Fort Worth Opera’s Darren K. Woods on setting a new festival agenda
Iguess you could say that opera festivals are in my blood. My first opera job as a professional singer was as an apprentice artist for Santa Fe Opera. I worked at Santa Fe most summers for the next 14 years, along with the festivals in Saint Louis, Chautauqua, Glimmerglass, Sarasota and several others, but eventually I retired from singing and became a general director. When I came to Fort Worth, the board charged me with breathing new life into our 60-year-old stagione company, and the idea of changing into a festival format was a natural leap for me—albeit an exciting and frightening one. It would necessitate altering our business model completely, trying something that had never been done in North Texas, and risking a patron base that was comfortable attending operas spaced out over the year. However, facing stiff competition from the hundreds of other arts organizations serving a population of over six million people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, it was a matter of change or die.
Prior to my arrival, Fort Worth Opera’s programming had always been pretty standard. Once in a great while, it would delve into the ‘modern’ repertoire by doing Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah or even Stewart Copeland’s Holy Blood and Crescent Moon, but mostly it was your standard ‘Bohème, Butterfly and Traviata’ company. Before I was hired as general and artistic director in 2001, I told the board at my interview that
■ Darren K. Woods, General Director of Fort Worth Opera exploring more adventurous fare would be at the heart of my mission at Fort Worth Opera, and if they didn’t want that for their company, then I was not the right candidate for the job. I have been extremely fortunate to have a board that shares and supports my vision.
Knowing we needed to lead the audience gently to more contemporary works, rather than drop them into the thick of it, we began in 2003 with our first production of a Benjamin Britten opera, The Turn of the Screw. It may seem odd that this could be aggressive fare in 2003! After all, the opera had been premiered almost 50 years earlier and, while not exactly standard repertoire, it was a least a fairly regularly produced work. We planned to spend additional money marketing the piece and educating the audience. We also knew we should consider it wildly successful if we sold half of our tickets. The production turned out to be a real game-changer for the company. Ken Cazan’s wonderfully urgent staging
Opera, Festivals 2012