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Article Published: 01 Jul 2020

Opera Conference 2020: Having a Vision for the Future

OPERA America had planned to return in May to Seattle, the city of its 1970 founding, for its 50th anniversary conference. When it became apparent that an in-person convening would not be possible, OA moved the conference online and offered sessions over four weeks in May and June. The virtual conference managed to bring together more people than ever before: 2,700 people registered for the conference — four to five times the number at a typical Opera Conference. They connected via interactive live streams that provided a remarkable degree of immediacy, allowing viewers to feel up close with the speakers as well as catch up with colleagues from across the country in the live chat.

The conference retained the four key themes originally planned for Seattle — Having a Vision for the Future, New Technologies and Their Impact, Creating Real Belonging, and Making Change — but they took on a new meaning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues of racism and racial violence that came to the fore this spring. In the pages that follow are highlights from the presentations and discussion on those four themes.

To watch any of the sessions from Opera Conference 2020, go to OPERA America’s YouTube channel.

Having a Vision for the Future

The conference began with a panel discussion about a quote from Glynn Ross, the founder of both Seattle Opera and OPERA America:

“We are not custodians of the old order.
We are not curators of establishment art.
We must be oriented toward the future.
It is our business to improve the quality of life.
We had better become positive and not just stand by.”

The panelists responded to the lines of the quote that most deeply resonated with them. Here are a few of their responses.

Peggy Kriha Dye
General Director and CEO, Opera Columbus
IN RESPONSE TO “We are not custodians of the old order.”

I feel very free to trust the talents and the ideas of others to advance opera forward, to give young directors and young conductors a platform to display their ideas and convictions. And I feel at times that it’s okay to plan for a little lower donation or a little smaller audience in order for an opera company to be relevant in a community and to be inclusive for everyone.

Nadege Souvenir
Senior Vice President of Operations and Learning, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation; Incoming Board Chair, Minnesota Opera
IN RESPONSE TO “We must be oriented toward the future.”

Who are the people or the group or the cultures that we‘re focused on in that future? COVID-19 is amplifying racial and economic inequities that have long existed in our society. Is this an opportunity for opera companies to really dig in and make sure that we are being of and by the communities that we‘re serving?

Francesca Zambello
General and Artistic Director, The Glimmerglass Festival; Artistic Director, Washington National OperaIN RESPONSE TO “It is our business to improve the quality of life.”

I think that now, the whole notion of improving the quality of life is what we can use the arts for. We’re going to have to find a way to make digital feel human and make us feel connected. I believe that this art form, more than any, can get people out of silos and into community.

Tazewell Thompson
director, playwright, and librettist
IN RESPONSE TO “We had better become positive and not just stand by.”

We must be courageous in the wake of so much divisiveness in our country. We need our songwriters and our poets more today than ever before. We need new songs and new stories that remind us of how we accomplish so much when we are together, when we are singing the same chorale from the same hymnal.

This article was published in the Summer 2020 issue of Opera America Magazine.