Lauré Campbell has served as San Francisco Opera’s orchestra librarian for an incredible 41 seasons. From just down the hall from the orchestra pit, Lauré’s job has been to acquire the sheet music for each production – whether from the Company’s own library or another source, mark it up to the necessary specifications, and have it ready for each member of the orchestra. Retiring this spring, we asked Lauré a few questions about what’s changed during her tenure, what hasn’t, and what she’ll miss most.
1. How many years have you been with San Francisco Opera?
Not quite 41 years but 41 seasons. During my first season, I saw Beverly Sills, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Joan Sutherland – the greatest singers, and that’s the way it been every season since.
2. What are some of your fondest memories?
There are so many memories but I would say this orchestra and having been part of this family for so many years, and of course the quality of performance.
3. What has changed in the past 40 years?
Certainly not the people; they have always been good and collegial. And the quality of work has only improved. Only the technology has really changed. When I started, we had black and white televisions to tell what was happening on the stage; occasionally the picture would go out. Some of the older folks would tell us about how before the televisions, the conductors for off-stage musicians and choruses would have to peek through a hole in the set! Can you imagine? Now we have better televisions with head phones.
4. What has been your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part is the live performance. There is nothing better than standing backstage during a monstrous production like Aida – it looks like chaos with hundreds of people scrambling around but it all comes together and everyone plays a part in it.
5. What have been some of your favorite productions?
The ’77 production of Turandot: it was the Ponnelle production with Luciano Pavarotti. War and Peace: it was so monstrous with so many supers that they had to line up outside because they would not all fit backstage! Die Meistersinger, and the 2011 Ring Cycle: it doesn’t get much better than that. Occasionally there are smaller productions that you don’t expect much from and they turn out to really surprise you. My all-time favorite is La Bohème; I’ve played in every single production.
6. What is the most challenging place you had to go to get music for a production?
Most productions, if we don’t have it already, have agents in New York. The biggest challenge in getting music has been when we commission a new work. The composer says he or she will have it to us by a certain date and then it’s much, much later. There was one production – I won’t say which one – for which we didn’t receive the final music until the day before the final dress rehearsal!
7. What will you miss most?
I’ll miss the people – those in the orchestra and the network of librarians throughout the country who help each other out. There is some level of tedium and repetition – like any job – I won’t miss that. But live opera; you don’t get it until you see it. You can get a recording but it’s just not the same. It will be nice however to come to an opera and sit in the audience without having to watch the clock.
8. Tell me about your wall of music and opera-related cartoons.
It started with a couple on the wall, then it was five, then 500. I have a great, great uncle who was a cartoonist so I guess it’s in my genes. I’ve always loved cartoons. It’s gotten to the point where people will leave me cartoons; I have a small pile so I have some work to do before I leave.
9. What’s next?
I plan to go back to art school so I’ll be an art student / kayak bum. I have some goals, like learn to knit socks and grow a bigger garden. It might not be so easy; Kip [Cranna, Director of Music Administration] and I have worked together longer than most marriages. But I’ll stick around until there is a new librarian in place. I think I’m officially retired but I’m still trying to clean up 40 years of work. But I can’t say enough good things about the people and the quality of this Company.