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Arts & Culture

Composer Tobias Picker tapped to write a lead role for new SA opera company

Photo: Gregory Downer, License: N/A

Gregory Downer

Composer Tobias Picker


Picker notes that opera in San Antonio in recent years has offered primarily Italian fare, but that there is a larger repertoire to explore: Russian, German, and French operas abound. And when he produces a well-known classic, there will be a twist. "If I do a production of Carmen, it is going to be something that is totally unexpected. The new aspect will be in the production." But Picker stresses that talent is key. "The programming, first of all, will feature the best singers in the world. The productions will be on a level as high as the singer. I want the audience to see productions that are theatrically exciting, it has to capture people's imagination, to be something they want to see it has to be terrific."

To succeed in bringing back grand opera to SA, the Tobin Fund's Weingart knows the new opera company has much to accomplish. Money must be raised, and partnerships must be formed. "People are not going to sit down and write a check because they think you're cute," says Weingart. Speaking of an "alignment" between the OTSA and the SA Symphony, he says, "We have an opportunity now that I don't think is going to reoccur. We realize this collaboration will benefit both organizations."

"We are the orchestra for the Tobin Center," said SA Symphony president and CEO Jack Fishman, "and we have started conversations with OTSA about performing with them, and we have every hope that they are successful. It hasn't happened yet, but we're hoping." Fishman, whose own organization has faced the financial woes that have plagued most orchestras in recent years, stresses the "hurdles" that must be surmounted by OTSA. "One of them is that they have to become a real company, give concerts, and they have to become one of the resident companies of the Tobin Center."

J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., chairman of the Tobin Center, speaks highly of OTSA. "I believe the new opera company will create an opportunity for the quality of opera that San Antonio will respond to," he said.

Artistically, it appears, the match between the symphony and OTSA is a good fit. The SA Symphony's director, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, has extensive experience conducting opera. He began his career in 1999 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. In the U.S., he has conducted the San Francisco Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, the Washington National Opera, and the Houston Grand Opera — all organizations where Picker's works have been performed.

Like Bugg, who helms both the Tobin Endowment and The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts (which received its name due to a $15 million gift from the Endowment), OTSA president Mel Weingart wears two hats. The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund that Weingart oversees as president receives all its funding from the Tobin Endowment; both organizations were set up by philanthropist Robert L. Tobin, whose passion was theater set and design. The Fund is known in SA for providing the theater costume and set exhibitions at the McNay Art Museum, but its activities span the country, covering set and costume designers' fees for new works in both opera and the legitimate theater. The Fund also works with the Theater Development Fund in New York, designating the annual Robert L.B. Tobin Award each year to a theater designer.

One of the keys for OTSA success will be creating partnerships with opera companies in other cities. "Operas are looking to get more out of the costumes and stage sets," said Bugg, who among other things, is on the board of the Santa Fe Opera. "So there are a lot of co-productions that are going on, and I believe San Antonio is in a position to gather our fair share of these." Perhaps there is, as Weingart claims, "an alignment" in the city's performing arts future that will bring world-class opera to SA. But success will depend on the will of the local business and philanthropic community to make it happen. As Picker says, "It's up to the city now. If they want it, they certainly can have it."

An announcement of upcoming events designed to rally support for OTSA will be made later this month. •

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