Putting An Opera Together, Part I

Ron Allen is our Director of Production. Ron is a busy man and rightly so -- he's in charge of everything you see on our stage as well as everything that you don't. There's a lot of activity behind the stage, under the stage and above the stage, too, more than most people realize.

Making small talk with Ron one morning, I suggested he should blog about what it takes to put an opera together since we are creating a new production of Don Quixote (that's a sketch up above from Act I). Apparently people take me seriously and Ron has put together a wonderful look at what it takes to make an opera happen.

There's more to it than any of us can imagine so we've decided to make a series about this topic. So without further ado, here's Part One of Fifteen Million of "Putting An Opera Together."


Edward asked that I write about how long it takes to put an Opera together and to keep it short... What!? When I consider the hundreds of decisions that have to be made to get an opera on stage, I do not believe “short” is possible but here goes.
The process of getting an opera production on stage begins with Ian Campbell, our General Director. Opera seasons are planned three and four years in advance to be sure artists and productions are available when we would like them. Ian, in consultation with senior staff, puts together 5 operas that he thinks might work as a season. The five usually consist of three standard warhorses (such as Aida, Boheme, Carmen); a work rarely performed in San Diego (such as Ariodante, Italian Girl in Algiers) and one new work never performed in San Diego (Wozzeck, Cold Sassy Tree). It gives our audience the opportunity to enjoy the classics but also experience something new.

Once a season is suggested, it is time to put together a budget. This involves such issues as how many people do we think will come to each opera; how much are we planning to spend on each singer, how many chorus members will there be and how long will it take to teach them the music and staging, how large of an orchestra will be needed and how many hours of rehearsals, are we going to rent sets and costumes or are we going to build; if we build a new production whom will we hire to direct and what designers will we use; can we get co-producers for a new production that will then save us money; do we want a “traditional” set or one that is abstract; if we rent, what productions are available and will they fit into the Civic Theatre; how many stagehands will be needed; how many costumes come with the production and does that match the number of chorus we are planning; do we need a choreographer and/or a fight coordinator; do we need dancers and how much dance music is in the opera; are there specialty props that will be needed or special lighting effects; are there.... you get the picture. Many of the hundred questions get asked putting together a budget.

Once the tentative budget gets pulled together (a process that is usually 3 – 4 weeks), Ian and staff will again analyze the season and see if it is an affordable season. If not, one or more substitutions of productions are made and the budget process starts again.When there is a definite decision on the season or at least on some of it, the first steps are taken to make the season on paper a reality. I’ll use Don Quixote as an example to illustrate some of the process. Marianne Flettner, our artistic coordinator, begins the process of checking availability of artists Ian would like to use. Don Quixote was selected as a star vehicle for Ferrucio Furlanetto plus there was a role for a mezzo we all wanted back - Marina Domashenko. They were available for the time period we wanted them.

While this is happening, I usually check a directory published by Opera America to find what opera productions are available for rent from other companies. If we have found a production we like, I contact the opera company who has the production and put it on hold for the time period we need. For Don Quixote, there was not a production available – anywhere. We would need to build a new production...


~ Part II of "Putting An Opera Together" will run next week.


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