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Video Published: 22 Jun 2022

An Oral History with James Wright

On July 21st, 2021, arts administrator James Wright sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and their life.

This interview was originally recorded on July 21st, 2021. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

James Wright, arts administrator

James Wright was the General Director of Vancouver Opera for 17 years, retiring in 2016. During his tenure the company produced award-wining and unprecedented work in connecting the arts to community. Wright began his opera career with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. HE was appointed General Manager of Anchorage Opera in 1985, and then went on to serve as General Director of Opera Carolina for 10 years. Wright has served two terms on the Board of Directors for OPERA America, was a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, and received the Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012.

Oral History Project

Discover the full collection of oral histories at the link below.


Marc A. Scorca: Jim, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to be with us for this conversation. When we began celebrating our 50th anniversary, it was in January of 2020 and this 50th anniversary celebration didn't last long. And what we wanted to do in the course of that year was to capture in interviews 50 people who have really helped shape opera in North America and who frankly have a long history in the field, so we can remember a bit of where we came from, as we go into the future in our second 50 years. So again, thanks so much for joining us.

James Wright: Well, it's a pleasure. Thank you very much. It's also helped me think through the past four decades and remember a bunch of stuff I'd sort of forgotten.

Marc A. Scorca: We'll just allow the conversation to go where it does as we bounce memories back and forth. But I first want to start off by asking you, who brought you to your first opera?

James Wright: I brought myself to a Boheme and in university.

Marc A. Scorca: What motivated you?

James Wright: I was in the theater department and we had close ties with the music department, of course. And I was very interested. And I grew up in a very small town. The nearest opera was Chicago Lyric, and my parents were very literate and readers and theater goers, and classical music and symphonies, but opera just wasn't on the radar for us. So, when I was in university, I took it upon myself to attend and enjoyed it very much; had a lot to learn and a lot to take in.

Marc A. Scorca: So the first encounter was a positive one. Did you realize at that moment you might make your career in opera or it was just a performance you enjoyed that night?

James Wright: Latterly. I was a theater major and my plan for my life was to be what we then called a really solid journeyman actor that would join a repertory company (Minnesota, the Guthrie or something like that) and build a career in regional theater. And that's what I planned to do until I got my first job in opera.

Marc A. Scorca: And I wanted to ask you, how did you get, and what was that first jump in opera?

James Wright: Well, I'd been touring with a children's theater company and doing some other theater and with two other friends starting a small non-commercial theater, that's still in operation in Urbana, Illinois. And I was between engagements, shall we say? And I really needed a job. And I was in Pittsburgh, Kansas. I just worked at the university theater department for a couple of years as a stage manager and other things. And I applied for a job at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as - they didn't say gofer, but that's what it was - production-runner, kind of third/fourth stage manager. And I got the job and began work in the summer of 1977 and was there for four years. And as I like to say, people kept resigning above me. And after the first year, I was Russell Patterson's number two. So it was quite a steep learning curve. And as I think back on it (and have thought more about it in the last couple of days) I very likely couldn't have had a better start for me. For where I was and what I knew, (which was nothing) and what that company did and what Russell did...There were lots of highs; there were some interesting lows, but I got into every part of the organization, and he allowed me to learn and to grow. I could sit in on the marketing meetings; in the development meetings and certainly all the artistic and production stuff. And it was a steep learning curve and a really fascinating experience.

Marc A. Scorca: You know, I've been fascinated in doing these oral history interviews; fascinated to explore the backgrounds, the sensibilities at the time among these founders. Because Russell Patterson is one of the group of people who really founded American opera companies at the beginning moment of the explosion of American opera and Russell served the company for many, many years. What was he like? Opera entrepreneur? Founder? What were some of his qualities?

James Wright: Well, first of all, he was a horn player and he was a Fulbright scholar, and he brought those strengths and experiences. Of course, the company was founded in '58, so I was not there the first, almost 20 years. But he brought tenacity and determination and he brought (as few were doing at that time) a real desire for American opera: to produce American opera in America's Heartland. He produced in English and produced an American work every year for a long, long time including a few world premiers: Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines being one for example, but early: Mice and Men; Sweet Bye and Bye; The Devil and Daniel Webster: pieces that aren't really a part of the repertoire in professional companies these days. He was able to sell this vision to some really key Kansas City families and companies, who got on board and they eventually were able to buy their own theater, which they used until 2015 or so when the new the conference center was built. So I would say that. He also was funny and he had a good sense of humor and he had an explosive temper and you better not get in his parking spot, even for two minutes, and a dynamo to work for, and a man who really kept one on one's toes.

Marc A. Scorca: I've wondered sometimes...those founders...did they do it by the book as we've come to know it today, where everyone is a specialist or was it instinct? Was it drive? How much was technique and how much was just sheer determination?

James Wright: I think mostly sheer determination. Always things to disagree about originally, but we always got there. I was thinking about the things that I did there...I would say my experience there...it was a lot of seat of the pants. It just hadn't been done before, whether we're talking about technical theater or - we didn't have surtitles then - but it's hard to come up with examples, but a lot of it was being done for the first time and developing an opera professional community.

Marc A. Scorca: The dedication to American opera: was that, in its day, an outlier in Kansas City? Or were there colleague organizations that were doing that all over the country?

James Wright: Not very many companies were doing it. Certainly Santa Fe is always the outstanding example as it grew to great fame - rightly so - but Kansas City and Santa Fe and a few others were it, as far as I know. Certainly in the '60's and into the mid-'70's.

Marc A. Scorca: And the opera in English: of course, so many companies started performing opera in English, but then when projected translations came along, they stopped. What was Russell's commitment to opera in English? And did you share that?

James Wright: I think he had a strong commitment to it, and obviously everything was done in English and he believed in it very much. And I, coming from a theater background, a performance background appreciated the audience's ability to enjoy it, theatrically: to enjoy it as words with music and not something foreign to them and difficult for them. The company sold well; it did very well. We toured and I don't know how much of that was still going on. Certainly City Opera was, but every fall - it was a repertoire season, summer to fall - we would take one of the works on the road with orchestra, with chorus and principals and perform in regional cities from Omaha, South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska: sometimes out for two days, but usually just out and backs; out and backs. And I think that also demonstrated his belief in accessibility, a word he probably would not have used; wouldn't have been in his vocabulary necessarily, but he wanted people to hear and see and understand opera.

Marc A. Scorca: That's wonderful. What a great image that creates of Lyric Opera of Kansas City, a number of years ago,

James Wright: On two different tour occasions, and these were mine: I was in charge of these things. In Somewhere, Nebraska, in late November, we put up a very large raked, solid stage for a performance of The Medium and Die Kluge and loaded in from the rear of the theater, back of the stage and put up this great, big, massive set, worked all day. And then we couldn't close the doors because we had opened them wide and from the inside and we had to perform it with blacks/curtains behind the stage and letting the cold Nebraska November air come in. But everybody went with it. The singers...everybody was, "Pretty funny Jim, you and your technical game." And the other one that I hadn't thought about in a long time: as we were doing an orchestra concert in Joplin, Missouri; driving down to Joplin, Missouri to do an orchestra concert. And we got there and set up. And sometime in the afternoon, I realized that I had forgotten the box of scores for all the players and left them in Kansas City. So we had to charter a plane and fly it down to Joplin, Missouri, which was an hour and a half hour flight probably. And I took the company van and rushed to the Joplin airport and they allowed me to rush right down onto the tarmac; up to the plane; unload; take the scores back and get them distributed at half hour. For being someone who could be explosive and could lose his temper and could be impatient, he was wonderful about that. And since they got there in time, it became a great story instead of a debacle, but those are two really funny memories of touring.

Marc A. Scorca: I guess that's why you had contingency lines in the budget. So Jim, did you go from Kansas City then to Anchorage?

James Wright: To Tulsa...

Marc A. Scorca: And you worked with another founder. ..

