Dr. Christopher Koch (pronounced "Cook," by the way) has just been appointed Music Director of Springfield Regional Opera, and he adds that title--and all the responsibilities thereof--to an already rather full plate. Dr. Koch is an associate professor of music at Drury University, where he directs the Orchestra and Wind Symphony programs. He has also been Music Director of the area's regional community orchestra, the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra, for more than a decade. He says he's coming to the SRO job at a time when the opera company, officially chartered in 1980, is at a crossroads.
"My purview will be, essentially, conducting the orchestra--and ensuring that there is an orchestra (i.e. hiring freelance musicians in the area to play for SRO productions)--and handling the instrumental portion of any opera."
Dr. Koch isn't going to be the only new face at SRO this coming season. "I'll be working alongside the Artistic Director--someone who has not yet been (formally) announced." (Although, as SRO Board President Cindy Curtis has told me, it's very much an "open secret" anyway, and she gave Dr. Koch and me permission to mention it in this interview.) "It's Michael Spyres, who is, of course, an area native but is also an internationally-known opera performer. He will be the person who is handling the stage side of things, working with singers and bringing in guest (stage) directors."
In terms of season-building and repertoire selection for SRO, Dr. Koch characterizes it as "very much a collaborative process. And we are actually working on a five-year plan of repertoire that will both include some of the classic operatic works that we all love, as well as some perhaps newer and more challenging works. We're also excited about the idea of doing 'chamber opera,' using a small orchestra and being a much more intimate kind of setting. That includes things that were composed yesterday all the way back to Monteverdi."
There has, frankly, been a lot of speculation in the wake of SRO's cancelation of the second half of their 2014-2015 season, specifically the scheduled production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene, last spring: "Exactly what's going on with the Opera? Will it even be able to continue?" Christopher Koch assures us that it will--but that it's undergoing some fundamental changes--a reboot, if you will.
"The organization is truly re-inventing itself. I like to use the expression 'SRO 2.o.' It's SRO, but it's using a completely different administrative and structural framework for its existence."
Considering the difficulties SRO historically has experienced with fundraising and public awareness/perception, Dr. Koch says the organization will work to address these issues, to structure seasons "that are both enriching, but also practical." This includes producing operas that can utilize smaller forces, operas that work well in smaller venues. "Plans are in the works for our spring (2016) production to be Mozart's Marriage of Figaro." If the company performs in, say, Hammons Hall, then certainly a 50- to 60-piece orchestra is called for. But not every opera requires such forces.
Dr. Koch also hopes to build and maintain "collaborative, interactive" relationships with other area arts groups. "We're all in it together. And SRO 2.0 is going to reflect that kind of thinking. Sometimes to my (Drury) students, I'll say "Opera is the single greatest spectacle ever devised by humanity... at least before digital technology!" And it really still is in some ways. It is--it can be--very expensive, but it doesn't always have to be. And with the right consortium of forces it becomes something that actually is quite sustainable. Financial sustainability is one of the absolute central tenets" of the company's "reboot."
SRO will open the 2015-2016 season on Saturday, October 3rd with a Gala "Evening at the Opera" in Drury University's Clara Thompson Hall, to celebrate 35 years of Springfield's local opera company. It will feature many of the company's past and present stars, both local and international. Dr. Koch calls it "a celebration of what the Opera has accomplished--and a foreshadowing of what it will. And one important element here is that the event will be a collaboration between the Opera orchestra and the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra."