Constructing a New Voice

Scott AltmanWell before radio and television, opera was the multimedia art form.
After all, it’s got every human emotion and plot imaginable.  There is passion, politics, jealously, royalty, paupers, destiny and higher power intervention.   Then there are the languages:  Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian and a bit of English.  Of course, there are grand swells of music and dramatic stage effects.
As opera weaves its magic across the centuries, it continues to move modern audiences worldwide. Arizona Opera is part of that tradition, yet with a goal of reaching out to even more people than ever.
Scott Altman, General Director of Arizona Opera is taking this art form to another level with a new facility located in the heart of downtown Phoenix.  Only the fifth General Director in Arizona Opera’s history since it was founded in 1971, Altman is leading the state toward a new opera experience.
The state-of-the-art center will be the first of its kind, offering an intimate look into the art of opera during production through rehearsal and not just on the big stage.  “It is part of my vision for the building to be an open space for the public and the community,” Altman points to massive movable portals that resemble old fashioned fire station doors. The doors will allow visitors to see directly into the theater space right from a public plaza.
opera doorsGuests at the new center which is under construction will be able to sit on lawn chairs while watching a live performance happening 30 feet in front of them.  It will bring the experience and the craft of opera alive in a way that can’t truly be achieved in a massive theater.  Altman has cultivated this approach to his art form.
If you’ve ever met Altman, he looks the part.  His tall formal stature, dark features and deep voice scream natural opera vocalist. After all, he was a professional opera singer for 20 years and an entrepreneur for 10.  He and his wife Lisa co-founded Opera New Jersey in Princeton.
“Part of our New Jersey dream was to get an opera company that really gave opportunity to cutting edge, emerging singers and education for children,” he explains leaning against a cold metal pole. When the Altman family left New Jersey it was a $2.5 million dollar organization with more than 30 productions under its belt.
In 2009 Arizona Opera recruited Altman in hopes that he could bring a fresh spirit and stable future to the company.  His passion for the arts, enthusiastic leadership and knowledge of the business is what has him in the midst of this next big project.
Arizona Opera Construction
“We’re hoping that this opera center will be a completely new and exciting watershed for Arizona Opera.” Altman effortlessly  steps over piles of construction debris throughout the site.  While admonishing us the “watch your step” and a friendly morning greeting to every face working the site, he continues to convey his passion and vision for Arizona Opera.
Located across from the Phoenix Art Museum at Central and McDowell, the opera center will usher in a new arts corridor.
The iconic Walsh Brother’s Furniture building, which sits on the site is being refurbished and will breathe new life into the Opera’s administrative production offices.
The unique building will offer nomadic functions, allowing for a variety of stages, unlike the existing centers where patrons only see the opera during an actual performance. “This building will anchor us as a real year round artistic force and be present with our educational programming for children and for emerging professionals,” Altman says.
An innovative motorized hoist system that allows for manipulation of scenic elements and light instruments is being installed. “It’s the first of its kind in Arizona,” Altman says looking up at the 30 foot batons.
Future Home of AZ OperaTo create a more inviting space for patrons, a Patron viewing Gallery will offer visitors a place to sit and watch as a live rehearsal taking place. It’s all on purpose.
“The opera is an inclusive art form. It’s a people’s art form and over the past couple of generations it’s become over exclusive. That’s not what it was ever intended to be,” Altman stresses. His hope is that this building will bring the community closer to the art.
This is a project Altman is passionate to be a part of.  “This is a big deal.  We are much more than the representative opera company of Arizona.  For the first time in the modern history of this company we will have all of Arizona Opera under one roof.”  This means that instead of having rehearsal space in one city, administrative offices in another and warehousing in yet another place, all will be housed on one site.
Scott Altman is imposing.  His passion for opera is palpable.  Like a true opera genius, he envelopes us into the storyline.  You can see his vision, hear the strains of music and the power of the human voice.  Altman may not be standing on stage, but he’s sure giving his audience the intimate experience that the great composers intended and a great city demands.

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