Alan Held Opens Up About Becoming Wichita Grand Opera Artistic Director & Nurturing Young TalentBy Greg Waxberg
Bass-baritone Alan Held has had a packed scheduled for years. And he has just added to it.
He has been Artistic Director of Wichita Grand Opera (WGO) since January, responsible for all artistic planning, and will continue to sing around the world, teach master classes for Yale Opera, and serve as Director of Opera and Associate Professor of Voice at Wichita State University. He is also set for a few performances of “Salome” at the Vienna State Opera this fall.
Held is half of a team who succeeds WGO’s founders—President and CEO Parvan Bakardiev and Artistic Director Margaret Ann Pent, who launched WGO in 2000 as the first professional opera company in Kansas.
The other half, new President and CEO Dennis Arnold, brought Held on board. They first met in a 1985 production of the musical “Shenandoah” at Wichita’s Crown Uptown Theatre—and, of course, Arnold has known of Held’s reputation since that time.
“Alan is one of the premier opera singers in the world, as well as a great teacher with a great eye for talent, and our company is also trying to strengthen its ties with the opera program at Wichita State,” Arnold said. “He and I also share many of the same values—we are pragmatic, care about the people who work for us, and try to treat everybody fairly and well.”
Location is convenient because Held has lived in Wichita for about five years, but what really appeals to him is the path he can help forge for younger singers.
“I see a need for places where young artists can sing major or lead roles after finishing college or a Young Artist Program,” he said. “Yes, you have to sing smaller roles before bigger roles—that’s the way you learn—but I want to make sure young singers are getting the chance to sing larger roles rather than singing smaller roles all the time.”
Held is looking forward to applying his experiences from over 30 years in opera, combining knowledge of repertoire and young voices.
“I’ve always said that singing makes me a better teacher, and teaching makes me a better singer,” Held explained. “I know what the repertoire feels like in a younger or older singer’s throat, and I can relate to the singers—their nervousness, their fears.”
He has been planning the 2019-20 season since starting the job. To an outsider, that might seem last minute, but Held is not concerned.
“Wichita Grand Opera never casts that far ahead, and there are always people available, especially young singers,” he noted.
What type of repertoire will these young artists be tackling? It’ll be a balancing act between contemporary opera and the classics, pieces that will entertain and challenge audiences while proving enriching for the singers.
“Plus, I’m a Gesamtkunstwerk kind of guy,” Held said. “I want total theater and total music, not one or the other. I want to work with directors who will give us interesting productions. With many companies in Europe, it’s all about theater and very little about music, and many places don’t fully take into consideration the challenges for young voices.”
Ultimately, Held seeks to create a safe space where singers learn how to be artists. “The goal is to build a career in a healthy manner.”