James Wright: Ed Purrington. My time in Tulsa...I would say it was a tense time for the organization in general. Not anything in particular, but the workings of the board, which was led by oilmen - determined oilmen - was not easy. The (I would say friction and I say this (as someone) very fond of Ed. I think everybody was very fond of Ed...the friction between what he wanted to produce; the money available; and the audience interest was not always in line. There was friction there. He liked big productions. He liked big names: Leona Mitchell, Simon Estes, Lucine Amara, Gilda Cruz-Romo. Conductors like Emerson Buckley and Kurt Herbert Adler, who had no resonance with the community, and very little with the board. I would say that I was in the middle of a string of relatively short-lived production managers in the decade of the '70's, into the early '80's in Tulsa. Again, I learned a lot because Kansas City did not hire singers like Leona Mitchell and Simon Estes and conductors like Adler and Emerson Buckley, Nicola Rescigno...I learned so much from them and from the singers and Lotfi Mansouri's staging and others. It was another really incredible personal growth time for me, but it was always, always tense. And I don't know how better to say it. And that's the only time I've been fired.

Marc A. Scorca: It is so interesting how two cities that are not all that far apart from one another, how different they were.

James Wright: And especially when you think about Ed's earlier work in Santa Fe, obviously a different ethos from Kansas City, but opera in English and accessibility and up-and-comer singers, as well as established singers. Very little of that came to Tulsa. And I don't know, maybe he couldn't...maybe it was a board and a town that thought they wanted big names, but the difference from Kansas City was incredible.

Marc A. Scorca: And of course Ed was a beloved figure in our industry for so many years, and then he went on to Washington, DC where he worked. So you got fired.

James Wright: Let's just say he thought I had made some mistakes. I felt that he hadn't understood the challenges.

Marc A. Scorca: What was your position there?

James Wright: I was director of production. As it still is, I think singers, stagehands, wardrobe, orchestra, all of that stuff. Not choosing repertoire, of course, but he didn't understand what things were going to cost or didn't accept what things were going to cost and then felt he had to take action...like those situations have been remedied. I was bothered for a while. Ed and I made our peace years ago, and as I continued to grow in my work, I have a greater understanding and sympathy or empathy for the decisions that one has to make. But I like the story and I like to share it because that happens and I've often told younger colleagues who are having a difficult time and either as a general director or as an executive director of the organization or the second person...it happens and you lick one's wounds and go on.

Marc A. Scorca: So how long were you in Tulsa?

James Wright: Two years.

Marc A. Scorca: And how long between your departure from Tulsa to your arrival in Anchorage?

James Wright: Four months. He gave me the news before the end of the season and before the end of the fiscal year, so I started looking in May, and I found in Michael Moore, who was the young executive director in Anchorage, a willingness to let me grow in other ways, in other departments as no other interviewer did. And he promised me that I would be welcome to work with the marketing team; appreciated the fact that I liked public speaking; was willing to embrace my willingness to move towards a general management. And he kept his word. And so I went and besides, it was the last frontier. 1983 and a couple of friends "God, I'm going to go live in Alaska." And so I went in the fall of 83.

Marc A. Scorca: What was it like to produce opera really on the frontier? I've been to Anchorage and if anyone wants to feel what it is to be on the frontier, Anchorage will tell you what it's like to be on the frontier. Was it rewarding to produce opera in a community that really was kind of at the end of the road?

James Wright: It was extremely rewarding. I'll never forget it. It was a Magic Flute in the smaller theater (older theater before we built a new performing arts center, which was another wonderful learning experience) that we had scalpers outside the theater with our Magic Flute tickets, and we were like, "Yeah, that's like the big city!" And although this isn't really true, I did used to like to say, "You know, you ought to be able to sell opera in New York City; you're not supposed to be able to sell opera in Anchorage, Alaska: population 250,000; half the state's population.” It was exciting. We brought in wonderful singers who had wonderful careers in regional companies. David Evitts is one that comes to mind. Linda Brovsky directed and good folks... Fiora Contino conducted it. The artistic co-founder of the company was Elvera Voth, who began the opera company; two university music programs and a professional choir: just was Ms. Music of the state: accomplished, humble, funny, rolled with the punches. She'd been in Alaska since the late fifties, working with Robert Shaw. And the biggest challenge was orchestra and chorus...just enough bodies did what you needed them to do. There was certainly sufficient money in those days, mainly from oil companies: Arco, Atlantic Richfield, BP, a couple of others. They gave a lot of money to the arts. The state also gave a lot of money to the arts. During the period I was there. Alaska had the highest educated level population in the country, because of oil workers, oil engineers, teachers, social service people, so there was an intellectual desire and need for culture, both in Fairbanks and Anchorage and in Juneau. So the funds were there provided by the state and the oil companies basically. It wasn't ever easy. It never is easy, but that was not a problem until oil dropped from 30-some dollars a barrel to $9 a barrel.

