The upcoming performances of Soldier Songs are the first in Austin Opera’s new series Opera ATX. The development of Opera ATX has been a lot like Austin itself – quirky, fast-paced, innovative, and fueled by many a brainstorm session over tacos.
When General Director & CEO Annie Burridge arrived at Austin Opera in 2016, she had a vision for bringing new and different kinds of works to Austin. Influenced by her time at Opera Philadelphia –one of the American opera companies at the vanguard of producing new operas in new spaces – Burridge knew she wanted to unlock Austin Opera’s creative potential.
“One of the things that most intrigued me about Austin Opera was its possibility for growth,” she says. “The company was in such a unique position to engage in new ways with the fascinating demographics of Austin, and that excited me.”
After settling in to Austin life and building out her team, including the key hire of Nathan DePoint as Director of Artistic Operations, Burridge channeled that excitement and led the organization through a methodical process of strategic planning to see if her vision would align with the company’s history and mission – and with the needs and desires of Austin’s audiences.
“Austin is such a fabulously diverse city, and we really wanted to harness its roots in live music, its burgeoning tech industry, and its creative spirit,” says Burridge. Overlaying her background in data-driven market research with the results of the new strategic planning process, her team found a perfect match of mission and audience, and Opera ATX was born.
The goal of Opera ATX is to stretch the boundaries of what audiences consider as opera. “For the adventurous opera enthusiast, we want to add another experience for them,” Burridge explains. “And for those who have never been to opera, we want to add an enticing entry point for them.”
“We are so fortunate to have such a great home in the Long Center, and they have been incredible partners in our productions of traditional opera,” Burridge stresses. “But to fully unlock opera’s potential to connect with new and different audiences; we needed options for more intimate spaces to produce different kinds of works. The Paramount – such an iconic theater in Austin’s history – was the perfect place to start this new endeavor.”
The inaugural production of Opera ATX was an easy choice. Opera seasons are usually planned two years in advance or more, but Burridge and DePoint had to plan the launch of Opera ATX much more nimbly. They soon zeroed in on the composer David T. Little, with whom they had both worked before on new commissions. And the composer’s Solider Songs had an innovative production by Beth Morrison Projects that seemed tailor-made for the Paramount. Plus, baritone David Adam Moore, who originated the role at this production’s premiere, was available, and he already had a following in Austin after his electrifying performance in Austin Opera’s The Manchurian Candidate in 2016. (As a bonus, he was already cast in the company’s Silent Night, which was performed at the Long Center this past January.)
“With Beth and both Davids on board, we were good to go!” says Burridge.
Collaboration and partnership will continue to be the core values of Austin Opera, and Opera ATX allows Burridge and her team to add to their growing roster of key allies. “In addition to our longstanding relationship with the Long Center and our new partnership with the Butler School of Music, we have been so proud to work with the Paramount, Camp Mabry, the Texas Military Forces Museum, and so many other veterans groups in realizing Soldier Songs. In the future we also hope to work with presenters like the Fusebox Festival and SXSW, to tap into their communities and show how opera can be a great conduit for the ideas they are exploring.”
Burridge is proud that other organizations are also seeing the potential of Austin as a lab for new opera experiences. “There are great organizations in town like One Ounce Opera and LOLA that are out there pushing boundaries, and we champion their efforts alongside our own,” she says. “This spring, there are five weekends in a row when new opera will be presented here. Austin is really the next hotbed of operatic innovation.”
As for the future of Opera ATX, Burridge knows the works will have a unique and engaging subject matter and will strive to include the latest cutting-edge technologies like projection mapping and virtual reality. Her hope is to commission more work from living – and local – composers. “Austin is a great city for creative people, and we want composers to use Austin as their lab,” Burridge says. “From indie rock to lieder, we want Opera ATX to be a showcase for Austin’s vibrant musical scene.”