08 June 2011

Fort Worth Opera Festival 2011: Darren Woods’ Anniversary

“The echoes of our Festival shall rise
triumphant over all.”
The remains of Darren Woods (newly slimmed-down),
with Jessica Cates (Yum-Yum) and Logan Rucker (Nanki-Poo)
from this year’s FWO production of The Mikado.
Photo by Ellen Appel, Courtesy of Fort Worth Opera

“We’re glad to have you here today,” the usher told Darren Keith Woods as he entered Bass Hall for the final performance of this year’s Fort Worth Opera Festival. She was greeting everybody this way, as it happens, and she didn’t recognize Darren — though he’s the general director of Fort Worth Opera, and this is his tenth anniversary on the job. Darren laughed and thanked the usher, but I take the woman at her word. I really am glad Darren is here, and whether she knows it or not, so is that usher.

Fort Worth is now on my cultural map, and the Festival is on my calendar. When I can’t get to town, my regret borders on agony — but I make it my business to get there any way I can. As I’ve written here before, Darren’s approach to opera makes me young again: everything here feels fresh, and even when I don’t quite know what to expect, I know that what I see and hear will be exciting. But much though I hate to admit it, Darren isn’t doing this as a personal favor to me.

In ten years, Darren has turned Fort Worth Opera from a venerable but strictly minor-league regional institution to one of the most buzzworthy companies in America. Each season he combines bread-and-butter repertory (such as this year’s Mikado and more ambitious Trovatore) with adventurous fare (this year saw Fort Worth Opera’s first Baroque piece, Handel’s Julius Caesar in Egypt) and contemporary works, including a couple of world premieres — with the result that Fort Worth audiences enjoy a diet at least as varied as that in any major company in the U.S. or Europe.

Initiating the Festival a few seasons ago, Darren made clear that Fort Worth Opera was to be considered an artistic destination on a par with the city’s other cultural landmarks (including the Kimbell, Amon Carter, and Modern art museums and the Van Cliburn Competition).

Darren is also a tremendous booster of young talent, and surely the most appreciative listener I know. I sat next to him during Julius Caesar, and the man practically levitated all through the opera. (He even sang along at some points, and while Darren enjoyed a successful career as a comprimario, it must be said that Ava Pine is the better Cleopatra.) Through his eyes and ears, I’m getting to know a new generation of American artists — and they’re terrific.

It’s getting to the point that I trust Darren’s judgment. When he announced that this season he’d present Philip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox, I didn’t balk — even though for nearly two decades I had sworn off Glass’ stage works. If Darren heard something valuable in this music, then it must be worth a try. And in the event, I saw something that more closely resembled a scene from my own life than just about anything I’ve ever encountered at any opera house on earth.

Transported though I was by this image of myself, I was reminded nevertheless of the patron who, following last season’s world premiere of Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls, accosted Darren in the lobby of Bass Hall. “You’re promoting a homosexual agenda!” the man cried.

“This is the fortieth opera I’ve produced here, and only the second with a gay theme,” Darren replied. “If anything, I’m promoting a heterosexual agenda!”

Though Jukebox does raise Darren’s tally to three operas with gay subject matter, what really counts is his ongoing effort to give something meaningful to each person in his audience. Whether it’s a scene, a song, or a performer, he’s always looking to connect with us, to make the experience as thrilling for us as it is for him. You gotta hand it to the guy — and I do.

In the next few days, I’ll publish accounts of each of the three operas I attended in Fort Worth this season. (I missed Trovatore, alas.) But for now, suffice to say that, though the curtain only just descended, I can’t wait to go to Fort Worth again.


Jonathan said...

BRAVO! Darren Woods is a man with unmatched energy and vision. I will always be grateful to him for giving me a chance and changing my life for the better-- as a singer and as a human.

Brian Dailey said...

I have never agreed more with a writer than I have with this wonderful assessment of Darren's skills and accomplishments. He is a dear friend of whom I hold in the highest asteem. And, I didn't get to FWOF this year but I'll definitely be there again next season. Keep on making us proud, Darren.

bernard said...

Nous étions au festival d'Opéra de Fort Worth , pour la 4 ème saison consécutive . Bravo pour cette réussite parfaite et ces moments de plaisir renouvelé .
A l'année prochaine et merci !
Bernard & Hervé -France-

William V. Madison said...

Merci beaucoup! Au prochaine Festival!