He is also a sought after guest conductor of opera companies around the world. Television audiences have seen DeMain on PBS's "Great Performances" in Scott Joplinís "Treemonisha," "Willie Stark," "An American Christmas," and "Live from the Lincoln Center" starring Placido Domingo, with whom he has conducted many concerts throughout the world, including the celebrated 1992 "Concert for the Planet Earth", which was broadcast worldwide from Brazil.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, John DeMain began his career as a pianist and conductor. After winning the Youngstown Symphony's piano competition at the age of eighteen, he went on to earn a Bachelor and Master's Degree in Music at the Juilliard School. During his years in New York, he held the posts of Associate Conductor for the National Education Television Opera Project, Associate Conductor of the Norwalk Symphony, and assistant conductor of the New York City Opera as the second recipient of the Julius Rudel Award.
DeMain was interviewed for an article that appeared in the OC Weekly in March, 1998. A year earlier, he'd been hired on as Opera Pacific's artistic advisor by the company's interim manager, Patrick Veitch. In December 1997, Veitch was fired by the board of directors for failing to rein in the company's debt (the original reason for his hiring 15 months earlier). [Post-script: Patrick Veitch committed suicide on April 27, 2003 in Cincinnati. He was 59 years old.] At the time of this article, DeMain was about to conduct his first Opera Pacific performances (a production of "Cosi Fan Tutte") and found himself in limbo -- leading a company that had dumped his benefactor, uncertain whether his role was lame duck maestro or heir apparent. Notwithstanding his opera credentials, it was probably as much his political and diplomatic finesse (skills refined in his years at Houston Grand Opera) that he was named Opera Pacific's artistic director a few months after this story ran. DeMain's personal savvy and knack for saying just the right thing is evident in the following conversation. He's an engaging personality who obviously enjoys talking.
DB: Your hiring at Opera Pacific was one year ago last March. How quickly did you come on board? Right away or not until the beginning of this season?
JD: I was immediately put on retainer as of the first of March to be asked to do various things that a director might be asked to do. And so I went to work immediately. My more full-time presence begins next season.
DB: So up to now, itís been from a satellite position in Madison.
JD: Right. We have made various visits out there for fund raising purposes, both in the summer. Last summer, my wife and I cooked a dinner for 20 patrons and this February, we were at the ball, and we were honored at the underwritersí dinner. Weíve been there for various meetings. Last year, of course, starting from the first of March, I made several trips out there. I had previously been engaged as a guest conductor to conduct ďCosi Fan Tutte.Ē That was always part of it. Itís just that Mr. Veitch decided to increase the time table and put me on retainer immediately. So that now instead of being there as a guest conductor, Iím doing the same piece only with a title change -- as music director. (laughs)
DB: And a lot more burden, presumably. How far out does your Madison (Symphony Orchestra) contract extend?
JD: I have parallel contracts. My Madison contract extends to 2000 and this extends to 2000.
DB: Okay, so you become a free agent then. Let me take you back the move to Madison from Houston if you donít mind. I know youíve probably been over this ground a lot, but it seems like itís an enormous jump to go from one of the more exciting opera companies in the world - or in the country, letís say - maybe the world - to conduct symphonic repertoire in Madison. I donít mean to disparage Madison, but from what Iíve read, you took the leap to involve yourself more in the symphonic repertoire.
