Arizona ArtBeat: Arizona Opera

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Arizona Opera is expanding its repertoire with offerings like the season-opener “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna,” which combines opera and mariachi music. The company is also making progress on eliminating a budget deficit. Arizona Opera general director Ryan Taylor will discuss progress and changes being made by his organization.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona art beat looks at how the Arizona Opera is returning to financial health while expanding its repertoire. Here now is Ryan Taylor, Arizona Opera's general director. Good to see you.

Ryan Taylor: Thanks Ted.

Ted Simons: Is this the first season now for the new administration?

Ryan Taylor: This group led the company last year but the season had been planned before we really launched into action. So this is the first artistic season planned by this group of folks, yeah.

Ted Simons: What is being emphasized?

Ryan Taylor: We launched a new artistic initiative, called Arizona bold, and it, basically, is helping us to focus a portion of our repertoire and direct it to communities that have traditional less served by opera in general, which is a European art form, and we're expanding our horizons.

Ted Simons: How do you build a larger audience for such an established art form? People who don't a thing about classical music think that they know about classical music?

Ryan Taylor: I think that's true. I find we need to turn things on their head and do some things differently and uphold the traditions that have been popular for so many hundreds of years in a really kind of wonderfully, exciting way, so that you bring people in who don't expect to see something traditional, and maybe keep them, not all of them, but some of them, sort of experimenting with you along the path.

Ted Simons: And that includes -- is this the first opera, the Mariachis opera?

Ryan Taylor: The first mariachi opera ever composed. We just completed the run of the piece a weekend ago, the piece was written by Pepi Martinez, the leader. And Leonard, a brilliant Broadway director and who wrote the book for the piece.

Ted Simons: We have a really short clip here of, of again, this is opera, but it's mariachi, so go ahead and take a look. What kind of reaction are you getting from this?

Ryan Taylor: This was overwhelming. It was an overwhelming experience for those of us who wanted to produce the piece. But then on top of that, the reaction we have had from the audience is 33% of which had never been to an opera before, and we sold 32% more seats this season for our opening show than we did two years ago. So, we are starting to see that expansion, and we're hoping that these people will take a journey with us through the course of the year.

Ted Simons: How do you get folks that went to this and went, this is great, going to see the magic flute --

Ryan Taylor: We're going to keep things varied. The next piece up, we play in a couple of weeks here in Phoenix, and then in Tucson, very traditional Production, but with some stunning younger singers. Absolutely beautiful voices. Very compelling, and our magic flute later in the season, traditional piece, but we're updating it a little. It won't be modern but it has a, a nod to the work of Rene and the costuming is sort of -- a tilt to the steam punk era. It almost looks like a Johnny Depp film.

Ted Simons: With umbrellas and that sort of thing. If that were, is that where opera has to go? Opera is theater, is it -- I know in theater now, you are seeing a lot of techno this and a lot of, you know, splashing and big colors and big, big, big. Is that what opera has to do?

Ryan Taylor: I don't think it's what we have to do but it gives us options, and I think that we will always be compelled to present things in a traditional sense, in the way that we will always focus on the voice and the story being told. That's sort of the heart of what we do. But, the technology advancing as it has, gives us more options on how to tell those stories, and I think that the key will be variety.

Ted Simons: Interesting. And let's talk about the budget deficit now, what's going on and how is that holding up?

Ryan Taylor: The budget so far is riding really well this year, when I came into the company, we had about 3.5 million of accumulated debt, and we have got that down to just over a million. And I hope that, in the next few days, we'll be signing a deal with, with a new corporate partner that will allow us to reduce that significantly more. And, and with the campaign, if it goes successfully, to raise money to support these works, within the Arizona bold initiative, four years of time, we'll be looking at a healthier and stronger organization.

Ted Simons: Did much have to change operationally to get that debt down?

Ryan Taylor: You know, I think that artistically and operationally, it was a bigger challenge. Internally than publicly, we made changes in how we do business. But, the from the audience perspective -- I hope you won't be able to see anything except further improvement.

Ted Simons: As far as internally is concerned, do you have to work on morale when you do things like that?

Ryan Taylor: We do.

Ted Simons: How did that come out?

Ryan Taylor: Really well. We have a terrific team. Our board is supportive of this administration, and of the staff and, and it's kind of a joy to see everybody pitching in, they are working overtime, and many more hours than we're paying for and, and doing it happily, I think.

Ted Simons: So things have moved from a to b, and you are optimistic about that?

Ryan Taylor: We're on the way to c.

Ted Simons: Last question, minute left, I always like to ask this, with the fine arts, tips for a novice? Going to their first opera, and not a Mariachi but the rigolettos. What do you watch for and concentrate on?

Ryan Taylor: It's all about the story. You are going to understand it because there are translations and broadcasts like you are watching a foreign film. You will know what's going on, but the key is knowing a bit about the story before you get in the hall. You are not as reliant on, on the translations, you can really enjoy the story and the music, and the acting is so compelling, it's not as though folks are standing still and, and orating, they are inhabiting the characters, so it's a different experience.

Ted Simons: Very good, good to hear things are moving up on her there, and congratulations on your success and good luck.

Ryan Taylor: Thank you.

Ryan Taylor:General Director, Arizona Opera;

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