by Sarah A. Peterson
Founded in 1998, the Fresno Grand Opera has brought countless stories to the stage, in the form of operas and concerts that take months to stage and produce. KRL sat down with Fresno Grand Opera General Director Matthew Buckman for a behind-the-scenes look at how it all comes together.
KRL: Kings River Life: What is your official job title and its accompanying duties?
Matthew Buckman: My official title is General Director. In that role, I serve as both CEO of the company and am responsible for establishing its artistic vision. This includes artistic programming and casting, fundraising, overseeing marketing and public relations, and generally advocating for the opera as an art form.
KRL: How long have you been with the Fresno Grand Opera?
Matthew Buckman: I started in this role last December, when the Fresno Grand Opera entered a full creative and management partnership with Townsend Opera in Modesto, where I have been General Director since 2008.
KRL: What are day-to-day operations like?
Matthew Buckman: During the season, our operations are quite busy. We split our time between the day-to-day functions of a standard business (customer service, banking, payroll, marketing, etc.) and all of the legwork it takes to produce an opera, which can include up to 100 contract employees from all over the country, who come together for three weeks to produce an opera. There is a tremendous amount of planning that goes into maximizing our three-week production schedule, because things are constantly changing.
KRL: How does the Fresno Grand Opera decide which productions to stage in a given season?
Matthew Buckman: I like for there to be a specific purpose to every season that we plan. I am an advocate for reconnecting opera with the 21st century, so all of our programming is built around how to make this art form more relevant to our current culture. So we take into consideration operas that are more accessible to a Central Valley audience, that tell stories that people in our community will want to hear. Beyond that, there are budgetary concerns that must be taken into consideration, such as cast size, orchestra size, and scenic requirements. Ideally we find programming that satisfies all of those requirements as much as possible.
KRL: Is there any outreach and/or programs with schools?
Matthew Buckman: We have taken a step back in the last year to reevaluate how we service the community with our outreach and school programs. We want to be as efficient as possible with the limited resources we have, but I anticipate that in the coming season, we will be back to serving the youth in our community.
KRL: What other events has the Fresno Grand Opera participated in?
Matthew Buckman: We have a very diverse background in programming. We have presented major popular artists with orchestra, major operatic singers such as Renee Fleming, Juan Diego Perez, and Marcello Giordani, as well as much of the Italian operatic repertoire.
KRL: What have been the Fresno Grand Opera’s most popular productions?
Matthew Buckman: We have many favorites in our past. I would have to say our performances with Andrea Bocelli have been very popular, as have some of our concerts with pop artists.
KRL: How has the Fresno Grand Opera given back to the community?
Matthew Buckman: Since we have taken a step back in our education and outreach programs, our most significant give-back to the community currently are the complimentary tickets we make available to health and human services organizations and students who otherwise would not be able to attend the opera.
KRL: Is Tosca the last production of the season?
Matthew Buckman: Tosca is the last production of our current season. We will be announcing our 2015-2016 season in April.
Tosca will be performed Thursday, May 7, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, please visit www.fresnograndopera.org.
Editor’s note: All photos are from Fresno Grand Opera’s most recent production, A Streetcar Named Desire.
Check out more local arts and entertainment articles in KRL’s A & E section.