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Opera buff 

David O’Dell was named executive director of the San Antonio Opera in late May, and as the opera’s first executive director in its 11-year history, he is still growing accustomed to a job that, until recently, did not exist. O’Dell talked to the Current a week into his newfound role on topics ranging from his vision for the San Antonio Opera to his own personal history as an opera singer. 

So what role exactly does the new job entail?

Essentially, the executive director is going to work with the artistic director `Mark Richter`, and we’ll both report to the board of directors. My primary responsibility is the San Antonio Opera as a company and as a business. That includes its overall image. 

How do you plan on molding that image?

Having only been here for a week now, I’m at this moment settling in and taking stock of where the company is. I’m getting an idea of the city and getting an idea of the cultural atmosphere in San Antonio, and where the Opera fits into that. That’s a full-time job right now. 

What was your role in founding the Magnolia Opera in Chapel Hill, North Carolina?

I was the general director and president, and I was mostly involved in executive and artistic `duties`. The interesting thing about that company is that it was founded about the same time as the San Antonio Opera was, so I have a good background in going through the same struggles that a company goes through in its formative years.

How did you first get involved in the opera?

I was born and raised in St. Louis, where the art form struggled for years. But in 1976, Richard Gaddes came to town and founded the Opera Theatre of St. Louis ... and as a young singer, I made my debut with that company `in 1978`. From there, I went and did an apprenticeship in Santa Fe, then moved on to the San Francisco Opera Center. I had a marginal career across the nation with several opera companies, and decided in 1997 that it was time to kind of change focus. And I’d long had a dream of founding a company that was based on the principles of St. Louis and Santa Fe, the sort of accessible opera that appealed to people that were opera aficionados, but also people that were opera neophytes. 

Now, as an executive director but also someone who grew up in the opera, is it tough not to get overly involved in the artistic side?

I think it’s a collaborative process, and I know that Mark and I share the same language and that there will be plenty of opportunities to contribute without encroaching. I’m just really pleased with the way the artistic vision has developed here. It’s on solid ground, and it’s just nice to be able to participate and throw in my two cents. 

How do you plan on connecting with a community that has plenty of what you’d call “opera neophytes?”

My message will be that opera is meaningful and the things we do on stage have implications on people’s everyday lives. The more immediate that connection can be, the more people will be willing to come to the opera. •

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