Profile Phriday is BACK!
Today’s Profile Phriday focuses on one of the nicest guys in opera: Fort Worth Opera’s Company Manager, Nathan DePoint. Nathan started as a singer, but now works behind-the-scenes at one of the most innovative festivals in the country. I was lucky enough to get to know him last year during the Opera America Leadership Intensive, and I think you’ll find his story rings some bells – here it is.
So, Nathan. What exactly is it that you do?
I am currently the Company Manager for Fort Worth Opera. That title means a lot of things, but ultimately I deal mostly with logistics and patience! The fun parts of my job are hearing auditions and helping to plan future seasons and casting. I also enjoy casting and working with our chorus master to manage our chorus. The stressful and biggest part of my job is handling all the logistics of our visiting artists. I plan the travel, housing and transportation for each of our guest artists. From the middle of March to the middle of May each year, I am on-call 24/7. As soon as our artists arrive, I act as the first point of contact for them – anything from doctor recommendations and appointments to dry cleaners! I also assemble and distribute the daily schedule during the festival and assist with many random production-based tasks. Almost every single day is different – it keeps me on my toes!
Aaah…a juggler of sorts! So when did you get the opera bug?
Growing up in a small town in western NY, I never really had any exposure to opera. My performing arts exposure was limited to mostly musicals; but while working on my BA, my voice really just opened up. That was when opera became a viable option, when I was hooked.
I can recall two very distinct performance moments that have led me to this point. The first would be the first operatic role I ever learned and performed. It was the role of Gil in Wolf-Ferrari’s one act opera The Secret of Susanna (we did it in English). It was such an amazing experience to perform my first opera “under the stairs” in Jones Recital Hall on the campus of John Brown University. From then on, I have basically been consuming opera. The second specific memory I have is of seeing my first professional opera – Rigoletto produced by Tulsa Opera. Being at a small school, our productions were all done with piano. To hear, live, the combination of the singers and the orchestra was overwhelming. I remember getting goosebumps up and down my arms when hearing the “Sparafucilleeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and wanting so badly to be a bass! (Obviously, I learned quickly that baritone was the best voice type.)
Hey, my guilty pleasure is Pierrot’s Tanzlied – you don’t have to sell me on baritones! So, you earned a degree in Voice/Opera?
I have two degrees in music. I earned my BA in Music with an emphasis in Vocal Performance from a small school in Northwest Arkansas called John Brown University, and my MM in Opera Performance from Wichita State University. Starting my undergrad, I was actually a double-major in Music and, believe it or not, Construction Management (I have always been drawn to architecture, and that was intended to be a stepping stone to that end.) I chose Music as the other major because I had always been involved in it. I grew up singing – in church choir, the choir at school or in high school musicals. (GO MUSIC EDUCATION!) I can’t remember a time when singing wasn’t an aspect of my life.
But how did you move from on-stage to off? (I hear that lattes were involved?)
I moved to Fort Worth, Texas following graduate school, and while I was working at Starbucks, I met Darren Keith Woods. Darren is the General Director of Fort Worth Opera. One of my fellow Starbucks employees worked for another non-profit that shared the building with FWO, so he made a call. I am pretty sure that conversation went something like:
“Hey, so I am working with this opera singer at Starbucks”
DKW: “Oh, brother…”
“I’m just wondering if you would be interested in meeting him”
DKW: (being the generous human he is) “Sure. I’ll just stop to get a coffee and talk with him for a few minutes”
Little did I know how instrumental he would be in my life going forward, and what an incredible mentor he would become. After hearing me sing, he invited me to participate with the FWO Studio Artists in masterclasses, and when they needed to release the baritone from the studio, they called me up to replace him. He asked if I could learn Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk (the two children’s operas) in time for a Monday performance. This was Thursday afternoon. So, of course I said, “yes” and faked my way through that first performance. I finished out the year covering Sharpless in Butterfly and Ford in Falstaff, as well as creating (and retiring, since the role has been subsequently cut from the opera) the role of Jos in the world premiere of Frau Margot in the inaugural Fort Worth Opera Festival in 2007.
The final “defining” moment really was my final audition season. It was fall of 2007. I had taken a “real job” at a law firm to please the parents of the girl I was dating at the time – that whole social pressure of the male being the provider – and it was wearing me out. We broke up, and that left me with this job that was draining any joy from life. Then I went to audition! As you can probably imagine, it was just awful. I wasn’t singing well. I wasn’t satisfied with being the second choice, and quite frankly, I was a good singer, but not great. As I had been in the Fort Worth Opera studio the spring prior, I called up Darren and talked to him about moving into a job that would allow me to still be involved in the art form without having to be a singer. It just so happened that they were looking for a Development Associate and the rest is history.
There are obvious advantages in starting an administrator’s journey as a singer: most obvious is knowing the repertoire from a different point of view. You know the score on a totally different level when you’ve studied them from a singer’s perspective rather than simply plugging in voices to a cast list. You have a better idea of how voice colors do or don’t work in certain roles. My thought process while transitioning was this: to figure out what skills I needed to become a successful GD. Starting in development was an obvious advantage: as a General Director, if you can’t raise money, you aren’t going to be very successful. Looking back, I think being a singer was a waypost on my journey – I don’t see this as a back-up at all! Administration was always something in which I was interested.
I think the solidifying moment for me; the moment that made me sure I had made the right decision, was when I was accepted, as one of twelve people world-wide, into the Opera America Leadership Intensive program in the summer of 2012. The program is designed to recognize and cultivate the next generation of operatic leaders.
So, what are your favorite parts of your job?
Coming up with solutions. It sounds simple, but really, that is it. Sometimes the solutions are easily achieved, but there are times when they are really a puzzle. Those are the ones that give me the most satisfaction.
Another source of great satisfaction is when our guest artists want to return to Fort Worth. That tells me that the experience of being in Fort Worth was a good one beyond just the stage, and they want to relive it. I know that I have a large part to play in that, and take that responsibility very seriously. It’s fun when I get to see friends year after year come back. That’s when I know I’ve done my job well.
Do you regret leaving the stage?
I have never had one moment of regret since I made the transition: I am not the type of person that can do something halfway. When I decided, I also decided I would never sing again. Period. Not practice, not dabble…it was cold turkey. The only exception I have made was when I sang for my little sister at her wedding (talk about nerve-wracking!!). Other than that, I haven’t even entertained the thought of it. If you can honestly say that you won’t regret it, then you are ready.
The interesting thing to me is that I haven’t even really MISSED it! Every now and again, when I see a production of Nozze, I have the slightest pang of missing it (The Count was my favorite character to create), but it was the relationships, the bonding and the fun creating during the rehearsal process that I miss. I was never one of those singers that enjoyed the performing part nearly as much as the process. That’s what I loved about being a singer; being creative, being allowed to explore and try things…also, not having my days start until 10 am was pretty great, too!
Do you have any advice for conflicted singers/performers?
The only advice I could really give to a performer faced with this decision is to ask them this question; will you regret it? If any part of you can answer that with a “yes”, you aren’t ready to give it up.
Follow your gut. It is almost always right.
Be honest. Be upfront. Be a good colleague. Don’t be afraid to invest in others. Best advice I could give.
Words to live by. Thanks for sharing your story!