Few endeavors are more challenging than creating your own opera company. It requires tremendous amounts of research as well as more challenging audience building than other artforms.
But that is exactly what Gail R. Gordon did with Numi Opera, her second opera company. She actually created Opera Nova back in 2000 as a venue where her students could develop their skills in a performance environment. From there she worked as the Director of Santa Monica Opera for close to 10 years. A chance encounter wound up inspiring her to restructure a new opera company that has the aim of celebrating the music of composers hindered by the Third Reich.
Gordon recently spoke with OperaWire about the creation of Numi Opera and the organization’s upcoming performances of “Der Zwerg.”
OperaWire: Where did the idea for creating Numi Opera come from? After a career in opera that spanned decades, what was the catalyst that motivated you to take this step and form your own company?
Gail R. Gordon: In 2008, I attended a performance of James Conlon’s Recovered Voice series and felt an immediate connection to the music of Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg. My mom, who was a Polish Refugee passed in 2018, it was then that all the pieces came together knowing that I wanted to connect my background with some element of the Recovered Voice. That was how I chose to restructure a new company dedicated to the music of composers suppressed by the Third Reich, be it religious or political.
OW: What were some of the challenges you had to overcome in creating the very first season of the company?
GRG: The challenges are many. Primarily being new and creating an audience who doesn’t know you exist. I have always had an easy connection to wonderful singers and accompanists. That was the easy part.
OW: Tell me about the team you have working at Numi opera and why they were the best people to bring on board? What was the process for creating the team?
GRG: My team consists of people that I have worked with in the past that have proven themselves to me to be dedicated and professional. Commitment is one of the most important characteristics for a team player.
OW: What about the choice of repertory? Why “Der Zwerg” or “Die Tote Stadt?” These are not particularly renowned operas and it could be a gamble to bring an opera company to life with operas few know about?
GRG: Yes a gamble it is. But I do believe that this music is transformative. I am also of the hope that audiences want to be educated. Bringing music of this stature to the public is a gift that I hope continues to give. It also coincides with my Mission of performing Lost Works.
OW: What is Numi Opera’s secret sauce? How do you hope to differentiate the company from the other opera companies in LA?
GRG: Well for one, I am the only woman at the head of a current opera company in the area. And as you know this is definitely the year of the woman! I believe that our choice of repertoire combined with our message as a new company differentiates us on so many levels. I hope also to give voice to new singers as well as presenting these works of composers that no longer have voice.
OW: What kind of responsibilities does your position require on a daily basis? What are your day to day activities as leader of a brand new opera company?
GRG: Every day is a challenge. At this point I try to keep the train on its tracks so as not to derail. I schedule and contract singers and rehearsals as well as stage direct. I take notes on rehearsals to be sure everyone has their music learned. I also work with my costumer to help present the image I have in my mind. Every day I try to meet the demands of my new Marketing/PR team. I think this is the most challenging area for me. As we progress I hope to have less responsibilities of production and more of artistic direction.
OW: What is the long-term vision for Numi Opera and what are some of the challenges you will have to overcome to get there? How do you plan to approach those challenges?
GRG :My greatest challenge is honestly the new audiences. Today’s opera goer is changing. The younger viewer wants to see opera that is not the standard rep., but one that creates a learning experience as well as entertains. By presenting these pieces I hope to challenge the new attendees with music of a social message as well as beauty of music.