There are five things the general director of Austin Opera wants you to know before taking in a show.
By Madison Matous, Photo by Paul Sirochman
Much like drinking a bottle of fine wine, attending the opera is often stigmatized as an activity reserved for older people or the upper class, but as Annie Burridge, the general director of Austin Opera, is quick to note, the opera is ever-evolving and becoming more accessible to a new audience.
Opera comes in many different forms than simply the traditional, extravagant kind that often comes to mind. At Austin Opera, you’ll fit right in wearing a pair of jeans and cowboy boots.
In October 2016, Burridge, who came from a musical family and found her love for opera at a young age, took the reins of Austin Opera after having found success in revamping Opera Philadelphia’s program.
“I had learned about opera through all of the other arts I was engaged in,” Burridge says, reflecting on her upbringing. “I wanted to be an opera singer and thought that one day, I would like to run an opera company, having absolutely no idea what that would mean. I just knew I really loved the opera and I liked to be in charge, so that’s how I made that [career]decision.”
Burridge received her bachelor’s degree in opera and vocal performance with a minor in business, and two graduate degrees from the New England Conservatory. After performing as an opera singer for a few years, she realized her talents might be better utilized on the administrative side of the operation. She went back to school to study nonprofit administration, and shortly after receiving her degree, began working in development, marketing and communications for Opera Philadelphia, combining her artistic background with her skill set in business.
Burridge says her vision for Austin Opera is to further expand the ways in which audiences experience the opera, and to make it more readily available for the uninitiated. Here, she breaks down the basics of these vocal performances.
Translations are always provided.
“The No. 1 thing to know is that the translation of the opera, the words the singers are singing, are always projected above the stage. So, even when the opera is in English, the English words will be projected above the stage, so you will always know what they are singing about.”
Opera singers’ voices are never amplified.
“The second thing to know is that [the reason]why people become such big opera buffs is that opera singers are never amplified. They’re trained to project their voice over an 80-piece orchestra and to be heard by 2,500 people. That’s why some people are in such awe of that voice and why it can be such a moving experience.”
There is no dress code.
“The third thing that I would say, especially at Austin Opera, is to wear whatever you want to the opera. Our audiences come in everything from black tie to boots and jeans, and they sit right next to each other. … And, you know, I think part of that is also very Austin. We have some folks that come in black ties and gowns and like to go to a fancy meal beforehand…[or]eat tacos out on the plaza beforehand. … And I’ve gone to the opera in all of those formats.”
No preparation is needed to enjoy the performance.
“The fourth thing I would say is that if you want to know more about an opera that you are going to see, we always have a preshow talk so you can go and learn more about it in advance. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes information on our website, but what I would emphasize is that you don’t need any preparation to enjoy it. You don’t have to do any homework. You will never leave confused.”
Try different types of opera to learn what you like.
“The other thing I would say is opera has always varied, so you need to try more than one to gure out what kind of opera you like most, and maybe you like all types of opera. We’re working on an augmented- reality opera right now. So, you know, there’s high-tech experiences and very traditional, grand experiences that a lot of people think of when they think of opera in their head, but there’s a wide range out there. At Austin Opera, part of my mandate in coming here is to really expand the range of opera experiences that we have available.”