Marc A. Scorca: It's so interesting how city government, state government, corporations rally around the arts, when communities are fragile and, of course in Anchorage, given the fact that so many people are moving there for work; that it is not a place they might otherwise move on their own, there is a need to give them the richness of culture. So state and city support, oil company support for culture. The minute the city seems to be strong, vibrant - the money for the arts seems to shrink, but people know that when a city really needs a boost, the arts is the way to give them a boost. So how long were you in Anchorage Jim?

James Wright: I guess four and a half years. I want to say: the pioneering spirit of Anchorage and Alaska was palpable because there were many first-generation - I'll use the word that we use here a lot in Canada these days, First-Generation settlers - maybe second generation: people, some of whom came to Alaska to get away from something, whether it be family or reputation or whatever: who wanted to be on their own; who wanted to be on the last frontier. And I felt during my four years there, you were accepted by the civic class and the publishers and the business owners. You were accepted, not for who you were or are, but for what you did. They celebrate respected and celebrated success. And I don't mean monetary success. If you were really good at what you did, you were 'in', and I found that so refreshing from, well, anywhere I've been: Kansas City, Tulsa and any place I would go until I got to Vancouver: that sense of you're doing good work; you're appreciated. It was really wonderful. I really enjoyed the work there and I know I made a difference there for the company and for the community. We got our first advancement grant from the NEA, and got our first Apple II 'e g e' computer that sent me to Cupertino for training. And it was just a very, very exciting time. But then personally it was difficult because my brother was very ill and then my brother died in his thirties. It took me 24 hours to get home, and I had been feeling this anyway. You could travel a long way and spend a lot of money and just be on the edge of Western North America. So I thought I really need to get within a reasonable distance from family. So when the job came up in Charlotte, I applied and went.

Marc A. Scorca: And there you were. And that brings us nearly a decade to you're getting to Vancouver at the very end of the 1990's. And you had a wonderful 17 year tenure as general director of Vancouver Opera. And I wanted to get your observation on the differences. And here you are, you are a Canadian citizen now, a voting citizen. It's wonderful. How different is it to run an opera company, produce opera in Canada, or at least in Vancouver than it is in the States?

James Wright: I'm glad you made that qualifier. My first several years here, people from the States would say, "Well, how do you like living in Canada?" And I'd say, "I'm not sure, but I love living in Vancouver." Across that Rocky mountains, we're different; it's very different experience. Well, first of all, the public funding situation is still, (and it was more so earlier) sort of in the middle between the U S and Great Britain. We got strong government support, not as much public support as Europe and the UK in those days, but certainly a lot more than the NEA and US government. So Canada Council funding has always been in the millions of dollars for the country; the many millions of dollars. State, provincial support has always been good, and city support through various ways, including theater rentals and that sort of thing: all have been very, very important, and still are in these times. And that's a good thing, because corporate support was never very much. And in Vancouver's case in the '80's and '90's, most of the money came from extraction, mining, oil, timber, and (as a very good supporter of the company said once, after I'd only been there a couple or three years) that all fell off. Banks were no longer able to make regional decisions that were significant money; it came out of national. And she said, "You know, in the old days, all we had to do was make four phone calls, and we had our four productions underwritten." That changed a lot, and foundations have always played a small role in Canadian arts funding. So the government has had no choice, but to keep their funding strong. It's a city that...my predecessor had dinner with me when I first got to Anchorage and he was leaving, and he said, "This is really a city of about 750,000 people." And what he meant was: those who were predisposed to western culture was just a part of the population of greater Vancouver, which has a huge Chinese, south Asian, Japanese, Korean population, and more and more South Americans. And he was warning me that the work was cut out for us to continue to be a vibrant part of the community and an important part of a community, as this immigration continued to grow and we were going to have to make sure we remain became relevant to more people than the 600,000 inside the actual city limits of Vancouver. And that was an important thing for me to learn. And we've all worked hard, as we all are everywhere to find our relevance to other communities. Particularly challenging and from rather early on, I would say organizations in Vancouver were aware of this because of our population mix and because of our ties to Asia that were stronger than the rest of Canada and much of the US earlier. I think I'm right about that. I think we felt we had a sensitivity to that, which brought us to Nixon in China in 2010. And we sold to the community, if you will, Nixon in China: sold it, not to ticket buyers, particularly; not to new ticket buyers, but to the corporate and educational leadership of the city who understood the important ties, that we were adding to, in facing Eastern Asia.

