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Video Published: 19 Oct 2022

An Oral History with Sarah Billinghurst Solomon

On June 16th, 2022, arts administrator Sarah Billinghurst Solomon 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 June 16th, 2022. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon, arts administrator

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon, a native of New Zealand, retired from the Metropolitan Opera in 2014 after 20 years as assistant general manager for artistic affairs. In her role at the Met, Billinghurst Solomon played an integral role in planning seasons, supervised the artistic budget, directed the company’s artistic and music staff departments, and organized the company’s tours. Her career began in 1972 at San Francisco Opera, where she served as assistant to the artistic administrator before being named artistic administrator.

Oral History Project

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


Marc A. Scorca: Sarah Billinghurst, thank you so much for being with us today. You are just an icon in our industry and it's an honor to have this time to talk to you. Thank you for being with us.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, thank you. I think I'm more a dinosaur than an icon, but anyhow, nice of you to say that.

Marc A. Scorca: I'll debate that. I'll stick with icon. As you know, I start every interview with a question of, who brought you to your first opera?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, I was born in New Zealand, and I went to a very strict Anglican, all girls boarding school, and we were taken to every musical event that happened in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, so that we'd stop thinking about boys. And so they took us to every musical event that they possibly could. And because we wore very neat dark green uniforms, they always put us at the back of the stage so that they didn't have to put a lot of potted plants there and everything. So the very first person who made me enthusiastic about opera was Victoria de los Ángeles, and I can remember her. She was doing her Australasian tour, as so many musicians did in those days. People like (Witold) Małcużyński and (David) Oistrakh, and all sorts of people. And she was doing a recital in the Town Hall in Wellington. I can, to this day, remember she wore an off the shoulder, bright green taffeta dress, and she played a guitar with her encores, and she sang in between, and I fell in love with opera at that very moment. And then there was a visiting company, or was it...the Wellington Opera Company sort of came and went; they came for a year or two, then disappeared, and then came back and they did a Carmen with a singer from the United States, and I don't know who it was, but anyhow, I was very impressed by that. And that's how I began my love of opera.

Marc A. Scorca: Wow, with Victoria de los Ángeles; that's starting at the top.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: I know. That wasn't bad, was it? And I can remember when I first went to Barcelona, I said to the taxi driver, "I want to see where she actually lived." And so he drove past and said, "There it is. She lives in the penthouse."

Marc A. Scorca: How wonderful!

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: So that was a wonderful beginning, and then when we moved to San Francisco, I started going to the San Francisco Opera regularly. And the very first opera I saw there was a La bohème with (Mirella) Freni and (Luciano) Pavarotti. So, I started quite well there, and they had a little earthquake in the middle, but everyone just kept on singing. It was very impressive.

Marc A. Scorca: How extraordinary. It wasn't until I did some research that I realized that (Enrico) Caruso actually was in San Francisco on the night of the earthquake. He had sung a performance of Carmen in 1906, and he was back in his hotel after the performance, when the earthquake struck. So Pavarotti with an earthquake in San Francisco; Caruso with an earthquake in San Francisco.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Yes, exactly. New Zealand is a country with myriad earthquakes, so I was used to it. So it didn't phase me.

Marc A. Scorca: Now, as I read, you graduated university with a degree in political science. So even though you had enjoyed music and theater, and even opera, political science was what you studied at university.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, I wanted to be a lawyer, but had a very old fashioned father, who did not want a daughter to be a lawyer; didn't think women should be lawyers. What can I say? So I studied political science instead. And I thought I was going to live in New Zealand forever, and be the prime minister of New Zealand. Anyhow, everything changed, of course. When I got married very young and my husband was a structural engineer, who specialized in earthquake areas and off we went to San Francisco. And that was the beginning of my American sojourn, and I've been here 55 years since.

Marc A. Scorca: Wow. So it was in the late sixties, 1967, that you came to the United States?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: 1966/7, yeah; that's right.

