Experiencing Greatness with Roger Weitz

An Interview with Opera Omaha’s New General Director

Roger Weitz is the new General Director for Opera Omaha. Weitz took the helm in early August and is excited to return to Omaha. He had his first professional experience in arts administration through a summer internship at Opera Omaha in 1998.

Weitz said though he grew up singing in choirs and taking piano lessons, he never aspired to be a professional singer or musician. After earning a degree in music, he said he learned he should leave singing and playing to the professionals. 

Weitz said, “I fell in love with song and repertoire and opera and I thought if I can work in this business without being a singer, that’s what I want to do.”

Weitz moved here from Chicago where he was general manager of the Chicago Opera Theatre. Before that he was an Arts Management Fellow at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. But, Weitz said he gained most of his experience as the Artistic Administrator at the Chicago Opera Theatre.

“In that capacity is really where I learned about budgeting, the artists and the audition process as well as how to plan seasons.”   

This season, Weitz wants to attract family audiences with a new version of Hansel & Gretel.  He also says The Marriage Contract, running in February, is a good introduction to opera for newcomers, clocking in at just 75 minutes. Food is offered before each performance.

Though he had no hand in planning the current season, Weitz said future seasons would include lesser-known works as well as blockbusters that people expect. 

“I love Mozart and Verdi. And I’ve really come to appreciate Benjamin Britten (20th century English composer and conductor). There are several 20th and 21st century composers I would love to eventually bring to Opera Omaha. When I was in Chicago, we made it our mission to bring audiences the bookends. We started with the earliest operas and finished with the 20th or 21st century,” Weitz said. 

He said if you look at Opera America’s stats of the most frequently performed operas, “Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers and Moby Dick are included. Moby Dick has been all over the country and all over the world. Composer John Adams also has some terrific work. So, yeah, opera is a living, breathing art form.” 

Weitz envisions offering two large-scale, blood and guts operas in the Orpheum and at least one lesser known work in a smaller venue. He said the opera is always looking for collaborations with other groups around town. Opera Omaha has previously collaborated with local visual artists including Jun Kaneko, Catherine Ferguson and Watie White.

Weitz said opera is an interdisciplinary art form that lends itself to partnerships, “You’ve got singers, musicians, dancers, actors, scenery, costumes, lights and backstage production personnel. There are so many ways we actually need other arts groups in this city.  So, two years down the line, I’m thinking there’s going to be a big meta-production and opera is the one that can pull it all together.”

He said opera attracts a diverse group. “Opera could very easily appeal to the theatre buffs, the symphony crowd, the dance community, visual art supporters and literary types. Opera is the wonderful marriage of all these different art forms.”

For Weitz, the great thing about live performance is that it’s not just a rewarding musical experience, but it’s also a social experience.  “You don’t get the same feeling watching a clip on your computer as you do being in a crowded theatre with the audience abuzz and the orchestra tuning up," he said. "There’s real electricity and magic and I feel strongly once people come to the opera and experience it, we will have them hooked.” 

Weitz said opera is an experience anyone can appreciate. And whether it makes you laugh or cry, it will move you.   

Tickets for Opera Omaha’s 2011-2012 season are available at 402-345-0606 or operaomaha.org.

posted at 03:32 pm
on Saturday, September 03rd, 2011

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