Long Beach Opera’s Andreas Mitisek tapped to succeed Brian Dickie at Chicago Opera Theater

December 07, 2011

Andreas Mitisek will succeed Brian Dickie as general director of Chicago Opera Theater in 2012.

If there were fears that Chicago Opera Theater would go artistically conservative in its selection of a new general director to succeed Brian Dickie, think again.

Andreas Mitisek, artistic and general director of Long Beach Opera, has presented Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice in a 500,000-gallon swimming pool; staged a double bill of Viktor Ullman’s The Emperor of Atlantis and Carl Orff’s Die Kluge in the engine rooms of the shuttered Queen Mary; and just this past year staged, produced and conducted Cherubini’s Medea in a furniture warehouse.

Mitisek, 49, will come to Chicago Opera Theater as interim general director Jan. 1, 2012 to help plan the 2013 and future seasons. He will officially succeed Dickie as general director on September 1, with a five-year contract through 2017. He will also maintain his post in Long Beach.

“This is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun and creating some excitement,” said the Vienna-born conductor and administrator, who will be formally introduced in Chicago at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“What I’m really looking forward to is pushing the envelope and making what we do relevant to people. I want people to be affected by what we do. They might not like it or they might love it but we need to create a reaction in our audience that goes beyond ‘What will we have for dinner after?’”

“We chose Andreas to be the next General Director due to his original and unique artistic vision which builds upon the incredibly high standard set by Brian,” said COT board president Gregory O’Leary in a released statement.  “The Search Committee, as well as the Board and I, are extremely enthusiastic about the future of the company under Andreas’ direction.”

While it’s unlikely that Mitisek will continue Dickie’s singular mix of modern-dress early and Baroque opera and Benjamin Britten, Dickie’s programming of 20th- and 21st-century works will continue and likely be expanded, if the ambitious Austrian has his way.

The 2012 Long Beach season serves up a bracing lineup, offering Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Golijov’s Ainadamar, Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and a double bill of Poulenc’s The Breasts of Tiresias and Martinu’s Tears of a Knife.

Mitisek has also forged collaborative partnerships with other Southern California arts organizations. Such efforts include presenting a Philip Glass festival earlier this year with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, a newly-conceived production of The Ring Of The Nibelung in 2006, and conducting, staging and designing the West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten.

Clearly in addition to his innovative approach to repertoire, it is Mitisek’s success at audience building and garnering financial support that attracted him to the COT board. “The main challenge is putting the company on a firm financial footing,” said Mitisek. “I’m ready to dive in and help to build support and make sure the company is on the same financial and artistic level.”

Mitisek became Long Beach Opera’s principal conductor in 1998 and artistic and general director in 2003. Over his tenure the California company has more than doubled its budget (from $434,00 to $1.2 million), eliminated a longstanding deficit and raised subscriptions by 500%.

“I came to Long Beach in 2003 and we had a deficit of about $100,000 with a budget of $430,000. We had no real functional structure or staff existing. It was a great company artistically but everything surrounding it was lacking.”

He envisons a similar approach to that he took in California. “I think the way to turn it around is to create a group of friends and do a lot of fund-raising. Meeting with the community, I think there is a lot of great opportunities for COT to build its core group of supporters. There’s an amazing amount of people already here and we have to build on that support.”

The versatile Mitisek says Chicago audiences can expect much innovation, and more contemporary works and enveleope-pushing productions, as has been the case in Long Beach.

“I think there is a lot of great American opera and a lot of great contemporary opera being written and then never performed again,” says Mitisek. “I don’t discriminate opera based on age. To me, it has to have quality and be musically interesting and theatrically interesting to make a good case for being performed.

“We could program operas for the next ten years that are just as interesting as Traviata or Butterfly, and that nobody has ever seen,” says Mitisek. “Having the courage to provide that is one of the great things–to get more people to discover [new opera] and support it.”

Indeed, he is already talking to a composer about a commissioned opera he would like to see performed in Chicago as well as Long Beach.

One part of COT he would like to reconsider is COT’s calendar and history of presenting its entire season in the spring (though in 2012, one of the three operas, The Magic Flute, is being done in the fall). “It might be wise to revisit that and see if it’s good to have two operas at the same time,” he said. “Or if it might be beneficial to spread it out a little bit more, which also increases the company’s presence in the community. I would look into that and see if we can place our productions a little more strategically.”

One thing Mitisek is adamant about is expanding COT’s number of productions. “I see COT going to five productions in the future,” said Mitisek. “I think the potential is there and the support in the community is there.”

Mitisek says he would also like to do the same kind of outre site-specific performances in Chicago as he has done in Long Beach but perhaps not in his first season. “I would like to start building slowly and organically and find out what is the best way to branch out and find new ways to do things in Chicago.”’

He also sees a great opportunity for collaboration — as well as cost-savings — in a close relationship  between Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater in terms of co-producing and sharing productions and resources.

“Looking at the repertoire there’s a great synergy in philosophy and mission,” he said. “It’s much easier to build an artistic alliance with these two companies. For instance if you’re thinking of directors and designers, it might be more interesting for these people to be represented in two different fronts of the country, rather than just three performances in Chicago or Long Beach. That should appeal to participating artists.”

While Mitisek has been equally prominent as conductor as well as administrator in Long Beach, in the near term he plans to concentrate on running COT as general director and righting its financial ship, and leaving the conducting to others.

“Long Beach and Chicago are different places and while a lot of things make sense in both, some things maybe make sense in one,” Mitisek says. “I probably will eventually do one or the other, but it’s not like I will replicate my presence exactly the same as there.”

From 1990-1997 Mitisek served as founding and artistic director of the Wiener Operntheater (WOT) in his hometown of Vienna. He conducted premieres of 20th century and rarely seen works including John Adams’ Nixon in China, György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, Harry Birtwistle’s The Second Mrs Kong, Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, Krzysztof Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun, and Aribert Reimann’s Das Schloss. 

Mitisek plans to live in Chicago as well as maintain his current residence in Long Beach. “I appreciate the rich culture in Chicago and, being from Vienna, I like the changes of the season. I’m missing my snow! It’s also important to be in the community to help build that relationship.”


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