First Take: Artistic Director Yuval Sharon

All week we’ve been interviewing the composers for wild Up and The Industry’s First Take 2015, taking place tomorrow (February 21) at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Today, in the last interview of our series, we’ve got The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon.

Before we get into it, I want to publicly thank both Yuval and wild Up’s Christopher Rountree, and all of the musicians and staff of both organizations, for putting First Take together. What you guys do for composers ,and for the music and arts community in LA, is amazing, and inspiring. Thank you.

Here’s Yuval.

The Industry's Yuval Sharon

The Industry’s Yuval Sharon

First off, congratulations on the Götz Friedrich Prize and the numerous other awards and nominations you’ve been receiving. You’ve been getting more and more attention internationally, and that must come with invitations to collaborate and create. Has it been challenging to balance that with what you want to do with The Industry?

Thank you! I feel so fortunate that the work I have been doing has been recognized so widely for opening up new possibilities for opera. I have to say no to a lot of projects now based on the all-too-limited amount of time in a day, and that is sometimes hard. But dedication demands sacrifice, and I am so devoted to the mission of The Industry that there’s no regret on my part when I have to pass on opportunities that would keep me from The Industry. The ones I do take on are selected very carefully and with an eye first and foremost towards my artistic goals with The Industry. On the other hand, as the company is growing, I am starting to have a stronger support structure that can help me focus mostly on the artistic aspects of The Industry, and this is an enormous benefit. Hiring Elizabeth Cline as Executive Director last November is a major step in that direction, and I am so excited to see where we steer this company together in the years ahead.

In addition to providing composers a place to try out new ideas in opera, what goals are you pursuing with First Take?

First Take gives me so much hope for the future of opera. The six projects we are showcasing this year are astonishing as singular expressions, but the cumulative effect of all six is overwhelming. I want that excitement transmitted to our audience, and also to each of the composers on the program, to show them how much their work matters and how strong it is. Composing must be such a lonely exercise, especially when you are still finding your voice, or trying something that doesn’t fit in a standard operatic box.

Beyond that, the composers will receive high-quality audio and video documentation of the performance to assist them in getting their works fully produced. These are essential tools for composers; I hope, too, that as the First Take program continues (we expect to continue a biannual schedule) that it becomes more and more of a stamp of approval for other companies.

What’s your musical background? Did you come to opera through theatre or as a musician? 

I studied piano for most of my childhood and teenage years, and I sang in high school choruses. I stopped playing or singing when I went to UC Berkeley, but that’s when my love for opera really developed, as well as an interest in musicology and the interpretation of music. Now I only sing in the car — but I love doing that!

Even though I had that musical background, it wasn’t until I thought of opera in relation to theater or cinema that I finally got into it. My dad took me to the opera in high school and it just seemed like a weird, outdated ritual, happening too far away to have any visceral impact on me. It was a fun night out with my dad but not something I could take seriously. When I went to school, I started missing the experience and started thinking about opera’s theatrical possibilities.

A scene from The Industry's production of Anne LeBaron's Crescent City

A scene from The Industry’s production of Anne LeBaron’s Crescent City

What is it about LA that made you decide this was the right place to found your company? Have we lived up to your expectations?

Finding a creative home is a highly personal choice and depends more on your own goals and aesthetic concerns than external factors. For some people, New York feeds their creative spirit; for others, it’s Detroit, or Seattle, or Miami. I had a hunch that the artists and audiences that make up LA’s community would be the right one for the work I wanted to create and foster. I am constantly astonished by how easily The Industry has managed to establish itself in the cultural fabric of the city. The community here is one I feel completely aligned with and excited to create work for and with. That’s a powerful feeling that gives me the faith to push to ever new limits.

Got any new tidbits you can share with us about Hopscotch?

Only that it is the craziest adventure I’ve ever undertaken, and I am both terrified and exhilarated by the last year-and-a-half of development. It’s also the most incredible experiment in collaborative creation I’ve experienced, and I am pretty sure the composers and writers would say the same. We can’t say a lot right now, but there will be a LOT to say come October. Basically, you just can’t miss it.

He’s right about the just-can’t-miss-it-ness of both Hopscotch and First Take. Come on out tomorrow. Full details are at theindustryla.org/projects/project_firsttake15.php. For more on Yuval, visit YuvalSharon.com.

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