in San Antonio that attracts people not just from here, but from other places around the country, and in some cases from other countries, to see what we’re doing, because you can’t see it anywhere else. This season especially I wanted all new productions, so it’s a particularly expensive season. We’ve created three new productions for the Tobin Center.
And the two one-acts you’re doing, I haven’t seen them programmed very often.
The double-bill of “Il Segreto di Susanna” by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and “La Voix Humaine” by Francis Poulenc with soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci will be something that no one has seen her perform in this country. So, it’s comedy and tragedy…one is an earlier 20th century comedy in the style of Puccini, and one is a mid-20th century melodrama about a jilted lover. Antonacci did do the two together in Paris in the spring of 2013, and she repeated it in Antwerp. She likes to do these two pieces together. But I don’t think anyone else has put them together. It may even have been her idea [to do so]. But our production is brand new, and it’s the only opportunity to see this legendary Italian diva perform these two works together. Her appearances here are very rare. We’re very lucky to have Antonacci coming to San Antonio. None of the other opera companies in Texas have ever been able to attract her. I’m very excited about the double bill, which is already sold out.
We’re going to add a third performance if we can, and if she’s willing to do it. But it’s not that simple. Opera is expensive to produce. People have to understand that there’s an enormous machinery behind the scenes to make it all happen. That’s why it costs more to see than going to the movies, or a chamber music concert, or the symphony, because their expenses are smaller than ours. Opera is the king of all art forms in the performing arts. I can’t think of a grander one. You could argue film is the great new art form of the 20th century, but film is not a performing art. What we have [in opera] is every art form combined.
And film is a manufactured performance, because you have editing. Opera is a performing art…
It’s live. You have singing, dancing, art. I can’t think of an art form that opera doesn’t include. It has writing, poetry… what doesn’t it have? Maybe needlepoint or knitting.
Somebody’s working on that!
Well, a character could be knitting in a scene!
And by the end of the opera, you’ll have a tapestry.
Yeah, well there are stories like that! You could certainly include all the crafts into an opera, as well as all the art forms. But a string quartet concert is a quartet. It’s a great art form, and I love writing string quartets, but opera has everything.
What’s on your wish list for future seasons?
The second season I want to open with a big Italian opera that everybody knows. The first season is somewhat challenging. “Mr. Fox” is not standard repertory yet. I think it will be in the future, but it’s certainly not something that is widely known. “Salome” is standard rep but it is not performed as often as “Carmen” because even though it premiered in 1905, it’s still daring, edgy, and controversial. And “Voix Humaine” and “Segreto di Susanna” are not “Carmen,” they’re not “La Boheme.” So I want to open the second season in the HEB theater at the Tobin with a big Italian opera, a Puccini or a Verdi. And to do something that looks and sounds stunning, a beautiful production with amazing singers.
I’m very interested in finding repertoire that [fits] with the San Antonio Symphony’s “festival” theme, that we can do either in partnership with the Symphony or in conjunction with the Symphony.
I want to continue to expand the range of repertoire, the range of available periods of opera, and get away from a narrow Top Ten approach to opera, which to me is deadly if you have an opera company that just does “Carmen” and “Boheme” and the usual things. Not many opera companies anymore are doing that. Opera companies in small cities are taking a more balanced approach to repertoire.
"I would like to do a range of repertoire, from Monteverdi to the present day." -Tobias Picker
I want to include opera of the 21st century as well, and ultimately model Houston’s David Gockley… to get to the point where we can commission a new opera [every year]. It doesn’t have to be [performed] in the big theater at the Tobin. It could be in the Alvarez Theater. It could be an opera done in a site-specific location. I’m interested in doing repertoire in site-specific places like a train station, or a shopping mall, or places you wouldn’t expect to go see an opera....and I have investigated some of these off-site locations. The first season we’re trying to stay at the Tobin, and our large operas will always be done in the Tobin, in the HEB Performance Hall. It’ll be a home base, but I also want to do opera off-campus. First we’ll establish our identity with the Tobin, then we can do some other off-beat things.
I would like to do a range of repertoire from Monteverdi to the present day. And I don’t want to do only Italian repertoire. I want French, Russian, German…. American repertoire is extremely important. We’re living in a golden age of American opera. There’s a tremendous amount of opera being written today. I want to have a balanced approach so people will trust that Opera San Antonio is going to give them great music-drama that they can’t really see anywhere else. Other cities do it their way—I want what we do here to be unique.