JD: I always say that in America, because most of the arts organizations have separate boards of directors, the avenue in which you make your entree is the avenue you are pegged or typed in, and it is so hard to break out of that mold. So young conductors who begin in the world of symphony, we are loathe to hire them in opera because they havenít been around the opera house, they donít have any experience, they donít know how to work with the stage, they donít know how to work with singers. And then thereís a whole world out there of symphony managers and an attitude on the symphonic track. First of all, oftentimes where thereís an opera company, and a symphony orchestra in the same town, they donít like to have the same people because they like to be able to attract the audience with offering them different -- you know we offer you John DeMain (at Opera Pacific) and we offer you Carl St Clair (at the Pacific Symphony) instead of both of us offering each other, as it were. And so, and in America, I feel that because these organizations -- ballet, symphonies, operas -- are separate because they have their own boards, you find ways in which you can work together, but these organizations are constantly trying to carve out their own identity. So consequently we get pegged or typed and my opera track was going along just fine, I mean I was 18 years in Houston. Thatís a very long tenure in one arts organization. In fact, Sawallisch was only two years longer in Munich - 20 years - I mean itís an incredibly long tenure. Itís also one of my very, very first jobs after school. And so therefore, at the point that I left Houston, I had a very thriving guest conducting career in opera and offers to conduct in Europe were happening. There were certain offers that were coming in direct conflict with what I was doing in Houston. Thereís no question that not only is Houston Grand Opera a fantastic arts organization and one of the leading arts organizations in this country. And thereís no question that it was exciting to be associated with them and that the body of work that we produced together in the 18 years that I was there was probably nothing short of phenomenal and extremely rewarding. But on a personal level, after 18 years, thereís always a bit of a feeling of "been there, done that." And are there other areas to go into? Trying to go back to the question that you asked me earlier about interest in symphonic conducting, had I gone on a track that was in Europe, and I would have had the successes that I had as a young conductor in the opera house, those radio orchestras and symphony orchestras would have been all over me. We have to remember the Vienna Philharmonic is a pit band that comes out of the pit six or seven times a year and then has some of the worldís great conductors do concerts with them. The opera house is the center. For example in Nice where I was a couple of years ago, the general director of that opera house in Nice is producing symphony, opera, ballet, plays, choral concerts, and chamber music. He is the general entendent of all of that, and the music director is the music director of all of it. So the careers are made differently in Europe. With the exception of somebody like Jimmy Conlon or James Levine, who absolutely started their careers with their feet in both, most of us -- when you think of Slatkin who just conducted ďSamson and DelilahĒ last week at the Met, one does not think of Leonard Slatkin as an opera conductor. Itís only something now because heís achieved such acclaim over the years that heís gotten this opportunity to conduct opera now. But you would think of Slatkin as a symphony conductor. I think Tilson Thomas has done some marvelous work in opera. But you think of Tilson Thomas as a symphony conductor. And I really felt that if I could break out of that mold in Houston, I would like to. I felt, quite frankly, that in having my own first orchestra -- you know youíre not going to have your first full time assignment as a conductor of an orchestra is simply not going to happen in LA or New York for the same reason that Iím not going to take some conductor whoís never done an opera and put him on the stage with some of the big singers that weíve had with Opera Pacific without knowing whether this guy has a feeling for the theater. So my goal was to go to a place where I thought the orchestra played well enough that I would feel it was worth my time. And then it became very important to me as a musician to be able to expand and deal with composers that I never had the opportunity to deal with an opera because they didnít write any. The first thing I did when I went to Madison was launch a Mahler cycle. I felt that in my maturing and rounding out as a musician and as a conductor, it was very important not to only be in the pit where the element of the stage is always present, but to be able to have a more substantial relationship with orchestral music without the element of the stage so that both would be present. And when we talk about Solti and Von Karajan and Haitink and Colin Davis and we talk about any major European conductor you can think of, the combination of both was vital to their lives. And Abaddo and Muti. The combination was vital to their lives. In this country, as I said, we pigeonhole - itís either or. And itís not either or. Itís music.
DB: That begs a question. Did you consider doing your breakout in Europe?
JD: Yes. Thatís a very good question, but it takes me way back. It was absolutely coincidence that I was applying for the Julius Rudel award at the New York City Opera, which Christopher Keene had the first award, this was back in 1971, when I won the Julius Rudel award. That was actually an award that was sponsored by Adolph meat tenderizer who I know were very instrumental with the whole New York City Opera coming out to the Dorothy Chandler. And right at the time that I was offered that award, I had secretly made a booking on a charter flight to Germany. I had the summer before taken an audition in the opera houses to become a coach/pianist/assistant conductor and the response to me was so positive that, except for the fact that I was not fluent in German, I came very close to being hired by Dohnanyi in Frankfurt, who said to me ďYouíre the best pianist weíve heard, but I have to hear two more. And if one comes in and plays as well as you do and speaks German fluently, I will take him over you because the German singers resent having people on staff who speak English and donít speak German.Ē In those days youíd see signs over there over the entrance of the cafeteria ďNur Deutsch sprecht hierĒ - ďonly German spoken hereĒ. And so I went back home and I was living in New York at the time and I entered into the New School of Social Research, and I was studying German and finally I thought, ďI canít study this way. Iím gonna save some money and go to Germany and Iím gonna hide for six months, go to the Goethe InstituteĒ because I knew wherever Iíd walk in, Iíd get a job on the spot because they told me, they agents told me, the opera houses told me. And I had this Saturday night reservation on a charter flight the Frankfurt and on the previous Monday, Maestro Julius Rudel said ďYou know there are times when itís gone up and down in Europe when conductors have made their career in Europe and where itís become more nationalistic and they didnít give as much of an opportunity to people from the outside.Ē And he said ďFrankly, I think at this particular time - this was 1971 - itís all happening here.Ē And I looked at him and I said, ďWell?Ē And he said, ďWell, if you want the award, itís yours.Ē So I chose to go to New York City Opera instead of going to Europe. I donít regret it, but I think it probably put me on a very different track.