Marc A. Scorca: One of the words that I wanted to explore with you, because here you have seen the arc of opera for roughly 45 years, how has the sense of community, the concept of community changed over that time? And yet I also hear that in the early days, working at Kansas City, you were doing run outs all over the place so that you were trying to create an opera community across the state, across the region, and yet the way you talk about community today is somewhat different. How would you characterize the arc of this concept called community?

James Wright: Oh, what a good question. You're right in Kansas City, that the touring was a critical part of reaching out to a broader community, but there was to my recollection and knowledge, no sense of engaging new audiences. Everybody always wants to sell tickets, and sell as many tickets. But I think the quest to develop new audiences from different communities, African-American community; then black community, and other ethnic groups, just wasn't very much on the radar. Education programs tended to be quite standard, with a troupe of three or four choristers going out and doing concerts, and that sort of thing. In Tulsa, the education efforts mainly were bringing students in to daytime dress rehearsals, called 'Look-ins' and that whole experience: very standard kind of stuff. But again, there was a director of education. But there was in my recollection and my understanding, there wasn't much of an outreach to the African American or Latino/Latina community, which was big in the Tulsa area or the region or anything to my knowledge with First Nations/Indigenous populations. I think that that began to become important, I would say in more organizations in the 90's. I had a couple of 'ah-ha' experiences in Charlotte. One particular one that was very positive, one was not positive in learning our company's responsibilities and needs and community expectations. And now of course we have all finally been hit over the head hard enough: the need hard enough; the examples are so strong. I don't need to tell anybody watching this about that, but has just really in the last couple of years are just propelling everyone to do a lot of introspection, thinking, inventing: it's just totally different.

Marc A. Scorca: And of course not atypical of the age; not atypical of those years...

James Wright: The Symphonies weren't doing it either.

Marc A. Scorca: Yet, I think of your Magic Flute in Vancouver - it's funny you mention The Magic Flute in Anchorage - but I also think of your very special Magic Flute in Vancouver, as the other side of the coin. A tour that just allows you to see The Magic Flute is one thing, but a Magic Flute that is co-created with, in your instance, the First Nations community was just an extraordinary illustration of how an opera company can bring a new public into the theater and transform the art form at the same time.

James Wright: Thank you for bringing that up. It was a transformative experience for me in my professional life and personal life. And we were, I think, in Vancouver, the first major organization to attempt to do it as authentically as we did. It was a three-year project. The first year was just spent earning trust and conversations, and building this because, you know, the answer so often has been rightly so when one would approach a group, "Oh, you need us now," whether it's for public funding or a particular grant or something or other; "You didn't need us for 40 years. In fact, you didn't only not need us; you didn't want us for 40 years, and now you need us." So getting past that or dealing with that and accepting "Yeah, you're right, but how can we do this in a way that really serves us all?" And it was a hugely, hugely successful project from an audience development perspective; from a Canada Council perspective. He's dead now, but there was a wonderful Chinese Canadian leader, Milton Wong, who was into everything and was such an incredible leader. Months later, he was at an event about something totally different and something about The Magic Flute came up and he stood up and said, "That has made me the proudest to be from British Columbia of anything ever." I just thought, "Whoa."

Marc A. Scorca: So, just that very different definition of community or public service, as it were. And then of course, the arc of new work, and once again, in Kansas City, you worked for a company that was rare in its dedication to new work, if not all premiers, at least, an incredible record of doing American opera that was existing at the time. And then in your subsequent years, certainly that faded as a priority for those companies. But then you got to Vancouver and again, there is a shift in how opera companies were approaching new work. Tell us about that shift and what you realized was the opportunity for you at Vancouver Opera?

