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Luling Texas 1976 Graduate Darren Woods – The Education of an Impresario
Fort Worth Opera has come a long way under Darren Keith Woods. WILLIAM V. MADISON chats with the general director as his company braces for uncertain economic times.
Since retiring as a comprimario tenor, the native Texan, now fifty-one, has turned around Shreveport Opera, New York's Seagle Music Colony (where he still serves as artistic director) and now Fort Worth. Though Texas's oldest active company had a proud history (highlights include Plácido Domingo's major-role debut in the U.S.), it had little to show, financially or artistically, for its efforts in recent years. Woods changed that, launching a young-artist program in 2002 and challenging Dallas and Houston for innovation, vitality and money. The biggest shake-up was the switch, in 2007, from a stagione to a festival season, inspired by Woods's old stomping ground, Santa Fe Opera. He hoped to merge FWO with the city's other arts tourism and to stimulate greater interest in the company; so far, it looks as if he's succeeded.
Woods grew up in Luling, an oil town south of Austin. To hear him tell it (a mile a minute), he was a Texan Candide, blithely caroming from dreams of Broadway to Houston Grand Opera's chorus to an apprenticeship at Santa Fe Opera while still in college. Soprano Janice Hall remembers Woods's voice as a "very present, bright sound," which eventually earned him a reputation for character parts by Mozart, Strauss, Britten, Puccini and Humperdinck. What does he miss about singing? "The creativity," he answers, adding that he can be found in the rehearsal hall whenever he has a free minute.
But free minutes are rare. "I literally lie awake in bed at night and wonder what I have to do," Woods admits; he estimates that fundraising is ninety-five percent of his job. "I see fundraising as different things. It's not only going out and asking for the money. It sounds hokey, but we call it 'friend-raising.' Because right now, I will meet a person that I think will potentially bear fruit for the opera in four years."
New music is integral to Woods's vision for his company. He inaugurated the festival season with the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's Frau Margot, starring Lauren Flanigan, in 2007; 2009 featured Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking; and Jorge Martín's Before Night Falls will see its premiere in 2010. Woods cultivates composers, too, providing what amount to workshops for new operas at Seagle.
Woods recently bought sets and other materials from Opera Pacific when that company went under. Pleased though his backers were with the bargains, says Woods, "They're determined to see their own company survive. They're galvanized in their resolve that nobody's going to pick over us that way…. In this economy, people are wanting to know that you are not reducing quality, but you are smart with your money, that you're frugal — not frugal to the point of cheapening people out, but that you're taking the money that people are giving you and being extraordinarily good stewards of it.
"You know, we have a mission statement, of course, but we also have a passion statement," Woods goes on. "Our passion is to be recognized internationally as a company that preserves and expands the transcending art, with a capital A, of opera. When we put that, we thought, that has the highest of hubris — 'to be internationally recognized' — little Fort Worth Opera! And yet, if we weren't striving for that, we wouldn't try as hard."
WILLIAM V. MADISON is writing the authorized biography of singing actress Madeline Kahn.
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we need a center for kids – Hay my name is DeVante and I am trying to a fun center for all the kids in the town where we can go after school are during the day to have some fun and get help on school work and we will need your help so if you feel like you have the abilities to help kids with home work and making sure they are safe if you can do that please
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