DB: Of course, obviously. And so it seems like you moved to Madison as you were approaching the big Five-Oh. Maybe thatís just coincidence.
JD: Madison, Wisconsin, which is of course an incredibly successful city -- two years ago, it was voted Number 1 in Money Magazineís Best Places to Live in America -- and it is a phenomenal city because of, I think, itís geographic location as well as the presence of the University of Wisconsin and the fact that thereís a German community so it has a big, big, and deeply committed tradition and love for music. And you know, itís nearness to Chicago and Milwaukee, all of that has its obvious cultural associations. The person that preceded me was here for 34 years. He basically didnít have any career outside of Madison. But what has happened, I am an example of what is happening in a lot of these towns around the United States because our whole way of dealing with faxes and communications and computers and the way we can travel, all of a sudden these communities, instead of looking at a guy who comes here and lives to conduct his eight subscriptions a year, now these communities are much more willing to look at a more itinerant kind of person. However, it would have been a big leap for them to go to a conductor who was here for 34 years to a conductor who dropped down to eight weeks out of the year. So the trade-off was I can do anything I want as long as I fulfill the basic performance commitments of my contract and live here. Those were the initial terms. I felt that was fair and important because I felt as the music director of the symphony, I would be the sole figure -- you know, in terms of fund raising and the contribution that we ask from the community, that we constantly make from these arts organizations, my presence here means something to this community. Certainly, my initial presence has meant a lot in terms of my willingness to invest. I think you could probably say, well youíre going from a big city to a little town, to a smaller city like Madison, but whatís more interesting is what has happened since Iíve been here in four years in which the subscriptions and the audience has doubled, in which weíve gone from single concerts to pairs. This year, all eight of our subscription concerts are paired. And the audience is gaga. And the press is just so incredible. The orchestra is playing at a level, according to the leading critic here after a concert we did last weekend, better than at any time in 50 years. So I mean it has been a wonderful, it has been a terrific experience, and it has allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to do, which was to explore this repertoire, have my own orchestra, have an alternative to opera, and then continue to -- and I have had a wonderful time -- guest conducting literally all over the world in the last four years in opera. And then all of a sudden, the idea of becoming associated again with a company that I thought had enormous potential that was -- if we get our financial house in order -- poised on the brink of being able to do something incredible simply because of its geographical location and its financial potential, that became a new kind of option to me.
DB: You took the question out of my mouth. Thatís the paradox. You jumped from opera to symphony. And now youíre coming back to opera - becoming associated with the administrative team, which is a completely different direction.