James Wright: Well, opera in Canada has always had a challenge to create its own work: to present Canadian work by Canadians, for Canadians, about Canadians. Our repertoire has been very much European-based as most of it in the States for so many years. And we simply, as a country, don't have the scale of the States as many universities, conservatories, opera companies, small companies, large companies, foundations to experiment in a broad fashion about creating our own stories. Calgary Opera has done better than any other Canadian company until recently (of the traditional companies) in creating new work. Calgary has had the good fortune - like Anchorage - of having very successful business communities, who support the arts and leadership like Bob McPhee and boards, as he put them together: they created a fair amount of new work. One of the challenges also is that when a company in Canada - and it may be this way in the States, (I've decided I'm no longer an expert on anything in the States, having been gone 20 years) - but if your company is going to commit to a new work, they want it to be their new work. They don't want it to be somebody the second production of Calgary Opera's new opera, or Winnipeg's new opera or Vancouver's new opera. And so it's been very hard. That's one of the main reasons it's been very hard for collaborative projects for main stage new work. We couldn't find a partner when we finally felt we could do a main stage new work by a Canadian composer and libretto, with a Canadian story, we couldn't find a partner for the reasons I mentioned. So we bit the whole whatever it was 1,200,000; five workshops; all the commissioning fees, all that, all ourselves. We were able to do it. It wasn't easy, but we couldn't find a partner and I know that other opera companies were the same. Calgary only was lucky in the calendar falling when the National Arts Center wanted to produce something from the west. So they bought in and Edmonton, they had to do like, you know... Winnipeg has had no luck with new works going other places in the country, and Montreal has had very little luck. So what we did and what other companies have done though, is we've commissioned. I think by the time I left and announced a couple more young people's work for schools and school tours. 45 minute pieces by regional composers, and Stickboy, of course, which was a main stage production in a small theater about bullying. So, we've had to take a more modest approach to creating the new work. I don't know if that answers your question.

Marc A. Scorca: It's an interesting challenge, and I think to a certain degree is a challenge that is more prevalent in Canada than the US, just given the number of companies and the possibility for co-production partners.

James Wright: That's another piece of it. There's Canadian Opera Company with a $35 million budget and then Vancouver Opera was next (at one point $10M), and then Montreal, and then it dropped several hundred thousand dollars and then it dropped three or $400,000 more. And the good thing was we all shared very similar monstrosities of performing venues (which) sprouted up and lumbered into being in the '50's and '60's and early '70's: multipurpose venues. So it wasn't a matter of stage size. It was more a matter of budget size and the difference in the communities themselves.

Marc A. Scorca: It's funny, you mentioned when you were at Anchorage Opera and you got your first computer and you and I both go back to the days when mailing lists were maintained on sheets of paper that you put in the Xerox machine to copy labels, that you would put on envelopes for direct mail piece. When you think about this pandemic and the fact that we're doing this via zoom and what it used to be like when we were younger people working in the field. I don't think folks realize how rudimentary it was back in those early days.

James Wright: So rudimentary: bio cards; box offices, oh my God. The wonderful, wonderful ladies of every opera company who would come in and do the sorting and the stuffing and the licking and the stamping and the mailing, and had lunch and had a good gossip and had a great time together. But I wrote a piece once for the Arts Club, (professional theater company here), on one of their anniversaries. I wrote about volunteerism and, you know, (what) we've all done: we've all snorted and snickered about the ladies who come in. Companies would not have survived or would not have grown without the volunteer women. The women who volunteered in the arts (and other organizations), we just didn't have the people power to do that stuff on our own. Vancouver has kept a core until the pandemic, and I hope they're able to come back. (There are) four or five women who have volunteered for the company for 40 years, and they come in once a week: one on Thursday; one on Friday; one on Tuesday; sometimes altogether. And they do whatever needs to be done. And they're invaluable. They started out as Information Services was their title. And that was because it was in the day when you'd get a call from a donor, "Jim, I'm planning a trip to Vienna. What's on now? How do I get tickets...? Can you get me...?" And so the first thing they did was take all of that stuff: did the research, took it off our backs and then they just have continued to work. It was so rudimentary. I remember struggling with email in the early 90's in Charlotte. Just figuring out how... it was also exotic, wasn't it? And frustrating...