Marc A. Scorca: And began attending at the San Francisco Opera, but how did you get a first job there?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: When we first went to San Francisco, I worked in a PR office, and then I had my first child and after he was born, I wanted to do something. So someone said, "Well, why don't you go and volunteer at the opera?" So, I volunteered at the opera. And, you know, Kurt Herbert Adler was good at sniffing out someone who was really interested or every good singer that there was, and so he offered me a job. And he offered me a job, as assistant to Richard Rudzinski. So I started working for him and then I got divorced, and the job turned into a full-time job. And then Kurt Herbert Adler decided to leave in one brief moment, and appointed (Terence) Terry McEwen, and then decided it was really stupid that said he was going to leave, and so Terry and I were sort of banished to an inside room, that used to be the lunch room. And I became Terry's artistic administrator and between us, we planned all his seasons and everything like that. It was very good that I had had some years with Kurt Herbert Adler, really to learn how to deal with singers, and how to deal with people, and how not to deal with people. He and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, who was always in San Francisco and they adored each other, but they also had unbelievable public rows, which was not something that I wanted to follow. But I learned how to deal with people, I think, (a) from reading a lot of Machiavelli, and studying political science and Hugues Gall was a political scientist too, who used to run the Paris Opera...

Marc A. Scorca:...so brilliantly.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: And also from spending six years in a very strict girls' boarding school, where you had to have good manners or you were out. So there you are.

Marc A. Scorca: Great training. But even just now, you've rattled off some names that are so important in the history of American opera: Richard Rudzinski and his role. He was a major force in opera, half a century ago.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Yes, that's absolutely right, and very knowledgeable, very interesting. And then of course, he then went and ran the Van Cliburn Competition for years and years and years.

Marc A. Scorca: And Terry McEwen. Again, someone who helped shape the recorded history of opera when every opera is being recorded for the first time, Terry would put together these incredible casts.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: And both Kurt Herbert Adler and Terry McEwen had very strong personal relationships with people. I mean, Kurt Herbert Adler had a very strong relationship with Leontyne Price, with Birgit Nilsson, with Leonie Rysanek. And Terry had a very strong relationship with Joan Sutherland and with Luciano, and with a lot of people like that. So it was very, very interesting to actually spend time with them, and learn from them...

Marc A. Scorca: And I am getting from this too, a message about the fact that personal relationships...these may be great artists; they may be international stars, but the personal relationship is really important to getting them to work for your company, and work well for your company.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Absolutely. It's one thing I learned from political science, that politicians have great, but fragile egos and opera singers (and directors and everything else) have exactly the same. I'll never forget when (Kathleen) Kathy Battle was singing at the San Francisco Opera, and she was not being her easiest. She was very demanding, because she was a perfectionist, so I took her home and we both had a glass of champagne and talked about Langston Hughes at length, whose biography I'd just read. And she is a great Langston Hughes admirer, of course, and somehow that established a way of talking to each other, which was beyond opera, but was incredibly helpful. I've always thought that at some point I could have been quite good as a psychologist, and I think that was a great help in my whole career, and that I really liked the people, and I really wanted to know more about them, and I really wanted to feel personally close to them, as well as professionally; not too personally close. That is always a disaster, but personally close enough that you can actually help people and calm some fears and that sort of thing. Early on in my career, I can remember Giacomo Aragall singing Tosca at the San Francisco Opera with Gwyneth Jones, and Gwyneth was an amazing woman and she sort of sailed on stage with no qualms at all, and you looked over in the wings and there was Giacomo kneeling on the floor and crossing himself, and looking ... terrified. And he always was. He had a great fear of singing, even though he had one of the greatest voices ever, at the time. It's very complicated dealing with singers all the time. And I think it helps if you're sympathetic and empathetic. And I think that follows today with people also.

Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely. The work with Mr. Adler; the stories are incredible. I never met him; I never knew Mr. Adler, but the stories are incredible of - he's deciding to quit and appoint Terry McEwen, and then is deciding not to quit. And I've heard of entire departments getting fired and getting rehired the next day, and yet personal relationships with Leontyne Price and Leonie Rysanek. So this complicated man: how did it work that this rather explosive, complicated man ran one of the most successful opera companies in the history of this country?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, (a) he was a perfectionist; (b) he knew exactly what he was looking at on stage. He knew if a director was good, or if a director was not good. He knew that Jean-Pierre Ponnelle was brilliant, even though they had big disagreements about the productions. In the end, it all came together, and it was a kind of moment when the two of them came together in agreement, when something great came out of it. I'll never forget Reimann's Lear that they did, which was absolutely extraordinary, and the production was extraordinary. Also the Frau ohne Schatten that he did...well, Jean-Pierre did so many things (that were) absolutely extraordinary. The Turandot that he did with Montserrat Caballé and Luciano; everything like that. I can remember sitting behind him once and he said, "You," and he said the name of the woman, "You in the second row of the chorus. Ms. Smith, in the second row of the chorus, you are wearing red nail polish. Would you please take it off for performances?" He did not miss anything from the very large picture to the very small picture. In those days, you could hear someone in Europe, and you could hire them for the next season, which is what he did with Birgit Nilsson. And he was extraordinary at finding new singers for the San Francisco Opera, and in those days he had a big and very healthy and very giving board. I think opera's just more difficult to run these days, but in those days, the Opera was sort of the pride of San Francisco, and he ran an extraordinary opera house, and an extraordinary season. And he asked a lot from himself and he asked a lot from all of his staff. In those days, if someone yelled at you, you sort of shrugged it off and kept going, and learned something from it. These days you would not.

Marc A. Scorca: Right.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: It was a very different time. Remember it was nearly 50 years ago.

Marc A. Scorca: Yes. And then of course, there was so much less competition in those days. The European houses weren't yet thriving the way they came to thrive. So these wonderful singers were happy to have these engagements in the United States, and so many important productions in San Francisco. Before they'd get to The Metropolitan Opera, they were singing in San Francisco.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: That's right. And as I said, he had these wonderful personal relationships also, with many, many of the singers. I can remember when Margaret Price was really ill for the Sam Wanamaker Aida, which was very glitzy in Hollywood, but anyhow, quite extraordinary. And, she was ill, and in those days we barely ever had covers, but he had one of his most satisfying moments when he stepped in front of the curtain and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm terribly sorry, but Ms. Price is ill tonight and will not be able to sing" You know, the audience sighed and moaned and everything else. And then he said, "But," he said, "Singing, the role of Aida will be Ms. Price, Miss Leontyne Price," and that was one of his really best moments.

Marc A. Scorca: It would be anyone's best moments.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: It sort of sums up what he was, and what he did. And he was an extraordinary musician. He was not necessarily a great conductor, which he always hoped to be, but he was extraordinary. And he had a very good head of the board too: Richard Miller - very strong; a very good partner to Kurt Herbert Adler. Anyhow, those were amazing days.

Marc A. Scorca: As your job grew, you were still a mother; you had a family.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: That's right.

Marc A. Scorca: How did you balance that? People weren't speaking about single parent households or work-life balance in the same way they do today. How did you manage this burgeoning career that you sort of stumbled into, and managing a family?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: To start off with, the San Francisco Opera seasons had never been as long as The Met's, so that was something. Then my ex-husband remarried again, and they were very helpful with the children, and took the children when it was needed. And I would go home every night and cook dinner, and make sure they were doing their homework and then go back after that to the opera. And then later on, at four in the morning, I'd get up and drive my daughter to rowing, which she was doing, and then in those days I used to have lots of parties for all of the artists and I used to cook and do all sorts of things. When you're younger, it's easier. What can I say? And I am a New Zealander who, like any New Zealander, you just multitask and don't complain.