JD: Yes, and Iíll tell you what I felt because thereís trade-offs everywhere. And that is that here in Madison, I plan. I pick the guest conductors, I pick the concerts, I innovate. I donít have to tell you the details of what Iím doing with future seasons, but itís not just concerts. I mean, Iím innovating chamber series and taking a look at the whole decade in music, and Iíve got people that I rally behind me. What I found in being a guest conductor, what Iíve appreciated in being a guest conductor for the last four years is to work in parts of the world where opera is subsidized and to work in a very wide spread where Iíve had as much as 18 orchestral rehearsals in Reggio Emilia for ďOtelloĒ and four in Winnepeg for ďCarmenĒ or ďToscaĒ with a wonderful orchestra. And to look at the trade-offs between what are the benefits of this subsidized art in those countries of the world and what problems are they facing as opposed to what weíre doing here. So just to see and work in these different systems and how they do opera has been incredibly educational. But I miss being a player in terms of being able to impact an artistic direction by not only choosing what operas you perform but the whole teamwork of planning artistically, of casting the singers and choosing the stage directors and the conductors and the designers and creating a body of work. And I thought that when Patrick Veitch asked me to come to Opera Pacific that it seemed to me that that would be, there would be the opportunity to do that and that I missed that. Itís very easy to guest conduct. You have none of the problems of the individual company -- you donít have any of their problems. You come in, youíre very nice to everybody, you work with the singers that youíre handed, you do your thing and you leave. But when you have a title, you have a chance to build. You have a chance to create an artistic stamp. You have a chance to hear more singers, to see more because you have an obligation to so that you bring to your city the best that it can afford to bring there. So you have to work in a very, very different way, and I felt that -- I donít want to say one last hurrah because I think of myself as still very young and very energetic -- but I felt that I shouldnít just guest conduct in opera. That I should get involved if the opportunity came along because the dividends are, I think, much more beneficial.
DB: Do you feel like a team player in Opera Pacific yet?
JD: I felt last March 1 very, very much like a team player. We put together -- you have next season, right?
JD: We planned that, and we planned the season afterwards, and we worked very, very hard on those seasons. I will say that there was certainly time away, but if you would see the size of my file which is probably about five inches thick of faxes back and forth to Opera Pacific from literally all over the world wherever I was, Patrick and I stayed in very, very close contact. There were things I didnít agree with. I think that there were problems that emerged. Obviously that goes without saying. But where I could make a contribution and give an opinion, I certainly did. So yeah, I felt like a team player, but it has been aborted momentarily or temporarily I should say. I mean Iím still a team player because thereís a team left thatís putting on the rest of this season. But we have to -- what are we, weíre going through a search process right now, and the whole way the leadership team or person or however thatís decided and determined in the future will then determine how all of us function in the future. But at the moment that I was signed on, I was right in there pitching in. You see, my contract as music director - first of all, Patrick wanted me to do three out of the four shows for at least the first two years of the contract because he felt that the orchestra and chorus, not having until now a music director who was a conductor because Dr. DiChiera incorporated those duties in his title as general director -- that it would give whoever that music director was a chance to really work enough times over the course of the season that hopefully weíd be able to develop something.
DB: And the three out of four concerts is still part of the plan?
JD: Absolutely. That hasnít changed. Then the other thing was that he had to inform me of all of his casting choices, and I was to advise him. And in that area, Iíd have to say he was very good about informing me (laughs) but not always good about taking my advice. And that may be for the better or for the worse, weíll see how it goes next season. But that area certainly I would have hoped would have been improved on, but I have every confidence that it will be improved on now, but as I said, we also have to wait and see whoís running the show here.
DB: Who is running the show? Who calls the shots there now?
JD: Well, donít forget, with opera, youíre planned two, three, in some companies five years out, so Linda Jackson who is acting general manager and Dan Duro who is acting managing director and myself as music director are actually, how shall I say, following through on this season which is already pre-planned. All of us have had a tremendous amount of experience in producing opera, so therefore, this season is not the question, and next season is completely cast except for the odd person who drops out here and there -- that happens in opera all the time, so you have to go and find somebody else, but I mean basically, next season is completely cast and completely planned. And right now, we are putting the finishing touches on the budgeting for that.
DB: If Veitch had still been there, the artistic captain and the business captain would have been in place, and it would have been a lot easier to map out the future, the long-term goals of Opera Pacific. Is it difficult or impossible to do that now or does it really depend on the results of this search? Are your hands tied from fulfilling the vision that you have?
