You have quite a diverse production background. What first attracted you to opera?
To be honest I didn’t know much about opera before I started working for the Bregenzer Festspiele in Austria, but I was always fascinated by singers. In my former profession I was a tuba player. In comparison to singers, I at least had an instrument I could put in front of myself when I hit the stage or the pit, but a singer doesn’t have anything but their body. No instrument to hide behind, the necessity to be an athlete as well as an artist and – in opera – asked to perform upside down, hanging off a cliff or running around the stage. What an achievement. By getting to know opera buffs more closely over the last decade, I really learned to appreciate this unique art form, which can really be an exciting live audio-visual experience for literally anyone! One doesn’t need to know anything about the composer, conductor, director, singer, orchestra or story, but will immediately have something to listen to, look at and follow, if the energy is right on stage. So, to answer your question about what attracted me to opera, it was the fact that it is not only music, scenic art, drama or a multi-variant fashion show, but a living art form that serves as a platform to connect all of the different disciplines in an entertaining and striking way that can only work if the living creators communicate among each other.
What has been the most memorable opera moment that you have been a part of?
I was running an opera touring company and we toured Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the holiday season. It was the New Year’s Eve of 2005 when our tour truck got stuck in traffic on the way from Switzerland to a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The truck had all the decoration, costumes, some of the performer’s luggage, the timpani, two of the violoncellos and all of the double basses aboard. The orchestra, the chorus, the singers, but most importantly our technicians waited patiently on the equipment, whilst I was working on an emergency plan with the local promoter a few hours before the performance was supposed to commence. News arrived that traffic was back to normal and that the truck should be with us in about 1.5 hours. Great, everyone was prepared to help set up the decoration and we postponed the beginning of the show by 30 minutes. About 45 minutes later my tour manager Igor stormed into my office and told me that the truck driver just called with bad news. The truck broke down 70 miles before Velbert. Now what? We performed. Rigoletto sang in blue jeans and a T-Shirt, Sparafucile wore a track suit, Gilda wore a skirt, blouse and high heels and most everyone in the chorus wore street clothes. The techs put together an improvised set with everything they could find in the hall and attached school, our double bass section sang their parts and the timpanist beat the heck out of the pit walls. What a remarkable moment. Ever since then, hardly anything can shock me in opera.
What are some of the differences producing opera in a festival setting versus a company like San Francisco Opera?
In a festival you’re only artistically visible and audible during the festival season, despite the long preparations necessary to produce large scale opera. In Bregenz we started talking to the creative team about the concept for the next large scale open air production on the floating stage about 3–3.5 years before the premiere. 1.5 years before opening night the set design has to be finished and the director needs to have the staging concept about 80% ready. So, before anyone could see anything but the model, pretty much all the ingredients to the opera production needed to be finished. In a company like SFO that is different. We are visible and audible almost year-round and have a wealth of experience of over 90 years to learn and thrive from in combination with new ideas.
What excites you about your new role at San Francisco Opera?
I am now working for the second largest opera company in Northern America. That’s already a very exciting fact. SFO has proven its artistic qualities for decades across the US, but also internationally. I am really looking forward to contributing my experience, international network and broad range of experience to help secure and develop the future of this unique opera company together with established, as well as up and coming directors and designers, my colleagues, our patrons and the local community.
What are some of the things you are most looking forward to now living in San Francisco?
San Francisco is a music city. I am really looking forward to exploring the various venues and live music clubs around San Francisco and the Bay Area in the months to come. Once my family joins me in the summer, I am looking forward to also visiting the tourist attractions and landmark sites in and around Northern California. Not having a winter with lots of snow currently is the biggest difference to the Allgaeu-Bodensee region, our home in Germany, though being able to walk the streets of San Francisco without having to wear a thick winter jacket also has its advantages.