Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Interviews

A Chat With Italian Conductor Riccardo Frizza

Riccardo Frizza is a young Italian conductor whose performances in Europe and the United States are getting rave reviews. He tells us of his love for the operas of Verdi, Bellini, and particularly Donizetti.

And London Burned: in conversation with Raphaela Papadakis

Raphaela Papadakis seems to like ‘playing with fire’. After her acclaimed performance as the put-upon maid, Anna, in Independent Opera’s production of Šimon Voseček’s Beidermann and the Arsonists at Sadler’s Wells last year, she is currently rehearsing for the premiere this week of And London Burned, a new opera by Matt Rogers which has been commissioned by Temple Music Foundation to commemorate the 350th anniversary of The Great Fire of London.

Oxford Lieder Festival: in conversation with Julius Drake

In October 2014, the Oxford Lieder Festival - under its imaginative and intrepid founder, Sholto Kynoch - fulfilled an incredibly ambitious goal: to perform Schubert’s entire corpus of songs - more than 600 - and, for three marvellous weeks, to bring Vienna to Oxford. ‘The Schubert Project’ was a magnificent celebration of the life and music of Franz Schubert: at its core lay the first complete performance of Schubert’s songs - including variants and alternative versions - in the UK.

Interview with Star of Florencia en el Amazonas, Elizabeth Caballero

Lyric soprano Elizabeth Caballero’s signature role is Violetta in La traviata, which she portrays with a compelling interpretation, focused sound, and elegant coloratura that floats through the opera house as naturally as waves on the ocean.

A Chat With Baritone Brian Mulligan

Maria Nockin interviews baritone Brian Mulligan.

An interview with Tobias Ringborg

I arrive at the Jerwood Space, where rehearsals are underway for Garsington Opera’s forthcoming production of Idomeneo, to find that the afternoon rehearsal has finished a little early.

A Conversation with Sir Nicholas Jackson

With its merry-go-round exchange of deluded and bewitched lovers, an orphan-turned-princess, a usurped prince, a jewel and a flower with magical properties, a march to the scaffold and a meddling ‘mistress-of-ceremonies’ who encourages the young lovers to disguise and deceive, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring has all the ingredients of an opera buffa.

A Chat With Up-and-Coming Conductor Kathleen Kelly

Kathleen Kelly is an internationally renowned pianist, coach, conductor, and master teacher. She was the first woman and first American named Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera.

Atsuto Sawakami — Sponsor of Italian Opera in Japan

Atsuto Sawakami is a slightly built man in his late sixties with impeccable, gentlemanly manners. He communicates a certain restless energy and his piercingly bright eyes reveal an undimmed appetite for life.

Mark Stone — Oxford Lieder Festival

‘Lieder v. Opera’? At first glance it might seem to be a pointless or nonsensical question.

Oxford Lieder Festival 2015 - Sholto Kynoch interview

Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.

A Chat with Tenor René Barbera

American tenor René Barbera is fast making a name for himself as one of the top bel canto singers in opera houses around the world.

Stefano Mastrangelo — An Italian in Japan

I’m interviewing Stefano Mastrangelo in the immediate aftermath of his conducting La Traviata for the Chofu City Opera in Tokyo on 22 November 2014; he conveys an air at once of tiredness and exhilaration.

Sara Gartland Takes on Jenůfa

Sara Gartland is an emerging singer who brings an enormous talent and a delightful personality to the opera stage. Having sung lighter soprano roles such as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Gartland is now taking on the title role in Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Jenůfa.

A Chat with Pulitzer Prize Winning Composer Jennifer Higdon

American composer Jennifer Higdon has won many awards for her imaginative music. Her percussion concerto received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

Falling in love with Wolf-Ferrari — An interview with Friedrich Haider

Bratislava in Slovakia might seem an unlikely place to come across the opera I gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna) a 1911 rarity written by the Italian/German Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, a composer best known for his one-act opera Il segreto di Susanna ( Susanna’s Secret) and his comedies based on Goldoni.

Jac van Steen in Conversation

Last year’s Strauss anniversary year — 150 years since his birth — offered, at least in the United Kingdom, a typical number of opportunities and frustrations.

A Chat with Julia Noulin-Mérat

Julia Noulin-Mérat is the principal designer for the Noulin-Merat Studio, an intrepid New York City production design firm that works in theater, film, and television, but emphasizes opera and immersive site-specific theatre.

A Chat with Anita Rachvelishvili

Anita Rachvelishvili recently performed the title role in Carmen broadcast by The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here she drops by for a little chat with our Maria Nockin.



Richard Russell [Photo by Jeff Reeder courtesy of New Jersey Opera]
01 Feb 2011

Real Opera In New Jersey

In an episode of the series West Wing, political strategist Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford) visits his friend and speech writer Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) in New York City before heading to New Hampshire for a promising candidate’s campaign speech.