Marc A. Scorca: I know that you are loved by so many artists, because of the personal touch that you bring to the opera house, the heart and soul that you bring to the opera house. And here you are talking about you'd be cooking for artists. How did you see your role as hospitality CEO?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: I didn't really think about it. I just wanted to do it, so I did it. I want to just go back to Kurt Herbert Adler. One thing I learned from him. I had studied music when I was in New Zealand. I'd played the piano badly, and I'd played the clarinet even more badly, actually - really both of them. And I'd conducted the school chorus, and that sort of thing, so I did have music in my background. My mother was intensely musical and a very good pianist. And we listened to a lot of music, so it was always there. But Kurt Herbert Adler - just watching him and listening him to him at auditions made me learn what to listen to, what to hear. I don't have perfect pitch, or anything like that, but I'm very good at listening to a young singer and finding out if he's got something special. And I can remember, for instance, when Gayletha (Nichols) and I heard Ryan Speedo Green, and we said he should be in the program, and most of the other people were totally, totally against it. They said he hadn't had enough music education; he was too (sorry about the pun) green, et cetera, et cetera. And we absolutely insisted, and we insisted with Jimmy, and he became a member of the program and look at him now. So it's people like that. It's trying to find and trying to hear that something special that is not just generic. There's so many singers who are just lovely singers; they might even have terrific technique, but they're just generic. And you have to have something that sells you in a different way when you audition, I think. Something that proves that you can get on stage, and captivate an audience, and there are many young singers now who can do that. Many who don't.

Marc A. Scorca: Yep. And we'll talk about that in a moment, because I wanna do the shift from west coast to east coast, 'cause after two decades at the San Francisco Opera, you relocated to New York and to The Metropolitan Opera. How did you decide at that point in your life you were ready to take on an even bigger challenge, across the country?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, I had been working then for Lotfi Mansouri, who I'd known for years and years before he became general director of the San Francisco Opera. And I really enjoyed working with him. I particularly enjoyed working on War and Peace, when we hired Valery Gergiev, who I know is persona non grata now, but in those days it was very different, and it was very exciting that we started off a relationship with the Mariinsky (or the Kirov, as it was then), and San Francisco Opera did a co-production of Ruslan and Ludmila, and a lot of other things. Anyhow, that was very exciting with Lotfi. But then, I'd been in San Francisco a long time. My son was already in graduate school; my daughter was going to go to the University of Chicago, which was a wonderful university, but certainly not cheap, and my ex-husband could only contribute so much and I could not contribute very much either. So I decided when (Joseph) Joe Volpe approached me and said, "Would you be interested in working at The Met?", I decided that I would earn a lot more money in New York, not realizing how expensive New York was, and that I needed another challenge in my life, and so I moved to New York and my daughter continued on at the University of Chicago, with no college bills at the end of it. So that was very important.

Marc A. Scorca: Congratulations on that front.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: So I moved to New York. I think Joe thought I was a totally different person than I was, and that I would be very good at negotiating with unions and things like that, which I'd never done and really had no desire to do, frankly. There are a lot of people who can do that sort of thing better than me, but in the end we worked out a way of working together, and I think I was helpful to him. And I certainly learned a lot from working with him.

Marc A. Scorca: In going to The Met, was it just a longer season, or were there other differences that you had, or had not anticipated in going from San Francisco to The Met?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, one of the joys of going was the orchestra. To go and to hear that orchestra at every performance with Jimmy, it was so extraordinary; it really was. That was one of the highlights, and of course the longer season made it more interesting. There were more roles to cast. There were more singers to know internationally. It just was a bigger and, in the end, a more fulfilling job. And I didn't have children at home by then, so...

Marc A. Scorca: Right. And completely consuming job: all consuming.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Yes. All consuming.