JD: Yeah, I think thatís a terrific question. I try to look at it a little differently. We have the 99-2000 season on paper. We have a lot of ideas for casting. We have been hesitant for a couple of months to sign contracts because the more we decide right now today, the more we tie the hands of the person who takes over that company should it not be one of us. And while we donít want to wait too long, we can certainly have the luxury of a couple months because I think it is very important, for whatís happening with Opera Pacific right now, in terms of the board of directors being highly galvanized, organized, the subcommittees and the development teams for fund-raising requirements of the company and the real chance for the board to get very, very involved in the direction of the company is very important. Iím sure that I will be talking to the search committee when Iím out there next week because we all have some ideas about how the company could be constructed or should be constructed administratively to work. However, it ultimately is the board that has to embrace that idea and the board who has to decide how they want the company run. And we are, in a sense, caught in the cracks, but not in any way that would jeopardize the future of Opera Pacific. I mean we have working titles through 2001, so we have ideas. But I think itís a mistake to sign everybody up today. I think that thatís not whatís being asked of me right now, itís not whatís really being asked of anybody. This is a time to get the house in order. I mean Iím very, very excited about the response to the season for next year because the subscription renewals are way beyond what was projected, three times beyond what was projected at this point, if you know about that, which is a big vote of confidence, which means that thereís an audience out there without question, and theyíre very excited about the season that we have put together. But I think that itís also very important that we get the financial house in order and get everything running so that we are a company that the business community admires and can get solidly behind. We know that we have the proper foundation with which to make the choices that we need to make because every time you sign a piece of paper, youíre spending money. Every time you make a contract with somebody, every time you make a choice. With a new team in place, we are having to - with so many new people - because for better or for worse, Patrick replaced so many people associated with the past that the new people have to build these budgets and delve into the comparative histories of the company in a responsible way so that we know the right way to proceed in the future. We can be realistic about what we can raise and what we can spend. When we can understand what we can what we can raise and what we can spend absolutely clearly, then we will know better how to plan the future because thereís no point in continuing on if we are producing beyond where we should be and spending more than we can possibly take in. All of that has to become very, very clear. There are many ways we can produce a wonderful artisitic product, but you know whether youíre going to spend $20,000 to get some superstar to be in an opera, and then you canít spend any money on anybody else Ďcause you canít afford anybody else or if you wanted to have a cast to support that $20,000, youíre going to find that youíve very quickly run out of money, and yet at the same time, you might have a population out there who says, "But I want that $20,000 star." Well, are you willing to pay for it?
DB: Right. And frankly, I think the other way is the way to go.
JD: So do I.
DB: And thatís where Opera Pacific really is. I wanted to touch on a few aspects of the future of Opera Pacific as you would envision it, but let me ask a quick question that just occurred to me. Was Patrick Veitch good for Opera Pacific?
JD: (Laughs) Oh, thatís a very good question. Was Patrick Veitch good for Opera Pacific? I would say in some ways, yes. But I think that Patrick Veitch was hired to put in order the financial house of Opera Pacific. And I think itís because Dr. DiChiera simply because of all the wonderful things that happened for him in Detroit simply took a little too much time away, as we all know, from Opera Pacific. And so, the company really needed a 12 month a year shepherd. And Patrick Veitchís charge was to do that. I think Patrick Veitchís choice in how to accomplish that was to remake the company artistically. But I donít think that was his charge, in a way. His charge was to get rid of the deficit, put the financial house in order, get the development side of things working. In fairness to Patrick, I would say that he probably felt that it was his choice that if he somehow would produce an artistic product that had never yet been seen on the stage in Orange County that money would just come pouring in. But, in a way thatís a pie in the sky idea because thatís like saying that in the 10 years that youíve been going to Opera Pacific, you never saw a good production. And I donít think thatís fair. I think there were some wonderful productions over the 10 years in Opera Pacific. But like every opera company, thatís what the fun of opera is. You put teams together, sometimes they produce something that blows you away and sometimes they donít. You would certainly hope that your successes outweigh your misses. So Patrickís emphasis on restructuring the company artistically meant that he sort of cut loose any relationship with history, any relationship with what had come up to that point. And that made for radical change. I felt that there were areas that needed looking into. Our outreach program had become a really sprawling octopus, and it needed to be re-looked at, re-thought, re-charged. Wonderful ideas, I mean the idea of starting a really meaningful resident company as a training ground for young singers and the idea that we work together to redo outreach. But the thing that Patrick had a tendency to do was rather than take the board through the process of re-thinking outreach, he would think nothing of just issuing an edict one night that the outreach program no longer existed before really looking at who that affected. So, Iím talking a little bit out of turn. I think how we talk about Patrick should be very careful. But I think that the decisions finally arrived at were basically good ones. But the process getting there was so extreme that the dead bodies along the way havenít merited this process even though the final decisionís a good one. But I have to say that Patrick was an impresario. He came from the world of marketing, which meant that he was an idea man. And he could inject a lot of enthusiasm and energy because he could come up with ideas, but like anybody whoís an idea man, not all of the ideas are good ones. So maybe what Iím really saying is that he was willing to throw a lot of ideas in the air and that it was up to the rest of us to tell him "that was a good idea, and that idea just wasnít any good." And then he would have to get over that and get behind the idea. For example, he had this wonderful idea of if weíre able to raise the money for it of wanting every high school student in Orange County to see a complete performance of an opera before they graduated. And the goal was to get 10,000 kids to see three performances of "Madame Butterfly," for example. We knew that we might not accomplish this in one year. But that we would pick an opera each year that had broad appeal and try to extend its run by two or three days and perform it for every high school kid in Orange County. That was an interesting goal, an idea. Because right at the point where about to go out in the world, they would have seen, not a shortened version, although we have a broader spectrum audience at some of our general dress rehearsals of high school kids. But this was really aimed at Orange County and getting everyone in there at that age group. That was interesting to me. Certainly we were going to look at a broadening of the repertory.
