Even as Side by Side with Sondheim, the Madison Opera's last show of the 1998-1999 season, starts final preparations for its four-day run starting July 15 at the Esquire Theater, general director Ann Stanke and artistic director John DeMain, who will both play piano in the celebration of one of America's great lyricists and songwriters, also have their eyes focused on the coming 1999-2000 season and the years to follow.
The general outlook for the Opera is very good, Stanke and DeMain agree. "At the time of our separation [from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, five years ago], we had exactly $20,205 in the bank," Stanke says, "but we're now able to do more -- and much better -- within our budget, which is about $730,000 a year." Critically speaking, the quality of the company's productions, both technically and musically, has been on a steeply rising trajectory.
"A key factor in our growth," DeMain observes, "has been positive synergy with strong stage directors, adding to our strengths in the pit." The upcoming Sondheim show (scored for four singers and two pianos) will be directed by Ken Cazan, who also guided the company's highly acclaimed Tosca and Faust productions. Lorna Haywood's La Traviata earlier this season was for many opera fans a high-water mark, and she will again be on hand to open the coming season with Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. A wonderful Tales of Hoffman under Elizabeth Bachman's direction suggests exciting times to come next year in Bizet's passionate Carmen, which she will direct.
Financially, the recently founded Bravo Society, comprising 10-12 generous major donors, is well past the half-way mark toward its goal of assuring a reliable means of reducing debts and providing cash operating funds to the tune of $100,000 or more per year for a three-year commitment. Regular corporate and individual giving is on track or ahead of plan, but it appears more and more tickets are being bought at the last minute, with an attending drop in advance subscriptions, "a slightly unnerving pattern," Stanke notes.
Both DeMain and Stanke are very excited by the Overture Foundation plans and prospects. "Almost overnight," DeMain says, "we should be able to offer a finer product." Stanke is also enthusiastic about the planned new theater: "Adequate space opens the door for greatly increased production values, at last giving us a physical product equal to the artistic one." Sounds almost as dramatic as opera itself, to me.
Isthmus, July, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson