Opera company production staff are responsible for the creative and practical decisions behind the scenes at the opera.
Like most theatrical stage productions, operas have a long list of unseen hands making sure everything runs smoothly. However, opera is by nature elaborate; it requires creative direction, set design, costumes, administrative work, funding, and more. Each of these roles is essential to the beautiful spectacle an audience experiences.
Depending on the size of the opera company, there might be a staff of directors with various overlapping responsibilities.
Departments differ by organization, but typically include production, development, marketing, and creative.
The creative director is typically the public face of an opera house and has creative input in every production. They may hire artistic directors to direct individual productions and technical directors to oversee the lights, mechanics, and practicals of each show. Producers work with directors on budgets and show specifics, while production managers coordinate assets, distribute resources, and manage important scheduling. Stage managers work closely with actors and technicians to make sure each show goes according to plan. Box office managers are the primary link between the opera and the public, and they work closely with marketing to improve ticket sales. Opera marketing strategically targets specific consumers, and they collaborate with development to turn viewers into supporters.
Set designers, set builders, scenic painters, and props masters are responsible for creating the physical world the opera takes place in, which is typically constructed in the performance space. An opera may be very traditional and filled with period-accurate furnishings, or it may be more abstract, with evocative set pieces that establish a mood rather than a particular setting. These skilled workers may be responsible for designing and building multiple productions in a season, which calls for precise scheduling and hard deadlines.
No opera is complete without costumes! Since opera is so performer-centered, the costumes are front and center and can establish a lot about each character. Many opera costumes are rented, rotated, or altered to fit various performers, particularly chorus members; however, some opera houses employ specialty costumers to outfit soloists. Costume design for opera is a complex role that requires extensive knowledge of historical costuming and an understanding of how to construct various pieces. The costume department for larger opera companies often includes dressers, who are responsible for helping the actors with costume changes, and specialty wigmakers, who construct elaborate hairpieces for shows. Each of these roles is crucial to an opera company's operations.
Opera company production staff work may include...
- Attending planning, funding, or design meetings
- Designing and fabricating various pieces for the stage
- Making creative decisions for opera productions and performances
- Organizing resources and network outreach
- Coordinating technical aspects of production
Opera production staff work mostly for professional opera companies, though some work exclusively on student or conservatory productions. Many opera companies employ department heads and bring on other workers as rotating or seasonal hires; roles related to physical spaces and concrete planning tend to be staffed. Many of the higher level staff roles in an opera company hire assistants, which can be a great way for newcomers to see the work in action. Public interest in opera has declined steadily over the last several decades, so roles are competitive; however, the opera community is resourceful and continually finds ways to thrive well into the digital age.
The path to a career in opera production varies by role. Most will have some background in opera or general performance; directors in particular tend to be formally educated with a theatrical background. This is also the case for many designers, who tend to have degrees in set design or visual art. Most technical workers have experience running audio, video, lights, or other mechanisms for live performances of various types, and most set builders are experienced carpenters. Costumers, more often than not, have advanced degrees in costume design and construction. Those interested in finding a career on the more administrative side of an opera company may follow a more traditional path, getting a Bachelor's degree in a humanities field, business, or marketing, depending on the role.
It takes a village to make an opera, and every production is all hands on deck. If you're not one for the stage, but want to work in opera, consider a career as a member of a production staff.
The National Opera Association supports a diverse community of opera educators and professionals.
OPERA America supports the creation, presentation, and enjoyment of opera in the US.
Local 829 is a labor union and professional association for designers and scenic artists.
The International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees is the union for theatrical stage employees, moving picture technicians, artists and allied crafts.