Arizona Artbeat: Arizona Opera New Director

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The Arizona Opera has a new director. Arizona Opera General Director Ryan Taylor will talk about his vision for the organization and upcoming productions.

Ted Simons: Tonight on our continuing coverage of the arts in Arizona, we meet the new director of the Arizona opera. Ryan Taylor took the helm in July. He's here now to talk about his vision for the organization and upcoming opera productions. Good to see you here.

Ryan Taylor: I appreciate you're having me.

Ted Simons: You are -- This is your first season as general director. How is it going?

Ryan Taylor: It's actually going quite well. I've really enjoyed it.

Ted Simons: What does the general director of an opera do?

Ryan Taylor: Gosh. It's a complicated gig. You have to know something about the artistic product itself, and something about business, you have to wear both hats at the same time and keep all of the elements of the company in play and moving smoothly, and executing a really high quality artistic product.

Ted Simons: Is there drama behind the drama?

Ryan Taylor: Absolutely. There's always drama behind the drama. I think that's part of what makes it fun.

Ted Simons: When you talk about business and art and having to comingle. Did you come up on the business side or artistic side?

Ryan Taylor: A little of both. I have kind of a really varied background. I started my career after college in real estate, both commercial and residential. Fell into opera sort of as a hobby, and actually spent about a decade performing with Columbia artists throughout the world as a baritone on the opera stage, and so in the middle of that career had always been interested sort of more in the business aspect of things, and had an invitation to run a smaller company in western Massachusetts for a season. And did that, and enjoyed it, and went back through two jobs prior to coming to Arizona, one as an artist manager, so I represented artists throughout the world, sort of sold their services to opera and symphonies and like organizations, and then the other job was at wolf trap in D.C., which is in northern Virginia. I was their manager of community development and I worked not only on young artist training, but also on sort of the marketing and development side of an opera company. So I got it from both angles, and leapt in here.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about here. You mentioned real estate. New real estate on central Avenue as far as home.

Ryan Taylor: It's a huge upgrade for the company. This was part of the city's bond initiative in 2006. We -- The company moved in this past March into our offices on Central and McDowell. It sits right on the light rail, provides us with not only some pretty spectacular rehearsal space for our visiting artist who's come from all over the world to perform with us, but also keeps us in the same building with the rest of the staff who works day in and day out to make sure we have company to present these fabulous artists. So it's real convenient for us.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, how is the opera doing financially?

Ryan Taylor: We're doing well. We have a lot of progress to tackle, a lot -- A lot of leftover issues we need to solve and move forward.

Ted Simons: What kind of issues?

Ryan Taylor: Well, when I came to the company in April of this year, as the interim director, I had been running the artistic department, but one of the things I figured out very quickly was we had a little over $3 million worth of debt, our annual budget is somewhere around $5.5 million. So I reduced the annual budget for this year with the help of the staff, we did an emergency fund-raising campaign where we had absolutely unprecedented participation from our board, from the community, from the staff. 100% particpation across the board. Raised a million dollars to pay down part of that debt. And then we have launched through the season and met all of our annual goals so far. So we're about $65,000 ahead and we've just launched the campaign for another million to reduce the debt.

Ted Simons: Is that -- The financial model had to change. Did it change temporarily, has it changed for good? Is there a new direction? What's happening here?

Ryan Taylor: I think part of what's important for arts organizations is that you've got to get not only a financial picture that works, but an artistic picture that works. And the blend of those with any arts organization is how you respond and interact with your community. I think what you'll see is the company will continue to extend itself into the community in new and different ways, especially going into the rest of this season and into next year.

Ted Simons: You talk about extending yourself into the community. We got concerts on first Friday, at least collaborations. Talk to us about that, musical instrument museum, events there as well.

Ryan Taylor: We do. The building itself has been an amazing tool for us to reach out to the community. We have other groups that come in and use the building as a rehearsal space, as an event space. We have a concert Sunday called holiday soundtrack that our studio artists will perform. These are exceptionally talented young singers. We audition about 150 live every year after getting applications from over 600. It is harder to get into this program than it is to get into Harvard. And these six talented young people will sing on Sundays, they also perform main stage for us. So we do some work with them on first Fridays, we've also partnered with the Arizona school for the arts, with the desert botanical garden this year, there's others that escape me at the moment. It really is part of what our mission is about, just to tell all kinds of stories that are worth singing. And some of those are three hours long at symphony hall, and Tucson at the music center, but some are intimate special stories and there's all kinds of different ways to tell them.

Ted Simons: You mentioned young people auditioning. So many folks are interested. I think that's encouraging for folks who do like the finer arts, classical music, opera, ballet, what do you see out there as far as the future? Because we keep hearing classical music on its deathbed, opera can't go on. What are you seeing?

Ryan Taylor: It's interesting. The classical music on its deathbed has been a refrain that's been rung for three or four hundred-years now. If you go back and look at Mozart's publishers, and some of his wife's notes, their worry was his music would never be heard in the future because the audiences were aging and maybe new audiences weren't coming forward. And Tchaikovsky wrote the same thing a few years later. It has to do with stage of life. If you have experience and you have culture in your life from the time a parent sings you a lullaby, then you have something that stays with you your entire lifelong, and you will learn to love when people sing to you. Who doesn't love a great tune? And a great story. So I think it's something that I'm not worried about, the longevity of the art form itself. It will be with us in one for another, I think when we go out and look at auditioning young singers, what is becoming more and more important is not just the voice. But it is something that has to do with your presentation and your connection to your community, and what sorts of stories do you as an artist want to tell that will affect our community? And how does that resonate throughout the state of Arizona? We're one of only a handful of companies in the United States that produces much opera as we do, and we're the only one that does two major metropolitan cities.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, about 30 seconds left, talk about the rest of the season, what you got coming up.

Ryan Taylor: It's fantastic. We have "La Bohème," the greatest love story ever sung, "La Traviata," which is roughly the same story as "Pretty Woman" if you remember the movie with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. And finally, "Don Pasquale," which is an amazing story, same rough characters, you can almost draw a line between the characters in "Don Pasquale" and "Frazier." And we've updated this piece because it is a comedy and isn't a specific time period. We've updated it to 1950 and have taken a bit of artistic inspiration from the Hollywood retrospective going on in the museum at the same time.

Ted Simons: Sounds like good stuff, and things are happening. Congratulations, and good luck.

Ryan Taylor: I appreciate it very much.

Ryan Taylor:General Director, Arizona Opera;

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