Cincinnati Opera CEO Christopher Milligan on Cancelling the Company’s 100th Anniversary Season

Cincinnati Opera’s general director and CEO says the company’s first live forays will likely feature nontraditional spaces, particularly outdoor venues.

“We face many of the same challenges as other organizations: uncertainty, abandoned plans, caring for a workforce of contract employees, and reimagining how we fulfill our mission under these circumstances. But performing arts organizations also have special challenges associated with social distancing: We can’t build sets. Our singers can’t rehearse or perform. Our audiences can’t gather. So, in the short term, we are innovating. Long term, we’re being patient and looking forward to our return to Music Hall in 2021.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

“This summer marks the company’s 100th anniversary. So, as you might imagine, we’ve been planning for more than two years for a big celebratory season. But Music Hall closed in mid-March, and our staff began working from home. We began daily crisis management team meetings to track developments, and pretty quickly we identified key decision dates for the fate of the season. When it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to start building sets or gathering people for rehearsals, we had to cancel the entire 2020 season. I think we all expected it, but the finality was heartbreaking.

+Cincinnati Magazine looks back to see how Cincinnatians of the past made it through their dark days and to the leaders of today’s efforts to move forward. Read all the stories here.

“Now we have several digital series going. One is called Apartment Arias, which features singers who would have been part of our 2020 season performing from their homes all around the world. Though they’ll never compete with the live experience, the pieces offer an opportunity to get to know the singers in an authentic and intimate way—an interesting reimaging of opera. The company’s first live forays will likely feature nontraditional spaces, particularly outdoor venues.

“Besides the opera’s supportive board and resourceful staff, two other things have kept me going over the past few months. The first is music. At least once a day I listen to something like the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or the aria “Nessun Dorma,” which remind me that we can triumph. The second is a question leaders will be asked months and years from now: What did you do to help during the 2020 pandemic? I know how I want to answer that.”

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