Marc A. Scorca: And that skips over the exoticism of the fax machine.

James Wright: Oh yeah. I just volunteer on a couple or three boards and ohhhh, the PDF has saved our lives. Hasn't it? From the faxes?

Marc A. Scorca: Oh my goodness. Yes. As you think back, when you were progressing to your leadership role in Vancouver Opera finally, were there role models? Were there people you thought about, when you thought, how would so-and-so handle this? Or folks would pass along lessons that you continue to find valuable. Role models? Reference points?

James Wright: I will answer that, but it allows me to say something that I wanted to say. In 1978, I went to my first OPERA America conference. It was in Chicago. For some reason, Russell wasn't able to go, but he sent me. I'd been in the business one year, and that's an example of him wanting me to grow, that I've always kept with me: get others involved, let other people grow. And I wanted to say: so in 1978, (when I knew nothing), for some reason, Bob Collins, who was the general director of Baltimore Opera, (and one of the founding companies) took me under his wing. And he made sure that I not only got introduced to, but then I had a chance to visit with Bob Herman, in Miami; Carol Fox, pre-dating Ardis (Krainik); Glynn Ross, (David) Gockley; DiChiera; John Crosby...I didn't have much of a conversation with John, but to sit with them at dinners and lunches and to be made to feel a part. And so Russell and Bob Collins of that group particularly have always been role models to me, as has David DiChiera and his work, his perseverance in building Michigan Opera Theater and helping in the revitalization of downtown - more than an arts leader, a civic leader. So I think to me...key to being the leader of a major arts organization, and I've seen them not be that, and I've seen them be that, and it makes a big difference in the placement of the company in the community. I never was close to David; we were good colleagues and visited and chatted, but I've always been impressed with his work. Elvera Voth in Anchorage: not a big name in the opera field, (certainly not any more): her humanity and her understanding of the role of music in people's lives, particularly choral music and after she retired and left (and she was probably 70 when she retired, maybe a little older), she moved back to Kansas City, where she grew up and she started a men's chorus in the Kansas State penitentiary, and once a week would go into the penitentiary and her choir consisted of some of the hardest, longest serving criminals: rapists, murderers, armed robbers. And she built a chorus. I never know: choir/chorus...what group I'm talking to...that eventually was allowed out and to give concerts in churches and various places. So her humanity and belief in the arts in helping to heal humanity was terrific...very strong. That's such a good question. So many of them are from a distance, who I didn't work with myself. Glynn Ross: what Glynn did and dammit did; whether he should have done it, or succeeded or not. And then Seattle is one wonderful story, but then to go to Arizona and build a whole other ethos and a whole other idea of The Ring: what it could be; where it could be. One can question the wisdom of that, on both sides of the question, but again: that determination; Russell's determination. DiChiera's determination; Glynn's determination, others. They just were going to do it and nobody was going to stop them. There's more, but I'd have to start making a new list and remembering things.

Marc A. Scorca: What a wonderful note for the end of our conversation of the vision, the determination, the humanity that are required to really be a leader in our field. I love those lessons.

James Wright: The work I'm doing now, as a volunteer is in choral music and South Asian festivals and organizations that bring Japanese secondary students to Canada and all wonderful organizations - nature conservancy, but it's great to feel like I'm dipping my toes back in home with you. And I do want to say also: OPERA America has played an incredibly important role in my professional and personal life. Being able to serve on the board two different times; to sit with the people I sat with, the leaders: to learn from them, and from you around the board committee tables has been... I can't imagine having the success, if you will, with my career, without the backing and leadership of OPERA America.

Marc A. Scorca: Well, Jim, it's a mutual admiration society. You really demonstrated such great practice in the time when I got to know you best, in the second half of your career. We always look to you as someone with a sense of humor and a great sense of humanity and a real commitment to being a civic leader through opera.