Annie Burridge has served as general director and CEO of Austin Opera for three years now. The company’s shows have earned glowing reviews from critics, audiences and backers, and one key has been the inclusion of multiple new operas each season.
We sat down with Burridge at Texas French Bread before the Jan. 23 opening of "Everest," a 2015 opera composed by Joby Talbot with a libretto Gene Scheer.
American-Statesman: So, new operas? Are they doing well?
Annie Burridge: Sales for "Everest" are double the sales for all the bel canto operas — Donizetti, Bellini, etc. — that we’ve done in this season slot. And I think that’s because we’ve been careful to choose operas with subject matter that has been really emotional and contemporary, and a good example of that was last season’s "Silent Night." It was a big hit and it also showed us when you have subject matter that has broad appeal, the partnerships and community building you can do around it is substantial.
Do you think that Austin has a particular attraction to new operas?
That remains to be seen. It’s not so much about attraction to new opera, we just try hard to choose operas that will have meaning and resonance. We need to work to establish some trust, that we are not asking too much too soon. But the audiences are a really important part of the decision-making process. At the end, I want to feel something, I want to be moved. Whether it’s a 300-year-old opera or a 5-year-old opera, it’s got to pass that smell test. Will our current audiences and prospective audiences find it a meaningful experience?
How does "Everest" fit that bill?
It’s an extraordinary story that’s true. It took place in 1996. And many are familiar with it through countless books on the events. Even with the explosion of contemporary opera, it’s exceedingly rare that the new opera is about real people who are alive today. Beck Weathers, who is one of the characters, will be attending. There’s a logjam at the summit of Everest and a storm sweeps through. There were eight climbers who died. This opera focuses on three climbers, two who died and one who survived. ... Kevin Burdette, who is playing Beck Weathers, had a contract with the Metropolitan Opera that he turned down to play Beck here.
Next up you have "Winterreise" performed at the Austin Central Library as part of the Opera ATX series. Tell us about that.
This is a staged production of the Schubert song cycle. The designers created a film for each song in the cycle. You take the journey of this heartbroken protagonist. You are really engaged and immersed in it, as the film runs on the singer and on the sets. It will be done without intermission, maybe 80 minutes.
"Everest" is 70 minutes. You get in. You cry your eyes out. You get out.