Eastman Opera Theatre names new artistic director 

click to enlarge Eastman Opera Theatre's Music Director Timothy Long will also serve as artistic director, beginning with the 2023-24 season. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Eastman Opera Theatre's Music Director Timothy Long will also serve as artistic director, beginning with the 2023-24 season.
While Eastman Opera Theatre’s 2023-24 season will mark the end of an era, it will also be a continuation of Eastman School of Music’s commitment to new operatic works and diverse stories.

Current EOT Music Director Timothy Long, who has held his position since 2018, will begin his first season as Eastman Opera’s artistic and music director, a dual role he’ll assume after outgoing Artistic Director Steven Daigle retired in spring 2023.

Long’s history with Eastman Opera Theatre began in the early 1990s, when he was a graduate assistant playing the piano for opera rehearsals under the late director Richard Pearlman and conductor David Effron.

“It's just such an unexpected pleasure to be able to return here and to lead the program,” Long said. “I just never in my mind thought that would ever occur.”

Under Long’s direction, Eastman Opera Theatre will continue to emphasize 20th- and 21st-century opera alongside recognizable and iconic works, as well as a focus on bringing into the opera spotlight diverse perspectives that have previously been in the shadows.

EOT’s spring production of the late Mexican-born American composer Daniel Catán’s Spanish-language opera, “Florencia en el Amazonas,” is a notable recent example. But Long doesn’t see ‘diversity for diversity’s sake’ as the point.
click to enlarge Eastman Opera Theatre presents "Florencia en el Amazonas" at Kodak Hall on March 27, 2023. - PHOTO BY NIC MINETOR
  • PHOTO BY NIC MINETOR
  • Eastman Opera Theatre presents "Florencia en el Amazonas" at Kodak Hall on March 27, 2023.
“When we really started looking at having more underrepresented creators in our operas, what I most noticed is the immense amount of repertoire we had been ignoring,” said Long, who is of Muscogee Creek and Choctaw descent. He said ignoring diverse work doesn’t just do a disservice to those represented by the work. It also deprives us collectively from worthwhile art. “Look at what we were denying ourselves — a whole library of repertoire that has been unexplored,” Long added. “So even just on a musical level, we owe it to ourselves to look beyond the traditional canon.”

Eastman Opera Theatre’s push toward inclusivity goes beyond ethnicity to address other areas of systemic inequity, including gender. EOT’s fall double bill, which runs Nov. 2 through 5 at Kilbourn Hall, examines myths in a new light while critiquing the patriarchal and misogynistic narratives they have helped to perpetuate. Jake Heggie’s “To Hell and Back” tackles the theme of abuse first presented in the story of the Rape of Persephone, while Black American composer Nkeiru Okoye’s decidedly comedic take on the Perseus myth, “We’ve Got Our Eye on You” serves as a commentary on modern hook-up culture.

click to enlarge Eastman Opera Theatre's new Director of Production Patrick Diamond. - PHOTO BY CORY WEAVER
  • PHOTO BY CORY WEAVER
  • Eastman Opera Theatre's new Director of Production Patrick Diamond.
The two mythic operas will be conducted by Associate Music Director Wilson Southerland and will feature stage direction by new Eastman faculty member Patrick Diamond, who will serve as associate professor of opera and EOT’s director of production.

Diamond says equity isn’t just a theme that needs to be addressed in opera on the stage, but also an industry problem to be corrected.

“I think that there's a moment in opera where equity and inclusion is really important,” said Diamond. “One of the things I've observed in the past was that not everyone was always treated equitably or inclusively in the business of opera, much less in schools. And I think what's really important is to give all students all the tools that they need to be able to succeed out in the world.”

Eastman Opera continues its celebration of myth in winter 2024 with two canonic works — the Prologue from Richard Strauss’s early modern “Ariadne auf Naxos” and Henry Purcell’s Baroque opera “Dido and Aeneas” — which get a two-week run as a double bill at Eastman’s black box theater Annex 804, Jan. 25 through 28 and Feb. 1 through 4. EOT’s season concludes in Kodak Hall with Francis Poulenc’s 20th-century masterpiece “Dialogues des Carmélites,” April 4 through 7.  Long will conduct both the winter and spring productions.
click to enlarge Eastman Opera Theatre presents George Frideric Handel's Baroque opera "Alcina" at Annex 804 on January 25, 2023. - PHOTO BY NIC MINETOR
  • PHOTO BY NIC MINETOR
  • Eastman Opera Theatre presents George Frideric Handel's Baroque opera "Alcina" at Annex 804 on January 25, 2023.
EOT’s new artistic and music director wants to set a standard for the opera students, as musicians and as people — an ideal that’s difficult to realize professionally.

“We need people who are empathetic, who know how to listen and know how to communicate,” Long said. “That is everything about opera. And that really is my goal.”

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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