At the Stage Door with Alyssa Stone
Get an inside look at the people that make SF Opera happen—no badge required.
Meet Alyssa Stone, our Community Programs Manager in the Education Department.
AC: How long have you worked at the San Francisco Opera?
AS: Since 2008 when I was a post-graduate student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I’ve held a variety of positions, though. My current position is Community Programs Manager in the Education Department which I’ve had since September 2015.
AC: What brought you to SFO?
AS: This is a great story; I love to tell this one. My mother receives my alumni magazine from my undergraduate university, Illinois Wesleyan University and reads it religiously every month. Back in 2008, there’s this article about how Ruth Nott has been tapped to start the Education Department at San Francisco Opera coming from the Met, under then General Director David Gockley. So my mother calls me and says, “Alyssa, you have to get in contact with this Ruth person, you are both from the same college and this is a great opportunity.” Of course I’m like, "Mom, she’s not going to care who I am – I’m a lowly college student." But I give Ruth a call and leave a voicemail and a few days later Ruth calls and says, come on down we’ll have some tea. And so I go to her office (this must have been August or September of 2008) and we chat for a while and I left thinking that I’ll never hear from that person again. A couple days later she said you should work here, so I just jumped right on in. I started as an intern then a special projects assistant, a teaching artist (and still continue to be) and an interim everything…I’ve held a variety of positions for the Education Department. Alumni connections are everything.
AC: What is your favorite Opera Memory?
AS: In the school programs we create original operas within a semester or year-long program as part of the ARIA Network (Arts Resources In Action). With classrooms we write our own original stories and create the text and libretto, compose music, stage it, choreograph it, create our own sets, props and costumes and then we perform it live. I’ve probably done close to 100 of those programs now and every time you’re watching it happen on stage there is this incredible moment that they are up there singing their own stories, performing their own movements and acting as their own characters and it’s amazing to watch. Every time we perform a mini opera I’m just enthralled and it gives you heart palpitations to see students not just recite text that someone handed to them to memorize. Instead, to actually ask them to embody a character, to think about emotion, to think about problem solving, to create a brand new piece of art, and have that then performed on stage is just incredible.
AC: What would you tell someone who has never been to the opera before?
AS: Anything that’s happening on the school playground or around the water cooler at work is high drama and those stories are the same stories that you see on the stage. There is a reason that we perform these classic works decade after decade, century after century. It’s because human drama is exciting and interesting. We’re pulled back into those stories all the time. It has less to do with whether a piece is being performed in period costuming or in a different location, it’s about how those characters interact and where we see ourselves in them on that stage. Are we the protagonist, the antagonist, are we the servant or are we the count? I think that’s something that any human can connect to on stage when they can see themselves in the characters that are singing this high drama. It just so happens that opera is a long version of a very short story. I think it’s really beautiful that anyone can connect to those stories. There’s love trysts and murderous families and betrayals…you know we all have that in our lives. So I think anyone can connect if they just break it down and push away the stuff that they don’t totally understand yet and connect instead with the things that are common to all humans.