Marc A. Scorca: We just touched on young artists and your work with established artists, your sensitivity to them, the empathy, the hospitality. Is supporting a young artist, just the same thing, or is there a whole different set of skills that you bring to the table when you are helping rising young singers?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, I sort of did that a little from afar, because at The Met, there was always someone who was running the young artist program and someone who was musically running it, and everything else. So I was not as involved with them as I was in San Francisco, but I think you have to treat young artists even more carefully than you treat established artists, 'cause established artists have all that behind them. They have been on many stages. They've faced many different directors, some of whom they loathed, but still gave good performances for and everything. And young artists need to learn all of that. So, I could give them the kind of advice of be very well prepared, and really be as facile as you could be and (have) as many languages as you could. I think that that's incredibly important. And I think also to say to them, and to make them realize that it is not the end of the world if they did not get the kind of career that they wanted; that there many other kinds of careers. There are careers in opera administration: many singers have gone into opera administration; you don't just have to become a teacher. You can become, as many wonderful singers did, members of The Met Chorus, or of other choruses, which are very fulfilling and very good. So I think that you have to also make sure that the young singers do know there are alternatives. I am very much one for encouraging people to learn how to be artistic administrators, and to learn how to be administrators in general, in many different parts of the opera world, because I think if you've got a singer's background, if you've got a pianist background or something like that, that helps with the opera and I think that these people can also become great administrators. And that this is what opera companies should be concentrating on. Both with diverse people, with a diverse population. It's ridiculous that they're not more black administrators, and there should be, because there are a lot of very good people out there who would be extraordinary, but they've never had the chance to come into an opera company, and work in a smaller, lower position, and learn, and be mentored.

Marc A. Scorca: You raise a very good point that you can study business. You can get an MBA. There are courses for fundraising. There are many paths to develop certain skills, but to be an artistic administrator, there really isn't coursework for that.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: It's very useful to be able to read a budget, and to know how to put a budget together. I think that's incredibly important and those are courses that can be taken, but otherwise there's certain things that can't be taught. You just have to get them by osmosis.

Marc A. Scorca: And being a singer is a primary mode of osmosis, in terms of learning repertoire, learning how operas are put together. In order to have empathy, to have been a singer, you would know what it is to be a singer. And it enables you to be supportive of other artists.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: I agree.

Marc A. Scorca: Now the opera repertoire. When you started at San Francisco Opera, new works were few and far between, and if they took place on the stage, they were probably European, and not American.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Like Lear.

Marc A. Scorca: And over the course of your career, we've seen this incredible blossoming of American opera; works of different scope, different subject matter, different style of composition. Are you pleased with what you are seeing in the development of American opera?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Yes, definitely. I'm absolutely delighted. I think it's wonderful what's happening. I really do. And I go to the opera all the time. I've decided - forget my ballet subscription; that's gone. I'm gonna just go to the opera and Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic. But, I love the new pieces. I went to see all of them two or three times, and I went to see Euridice also in Los Angeles, before it came to The Met 'cause I was very interested to see how it changed and how it blossomed. So I think it's absolutely wonderful that all these operas are being written. I worry a little about the fact they're going to be performed once in a season and disappear. And that I think is a big worry. I think it's great when you have something - to get back to Santa Fe Opera - you have something like the Steve Jobs opera, which already had many performances with other opera companies in place, which I think was absolutely terrific. And I would hope that Hamlet will continue to go to other places and Euridice and, of course, Fire Shut up in my Bones, but I think that will go to many places. I think that's very important, but I also think it's very important that they have a program, such as the one which produced Intimate Apparel, which was superb. Did you see it?

Marc A. Scorca: I did.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Really, really excellent. And I saw Lynn Nottage two days ago, and I said to her, "I do hope you're doing other librettos." And she said, "Yes, I'm doing two actually." Well, when you get people of that caliber doing librettos, which are nearly as important as the composition itself, then I think there's great hope for future operas, because so many operas have been destroyed by really bad libretti, I feel.

Marc A. Scorca: It's true.

Marc A. Scorca: In the national demographic report that we did a little preview of yesterday, we found that the majority of opera administrators are people who identify as female. And even if you separate out those who have the title 'director' of something, from other staff, still, people who identify as women are in the majority. And yet we do not see many female general directors of major companies or in some of the senior positions. And here you, for half a century, have had a leading role in American opera. Did you encounter barriers to your career advancement? If you did, how did you overcome them?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, I really didn't, because I always liked being number two, and I never wanted to be number one. There's a funny story that they asked me at Covent Garden to join Michael Kaiser running Covent Garden for one brief moment, but I just met Howard who became my husband, and we were just sort of settling that, and I loved my job at The Met - really, really enjoyed it immensely and felt I could contribute more here in a place that I knew, rather than over in London who are naturally somewhat skeptical about colonial New Zealanders. So no, I never felt there were barriers, because I was where I wanted to be. I'm sure for many other people, there have been barriers. I don't think now so much.

Marc A. Scorca: I think they are diminishing, but I still think they exist.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: I think they still exist. And I think that if you are on a search committee looking for someone to run an opera company, there are not necessarily as many obvious women to do that, as there are men. I think Houston did a great job, and of course there were great women in the past, like Carol Fox and Ardis (Krainik) of course, and people like that. But on the whole, it has been men.

Marc A. Scorca: And I think there are more and more women, who are very able and very visible for some of the positions that are or will be opening, and I do challenge boards and the transition committees of boards: don't be subject to the bias that somehow the man really knows how to run the company, and the woman isn't as skilled at it. And I still think that bias exists, and we just need to keep working on it, because frankly, the short list of any search right now will have lots and lots of names of very qualified women.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Yes, I agree. And that's something where you can give advice and be extremely helpful, but I think that 40 years ago, there were not a lot of qualified women. And I think this goes back to the training of administrators of any kind within opera companies, which I think is so important, and I think it's very important that women are very involved with this, and, as I said, that also the people there are very diverse.

Marc A. Scorca: In my conversation with Simon Estes, which we referenced a little bit earlier today, he talked about his early engagements in the United States. He had had such success in Europe, but not in the United States. And the two companies that really gave him juicy roles early on in the US were Sarah Caldwell in Boston, and Carol Fox in Chicago. And he brought up very clearly that it was the women who were leading those companies who gave him the chance, when the other companies were closed to him, as a black leading man. So I think there is an important intersection between women in leadership positions, and the openness of the organization to new people and new talent.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: I think that's right. And I think in the past also, there was not an openness to women in many roles. You only have to watch Mad Men, and look at the state of many, many different kinds of businesses and everything, where women were just really not welcomed: as lawyers, even as doctors and things, and it's changed drastically now.

Marc A. Scorca: Yeah. And for the better.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Very much for the better.

Marc A. Scorca: You mentioned your love of music, generally. I know that you just love chamber music, symphonic music, opera, and I'm curious to know within this larger musical life that you lead, where does opera fit in contrast to some of these other arts that you love?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, I think opera is always first, because that's where I worked; that's what thrills me most. But I get a lot of pleasure from things like...the weekend before last, I went to the Ojai festival and heard AMOC, the American Modern Opera Company. I heard their four days festival that they did there, which was extraordinary, and which did include a new sort of opera from Matt (Matthew Aucoin), and also included a children's opera, that was a total delight (outdoors in a park) from Doug Balliett. So, I love modern music...well, not all modern music...I like some modern music, and I'm always very interested in supporting small commissions and things like that. I wish I could do more, but I can't. But I do like to do that. And, I've got more time now. But I am on several boards, so I am busy. Everyone is always asking me don't I miss The Met? And I say, "Well, why? I can sit in the box; I can love a performance. And if I really hate a performance, I can leave at the intermission, and no one knows."

Marc A. Scorca: Or people may know, but it doesn't matter.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Exactly, but that very rarely happens.

Marc A. Scorca: I see you at Carnegie Hall. I know how you get out to see so much, and really keep your finger on the pulse of new work, of traditional work, of young artists. I am amazed at how completely current you are with what's going on. Do you just spend a lot of time talking to people? Is it that you are out a lot? How do you keep up the way you do?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Well, one of the things is that very sadly, my husband died at the beginning of this year and he'd been sick for quite a while. And so, I used to go out at nights after we had dinner together, and that sort of thing, and it was a source of great interest and great solace. And now that he's not here, if I want to go to opera every night, I can go, you know? But I don't do that, of course. How do I do it? Well, I'm very organized. I already have booked all my tickets for Carnegie Hall for the next season, all my tickets for the opera. I know exactly what I'm going to do at Santa Fe Opera. I will immediately book my Juilliard tickets the moment that we get the schedule, so I am very organized so that I make sure I don't have an opera on the same night as a Carnegie Hall concert I want to go to et cetera, et cetera. All my friends think it's absolutely nuts, but for me, it's a way of sort of organizing my life.

Marc A. Scorca: Oh, for sure. Or missing something because you forgot to plan ahead, and suddenly it's gone.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: It's sold out. Yes, exactly. So I do do that. And, I must admit, I do less of going to things like Butterfly, Tosca, Bohème, Turandot - things that I've seen so many times. It has to be a very special cast. I would go to any Mozart at any time; any Wagner at any time; a lot of Verdi, not all of it, and anything modern, different; any Benjamin Britten. I love going to Philip Glass operas, but I don't go several times, like I did to Hamlet. Once to Akhnaten, and three times to Hamlet, and I love going to performances of little opera companies like Onsite Opera and Heartbeat Opera. I've always supported them in a very minor way, but I think they're terrific. I think they're terrific what they do up at Columbia, where they did one of Missy (Mazzoli')s pieces - before COVID, I think. That was very interesting. Proving Up.

Marc A. Scorca: That is such a difference from just a few years ago, the number of these artist-driven companies that really are reinterpreting what opera is, where it can be performed, and now that you can market without brochures, by doing it through social media or a website, companies are just being inventive the way they never were 20 or 30 years ago.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: And the good thing especially about the two companies that I mentioned, which I'm very familiar with, is that their casting tends to be very good. Yes, it's not The Met, but you don't expect it to be. And therefore it's very interesting to audiences who've not been to opera, which I think is terrific and encourages people eventually to perhaps go to The Met. Did you see The Mother of Us All that they did at The Metropolitan Museum?

Marc A. Scorca: Yes.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: That was extraordinary. And that was sort of a coalition of Juilliard and the New York Philharmonic and wonderful singers and quite amazing. So I think the more those sort of things are done, the better.

Marc A. Scorca: So my final question, what music will you hear this evening?

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Actually, I'm going out to dinner with a friend...

Marc A. Scorca: So no music tonight.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: I did go to Bach last night...very interesting program. And then I'm going to Caramoor on Friday to a chamber music concert that the wonderful Anthony McGill will be in. And then I'm going to a pianist at Caramoor on Sunday. So there is a lot of music, and then I'm going to England, and we are going to Garsington to hear The English Concert in Orfeo, and I'm on the board of the American friends of The English Concert. So I'll do that.

Marc A. Scorca: Sarah, you are inspiring. It is incredible.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: No, but it inspires me to keep going.

Marc A. Scorca: Wow.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Every so often I pinch myself and say, "Oh my God, am I nearly 80?" I really feel in some ways that it's 50 years ago, and I'm just starting at San Francisco Opera. So, it's an ongoing and wonderful joy to me to be involved in this world.

Marc A. Scorca: Well, thank you for taking time from that incredible schedule to speak with me today. Thank you for all you do; for all of the arts in New York; for OPERA America, you are just an ally and advocate and a great friend, Sarah. I'm so grateful for your time today. Thank you.

Sarah Billinghurst Solomon: Yeah, I love doing anything with you too, Marc.