Opera's Next Wave
Fort Worth Opera's DARREN K. WOODS
When he was being interviewed for the post of general director of Fort Worth Opera, Darren K. Woods told the company's board of directors that he wasn't interested in babysitting the Top Twenty Operas: if they wanted a major shift in repertoire, he was their man — but if they didn't, they should end their conversation with him then and there. He got the job.
Prior to Woods's arrival in 2001, Fort Worth had compiled a fairly conservative track record, having bypassed even such reasonably mainstream twentieth-century works as Benjamin Britten's operas. Woods changed all that, with rep stretching from Dialogues of the Carmelites to Mark Adamo's Little Women to the world premieres of Thomas Pasatieri's Frau Margot and Jorge Martín's Before Night Falls. Like David Gockley in his legendary run as general director of Houston Grand Opera, Woods glimpsed the potential for challenging the audience, and the audience followed — with a minimum of kicking and screaming. The only negative comment that arose from his production of Peter Eötvös's Angels in America was a donor who reportedly said, "Why are you bashing Republicans? Republicans like opera, too." Beginning in 2007, Woods transformed the company's fall/winter season into a festival format; since then, Fort Worth has seen an exciting increase in national press coverage.
Woods's talents extend beyond being a courageous programmer; he also has a reputation for being a strict fiscal watchdog. "The economy is something you can't do anything about," he says. "I inherited a really bad situation here. I developed an eye twitch, and my hair fell out. But since we got it stabilized, we've been living within our means, with no debt. You don't just turn around and say, 'Oh, my God — there's a $3 million deficit.' We see a $50,000 deficit, and we start working to reduce it. We pay attention to it. Fund-raising is something I pay attention to every single day." As other regional companies are collapsing under the weight of moribund programming and bad debt, Fort Worth continues to move forward. Recently, the board extended Woods's contract through 2018.
A key to Woods's concern for the art can be found in his recollection of the company premiere of Angels in America. "One of our big patrons had come to the first night of the show. I didn't see her afterward. I was worried that she left. Someone said, 'She's still sitting in the theater.' I went out and found her. She was all alone in the theater. I said, 'Are you okay?' She said, 'I know you don't know that my nephew died of AIDS. I wanted to thank you for the courage it took to bring this to our community.' I thought, 'If I walk out the door and get hit by a beer truck, it's all been worth it.'"
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