San Diego Opera’s David Bennett hits a high note with a fresh perspective on a classic art form.
When the San Diego Opera nearly shut down in 2014, the arts world was watching as the community rallied to save it (approximately $3 million was raised in only six weeks). What David Bennett—of the acclaimed Gotham Chamber Opera in New York—saw was a very different story from what was happening in other cities where opera organizations had gone under. “What most opera companies are dealing with now is how to try to make themselves relevant to the community,” he explains. But in San Diego, “half of that equation had already started because the community was saying, ‘We don’t know why, but we know opera is important.’” A year later, Bennett was hired as the San Diego Opera’s general director, and he immediately got to work developing innovative ways to demonstrate why the classical art form matters. This fall, he debuted Opera on Track, a successful program of free performances at local trolley stations, in addition to the Shiley Detour Series, which presents nontraditional opera in intimate venues (don’t miss Peter Brook’s The Tragedy of Carmen at Balboa Theatre in March). Looking to the future, Bennett says he wants to take the Detour series to venues all over the county (he’s in talks with the La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe currently) and perhaps even use the company’s massive scenic studio in Logan Heights as an alternative performance space. Even more good news: Bennett reports things are going so well that the San Diego Opera is starting to rebuild its reserves. “This is a city where opportunity seems to be in the DNA,” he says. “It’s a great place to lead an opera company.”