Real Opera In New Jersey

By Robert Carreras

Above: Richard Russell [Photo by Jeff Reeder courtesy of New Jersey Opera]


As Lyman turns to leave, he waxes hopeful, “If I see the real thing in Nashua, should I tell you about it?”Just south of New England today, there just might be one of opera management’s versions of the “real thing.” Donors, colleagues, singers, and employees — as well as business associates from his past life as business consultant — are all represented on Richard Russell’s Facebook page: greeting him, telling him of their lives, reminding him of good times, and wishing him well in his ascent from marketing director of Sarasota Opera to General Director at Opera New Jersey (ONJ).

Russell is known for how he carries himself. Warm, affable, and genuine, ONJ’s vetting of Russell uncovers another facet of his personality: he is exceptionally resourceful, giving as much to his work as to relationships. “It is difficult for me to be insincere,” Russell asserts, shedding light on how — along with his approach of “creating an atmosphere” artistically — he inspires results managerially. He gains trust and builds friendships with those he works with. In opera management, these traits would seem essential — a general director is as likely to be figuring out repertory details with musical personnel as hosting a cotillion for sponsors, discussing ticket sales with a publicist over breakfast, or telling a stage hand to secure a scrim. Work comes in many forms, job description margins fade — this in wide-ranging social circles. Russell, with backgrounds in both performance and finance, chuckles that these were a modest preparation for the skill set development that is required of general director.

At Indiana University in a dual degree program (Russell holds a graduate degree in voice performance and choral conducting), he could hardly have imagined ending up in opera administration. In fact, he suspects that his attunement to matters artistic emanate from a yearning to perform that remains even today. Not long after graduation, he spent four seasons as an apprentice at what has become a wellspring of opera management talent. Sarasota Opera boasts five administration alumni as current general directors of regional companies. It is at this point that Russell's life took a course away from opera. He went through a lengthy and disheartening bout of acid reflux that, “took the sails out of the momentum for making a career.” He did not realize it then but the schooling he had received and his performance experience were setting him up for what leadership at Sarasota Opera (Artistic administrator Greg Tupiano and conductor Victor DeRenzi) had already seen in Russell.

It took a stint at Citigroup to round out and turn Russell’s life trajectory back to opera. He found that the work of business consultant, “developing online information and transactional products for use by our institutional clients in the emerging market countries,” called on elements of his creative side. Neither was the compensation package a small part of the appeal. “It turns out that I was gaining skills that coalesced with those I had learned in Sarasota as a performer.”

Russell cites his background in finance as directly responsible for two distinct qualities he brings to the position of general director: (1) Practical and profound budgeting expertise and, (2) managerial experience. “Credibility. Credibility with funders,...I can speak to board members. That is valuable. I know the numbers and can model them when putting a season together.” Russell's finance background means that he constantly weighs costs and rewards and considers revenue. His thoughts today are trained on Opera New Jersey and strengthening its fiscal health.

“It seems like the right opportunity,” remarks Russell, as he contemplates the state of ONJ. The support of the administration at Sarasota Opera (they understood Russell wanted more than to be marketing head) and his hankering to return home (“I missed the North East”) are two other reasons that make the move to New Jersey feel right. Now, Russell percolates with ideas on where to take the company. The top of that list is occupied by a matter of concern of most arts organizations: generating revenue. Specifically, Russell isolates “unearned” money as a main priority for the company, “we are looking at the long-term, building an endowment to solidify the company over the next year or two. We need to bring in individual donors.”

The artistic side of the future of the company is not far from Russell’s mind. He envisions moving a mostly conservative repertory forward, mixing 20th century works with more standard pieces. In 2011, NJO’s beginning fare will be Barber and Trovatore, swinging out to close with Menotti’s The Consul. That Russell considers Trovatore a “conservative” venture might say a little about his confidence in fielding the talent necessary to put on such a work. Slated to conduct the Verdi is none other than Maestro DeRenzi. Decisions like this are evidence that Russell also has artistic quality on his mind. Already, Russell says, “ONJ had been putting on solid productions,” adding, “The quality of regional opera [in general] in the United States is very high.” Russell thinks the company can draw audiences from Philadelphia, Upper New Jersey and New York City.

“There are customers from outside. I see the summer as an opportunity. There is a lot to do in Princeton.” Palpable excitement and eagerness enters into Russell’s voice as he foretells of ONJ being a Summer Festival favorite for opera devotee and novice alike. “People are still becoming aware of us.” Russell recounts that at a Princeton Arts Fair in summer 2010 — just after he took the helm — there were those that approached the ONJ booth to ask where the company performs. Russell sees this as an example of a groundswell of support waiting to surface. If that is the case, Russell’s infectious attitude may be the very “real thing” that attracts opera flocks to New Jersey. “I love opera, and that comes from a very honest place. I like the people in the business…I want to have an impact on the audience.”

Robert Carreras

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):