Forty years ago, in February of 1979, Irene Dalis asked me to be her graduate assistant at San José State; I’ve been working for her ever since. Even though Irene left us in 2014, it is still her voice I hear when I’m struggling with a decision. Though Irene and I did not walk in lock step, and the two of us could be heard in richly animated discussions over what OSJ needed by when, we both wanted the same things: productions of the highest possible artistic merit given our resources, and a supportive home for singers, conductors, and directors who are developing meaningful careers in opera. But most of all, we wanted to create and sustain an opera company that would make our city proud.
Decades later, when the Opera San José Board of Directors asked me if I would take on Irene’s job after her retirement, I was honored, but I was also surprised. For months I had been a tour guide for prospective candidates who Irene was considering for the position, and besides, I liked my job as director of production. At any rate, I agreed to see the company through as GD until I reached 70, which precipitated a number of media interviews. My favorite was with Rich Scheinen, an arts writer for the San José Mercury News, who asked me what it was like to step into Irene’s shoes. I had to remind him that I didn’t wear high heels, so I brought my own shoes.
During the 18 months between my appointment and Irene’s retirement, many contingencies were discussed. I was strongly advised by Irene and by our consultant Laurie MacDougall to find my own version of the Larry Hancock who had Irene’s back through those many years. Though we hardly knew each other, the person who made most sense to me was Khori Dastoor, and when I asked, pointedly, “Will you have my back?” She said yes. I fumbled around about her title until we hit on Artistic Planning Director, but the job she really had was Deputy General Director. Everyone at OSJ knew that, though it didn’t appear in print and she didn’t get a badge or a gun.
As Artistic Planning Director, Khori Dastoor is charged with talent scouting, auditions, and singer contract negotiation. She, Music Director Joseph Marcheso, and I combine to hear auditions and make major casting decisions, at least for the first two rounds of offers. Also, Khori thoughtfully participates in repertoire selection with Joe and me (it was Khori who convinced me that we should produce Abduction from the Seraglio). As a team, I believe the three of us have brought some unforgettable operas and brilliant singers to San José. At least, I have been genuinely pleased by the great majority of our productions, and deeply gratified by many of them, especially Where Angels Fear to Tread, A Streetcar Named Desire, Silent Night, Abduction from the Seraglio, The Flying Dutchman, and Moby-Dick, if I had to choose only a few.
So, you see, the board didn’t have to look far to find a beautifully qualified successor. Our current plan is that Khori will take over as general director on July 1, 2020. After that, I will remain with the company in an advisory position until July 2021, when I will formally leave Opera San José (that was surprisingly hard to write). However, I’m not that easy to get rid of. Khori and I have agreed that it would be good for OSJ if I continue to deliver pre-performance talks for each opera, and I’ll create new supertitles when needed. So, it should be clear, I’m going nowhere fast, or not going anywhere soon… or something like that.
In about fifteen months, Opera San José will have its third general director. I hope you will welcome Khori as you welcomed me. She has been with the company since 2007 when she became a principal soprano in our resident ensemble, and in addition to an international singing career (she was a very special Lucia), Khori served as artistic administrator under Irene, and is now our artistic planning director. She believes in the company and its mission as strongly as anyone else I know, and clearly has the qualifications, abilities, and the intention to continue our founder’s vision. I only hope that Irene doesn’t shout at Khori as often as she shouts at me!
With many thanks for your enduring support,