DB: Ahhh! Okay, now weíre getting into the future of Opera Pacific.
DB: Veitch is history now, but youíre still on board. What about your role as idea man? Looking at the future of Opera Pacific, letís take the cultural, artistic aspect. You came from the background in Houston doing lots of exciting new things - world premieres, new operas. Opera Pacific is a rather sleepy company that does four productions of standard rep operas a year. What would you do in terms of more productions, more performances, new works, wider range of repertory?
JD: One of the advantages of Houston Grand Opera was that they were presenting six operas a year. Actually, when we developed the young resident artists program, we were presenting seven operas a year. And they still are. The seventh opera is, this week, "Little Women." Theyíre usually world premieres. Last year was "Jackie O," theyíre populated by the studio singers. And thatís a seventh opera. We had to learn over the years that if we got too fancy and too modern, did too many new things, that the public wouldnít come. We got into trouble. So we had to learn a ratio, the public said "OK." Our patrons said "OK, we know youíve garnered a lot of acclaim and you want to innovate and be leaders, but please donít give a world premiere in the main house every year. Canít you do it every other year?" So we had to learn how to do that. But there was a point between producing musicals in the summer and smaller pieces in the smaller house, there was one season where we did 13 productions. The point Iím trying to make is - when you have four productions a year, thereís so much more risk when you present one of them that your public isnít interested in seeing as opposed to when there are six. The part of Patrick that I loved was I thought his artistic vision was on the mark. I supported it and helped evolve it. Thatís why I came on board. One of the things I hoped that we could do would be to find a performance space - for example weíve been looking at the Irvine Barclay Theater. Why canít we go to a fifth production of something that is not in the mainstream repertory. Whether it would be "The Juniper Tree" by Philip Glass or "Albert Herring" or Handelís "Partenope," works that we would not in and of itself present at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. As a matter of fact, Iíve even thought of something that I started in Omaha and of course something that we did in Houston on a regular basis, which is to get to sort of a little mini summer festival in the Irvine Barclay. The vision I have is if we could get in there, is that we could do something like they do at the Opera Theater of St. Louis - put up a tent and people come there with picnic dinners. And they go in and they see the opera and afterwards the artists and everybody go up under the tent for drinks. And that we could maybe for the price of one large opera in Orange County, we could produce a little mini rep season of a smaller Mozart in contrast with a modern work, and maybe an interesting recital, or something that would give us a kind of mini festival and put it in a very ambient artist/audience-friendly interchange and environmental experience. We visited the theater. My reaction was I thought it had tremendous potential. I loved the setting, the lobby, the grounds and the outside. I think itís very pretty. We used to in Houston, we did an exercise where we talked about the 10 or 15 operas that were right at the core of the repertory. Then the next circle, like a target board - you know, here the next ring and the next. And we immediately began to think about works that havenít been done yet -- works of Janacek, I still think the company hasnít done "Eugene Onegin," we havenít done "Fidelio," there has not been a "Rosenkavalier." I mean, "Rosenkavalier" today is so expensive because the union now demands that all the small roles, of which there are so many, are paid rather substantially. So when people ask me, "Canít we do ĎRosenkavalier?í," I say "Yeah, would you just like to underwrite the casting part of it? Weíll talk about it." But, I mean, all of those things are in the hopper. And as I said, I think that we will -- next year, we have "Dutchman" and I think itíll be an unusual pairing of "Pagliacci/Carmina," although "Carmina" is incidentally a mainstream piece of the symphonic world, ballet world, but itís a beginning. I would just say, though, that with only four operas a year, itís very risky. And by being able to find ways of producing more, I think you would then see us more comfortable in expanding the repertoire. I certainly would not like to be in the situation again where a "Tosca" and a "Boheme" would have to be produced back to back because, again, itís plugging up the leak at five oíclock, but what happens when the new leak springs next Monday? Youíve already used up your plugs. So itís true, as Patrick said, the capitalís been used up. These pieces have been recycled so much that we have to find ways of bringing in some of the other wonderful pieces and then marketing them. But, you know, marketing has to be on target to try to maximize the audience interest in those pieces.
DB: Thatís the next part. Audience.
JD: May I say that we had Renťe Fleming in ďRusalkaĒ in Houston. If you saw how many empty seats there were, you wouldnít believe it. Youíd think, ďHow can you keep going?Ē The development base, the contributed base is so strong, and then you turn around and you do Sam Ramey in ďMephistophele,Ē and the patrons buy $140 seats six times, they want to see all six performances. But you sit out there, and you think, ďMy God, hereís this gorgeous production by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen -- Renťe Fleming, the Houston Symphony, Eschenbach in the pit, and nobody comingĒ because thereís just no interest in seeing ďRusalka.Ē And the point is that a company like Houston says, ďWell, thatís okay. We have to produce it anyway.Ē But a company like Opera Pacific loses a half million dollars on a venture like that, and theyíre in big trouble. It is terrible to have to be market driven, and thatís why Iím hoping that if we can get the company really functioning well again at the development level along with marketing that we can be freer in what we produce. We must be.
DB: What is your appreciation or assessment of the Orange County audience? Their knowledge, their taste, their sophistication level. Have you really gotten a sense of them yet?
JD: Not enough. Not enough because Iíve only guest conducted five or six times, although I have to say I thought when we performed - like anything, I thought when the performances were on the higher level, the audience got it and responded in kind. Iíve often thought that this audience reminded me of Houston a lot. I think thereís a lot in common between Orange County and Houston, at least financially. How itís put together. I see on the board some people who have incredible knowledge of opera, and I see people who have an appreciation without having the background. The other thing that I think Patrick wanted to do, which weíve read about, was to try to get to know this county better and try to create more of a sense of county. We had made overtures to David Emms to direct. That fell through at the moment, for the one particular project. The project fell through. So we are looking at the Pacific Chorale to join us next year and the other chorale (William Hall Chorale) on two different projects. I think weíll be ironing that out and figuring that out next week when Iím out there because thatís gonna come about. Thatís all building on Patrick wanting to tap into the resources of the county. Because sure itís gonna sell tickets - but thatís the whole reason why you have your own opera company. You could bring LA Opera down, but then you donít have that investment and that participation. And you donít have the potential to do as much education and outreach as you can when you have your own company. So I feel that this was and will continue to be a very important thing. And Iím very anxious to get to know it. Actually, I donít feel Patrick followed through on it enough. Thatís a vast area, right? You go all the way down to San Clemente and up -
DB: As far as Seal Beach, almost to Long Beach.
JD: Yeah, almost to Long Beach. And then inside, so itís a tremendous area. And so I dream of the day when we can go back to doing six performances again or more of an opera because people have really found their way down there to see it.
DB: Another aspect of the future of Opera Pacific. Of course, weíve already touched on the administration and the search for an artistic director. Any idea when they may make some sort of decision? How close they are? Itís not going to be announced two days before my story comes out, is it?
