Opera Philadelphia has extended the contracts of two key members of its leadership team as the company expands plans for international co-productions, increases relationships with a glittering roster of singers and directors, and continues to blur the line of the opera genre - all while raising extra money to help pay for it all.
General director and president David B. Devan and music director Corrado Rovaris have signed contracts that will keep them at the company at least through the end of the 2019-20 season, both said in an interview Wednesday.
In addition, the company is bringing aboard two new artistic advisers. Kristy Edmunds, artistic and executive director of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, will bring to the company ideas about artists and repertoire from outside traditional opera. Peggy Monastra, longtime artistic director of music publisher G. Schirmer/AMP, will develop and sign artistic, production, and financial partners for current and new commissions and productions.
Those four, along with Mikael Eliasen, artistic director of the Curtis Opera Theatre, form an artistic team.
"We don't have an artistic director, per se," Devan said of the structure. "I'm the captain of the team, and Corrado is assistant captain."
Rovaris said the company would continue with core repertoire and developing genre-bending works, adding that what might have once seemed like the "safe road" in terms of repertoire would not have, in fact, been safe. Audiences for traditional works in the canon continue to contract, the company's research shows.
"To just do Carmen, Aida, Traviata - first of all, two years down the road you would have no repertoire left, and, second, you would not have the artists," the conductor said in an interview at the Academy of Music with a score for Jennifer Higdon's Cold Mountain in his hands as designers worked out the lighting on stage for La traviata, opening Friday night.
New works and expanding the idea of what musical-theatrical pieces can be done under the banner of an opera company are the path forward, he said. "It's the only way to build a new audience."
Actually, it's audiences. Devan likens the strategy to developing distinct product lines for distinct customers. The company is not anticipating that, for instance, ticket buyers to last month's cabaret-influenced Andy: A Popera will experience an opera epiphany and migrate to La traviata.
"We know that 50 percent of people who went to Andy have never touched Opera Philadelphia," he says. "Some may go to Opera on the Mall [the annual outdoor free broadcast on Independence Mall], and others may go to Missy Mazolli's Breaking the Waves [scheduled for fall 2016]. There are many on-ramps to opera, and it's up to us to create as many on-ramps as possible. People will find their own experiences."
Devan came to the company in 2006, Rovaris in 2005 after guest-conducting here for several years - long enough for both to remember a long period of painful budget cuts. Now, both are able to breathe a bit.
And dream. On the wish list for Rovaris is improving the acoustics of the Academy of Music by more consistently using harder materials in sets on stage. That costs money. Enlarging the orchestra pit - to a capacity of about 85 players from the current 78 - would open up new repertoire possibilities, notably certain Strauss scores.
Devan would like to see rehearsal time increased by about two weeks. "The more we work with a certain level of directors, the more it's important to not just put together the pieces, but to really explore the pieces."
To have more research and development money to explore ideas without concern for an immediate return on investment "would be amazing," says Devan.
Devan and Rovaris say they have turned down overtures to work elsewhere, choosing to stay in large part to work with each other. A special project they've been developing together might mean they'll go back to the board for a one-year contract extension, to 2021.
Rovaris has not been a flashy personality here - he doesn't show up for a lot of photo ops or make a second career of posting pictures of himself on social media, as some other conductors do. But his work in the pit has improved the quality of the ensemble and drawn talent.
"One of the greatest assets we have is Corrado," says Devan. "Artists want to work here because of him - directors and singers. Christine Goerke, Stephanie Blythe - they want to work with Corrado. We have [highly regarded French opera and theater director] Laurent Pelly because of Corrado. We are able to curate experiences here that they want to do."
All this fuels the feeling today at the opera company that things are happening - that the art form is evolving, funders are sitting up and paying attention, and audiences are responding.
Says Devan, perhaps with the reserve of an opera manager who once stared down organizational death: "There's some wind at our back right now."
Presented by Opera Philadelphia Friday through Oct. 11 at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets.
Information: 215-732-8400 or www.operaphila.org
Rain Postponement Likely
Because of the threat of wet weather, Opera Philadelphia probably will postpone Saturday evening's Opera on the Mall big-screen broadcast of La traviata on Independence Mall. Those who have signed up to attend should check www.operaphila.org for updates.