JD: No. They even have to debate the structure. There are two kinds of structures. You can have a general director, who in one person is everything. Or you could have an executive director, general manager, or you can call him a general director. But they have an artistic director as well. The model, for example, in Washington D.C. is Pat Mozelle is the executive director and Placido Domingo is the artistic director. And Domingo comes in and out, plans the seasons, hires the singers, does some performing, I donít whether heís conducting there yet or not. Pat Mozelle is there 12 months out of the year running the company. Thatís a structure that might work very well for Opera Pacific, one that I would be particularly interested in. But I really feel, though, that you create a structure tapping into the talents of the best people that youíre able to draw. And if the right person falls out of the sky, who could be a general director, fine. You should go that route. The main thing is that I think the word is out and people are being allowed to express their interest, and the board is being urged to take their time because the three of us down there now can run the show. Because next year is absolutely solid in its planning. Itís very important that when Opera Pacific hired Patrick, they hired Patrick in an emergency situation. They moved quickly and perhaps too quickly. And they should not do that this time. We have the time. Weíre OK for the moment. So the board really should think about how they want this company to run and who they want to run it.
DB: If you were offered the job of artistic director or broadening the scope, general director, would you take it?
JD: I would not accept the position of general director if it were offered to me at this time because I think that the general director or general manager/executive director has to be there 12 months out of the year. I would love to be artistic director. Itís sort of an obvious setup, certainly with the way that the contract is for the next two years. And I think I feel that I could carve out an exciting vision for this company that could create a strong artistic identity and work within a responsible financial framework. And I have the time to do that. But I donít have the time - I think it would be a mistake unless I really want to stop conducting to take on what I think is required. In this country, not since Kurt Herbert Adler who only really in the end in San Francisco - what did he do, one piece a year as a conductor and did very little conducting beyond that. He wasnít that highly regarded as a conductor, I suppose, but God was he a great director! Itís really Kurt Herbert Adler who I think really set the tone for companies like Houston and this country. But with the exception of John Crosby out in Santa Fe, in terms of the larger companies producing four or five operas a year, who out there is a conductor? Bradshaw as a conductor has just gone from being artistic director, but see he started out as artistic director for quite a few seasons in Toronto. He has just become general director. Colin Graham is artistic director in St. Louis with a general manager or general director Charles McKay. You know, you go around the country. Speight Jenkins is in Seattle 12 months a year. Lotfi Mansouri still guest directs so he manages to do both. Peter Hemmings, 12 months a year. Heís there and Domingoís his artistic advisor and comes in and out. Levine as artistic director of the Met has Joe Volpe as executive director.
DB: A powerful hand.
JD: A very powerful hand! So thereís a two-pronged team. So as I said, I think that a two-pronged team could work out here. We can easily figure out the rep and then cast it. It doesnít take 12 months to do that. It takes the time at that point in the year when you finally want to sit down and make your plans for two years out or three years out. You begin putting that stuff together. And a lot of that can be done wherever you are. Phone. Fax. Itís also very important for an artistic director to get in and see whatís going on.
DB: Do you feel you have the support of the board to continue in your present position?
JD: Yes. As music director?
DB: Yes. Letís say for the short term. Whoís to say about the long term?
JD: I felt very warmly received by the board as Iíve been able to meet them and know them and the few people on the executive committee, the past president, the current president have been extremely warm to me and I know that I certainly am an option for them. But itís bigger than me right now. The shape and direction of the company is more important than me. They absolutely must more than ever before take ownership of this company and decide, if they come to me - which they havenít yet - Iím on board as music director. And theyíre only now at the beginning, although I know that what I can offer them is clear to them. I know that at the search committee level, is certainly being discussed. But Iím not actively saying, ďYou have to make me your artistic director.Ē Thatís not it. I think itís more important that they know what kind of structure they wanna have and then they decide how they want to go about filling it. Would I like to be artistic director? Absolutely! I think at this point in my life it makes absolute sense. With the full range of the experience, not only as a conductor but as a planner and a player, and those incredible years in Houston and a lot of what Iíve learned since, I would love to be the companyís artistic director. Because I love the company. I think it has enormous -- the theater is beautiful, the location is beautiful, I think the population cross-section is incredible. But I think the community needs a lot of attention. We who are gonna get involved with this company have to get involved with the community. Have got to really get to know this community. And itís not easy. Itís called Orange County. Itís not called a city. Itís not Newport Beach, itís a county made up of a lot of different cities, and in that sense itís more difficult to capture what truly is the identity of this area. That I know was one of the things that Patrick was interested in doing. I donít think he necessarily had the time or the energy to follow through on it, but I still think itís very, very important. And I have some ideas of my own as to how I would go about that if I were there in making sure that the whole county thinks of this opera company as belonging to them. And that takes a lot of work.
You are visitor number since January 13, 2001