Opera Company names David B. Devan general director

David B. Devan, here since 2006.
David B. Devan, here since 2006.
Posted: February 08, 2011

The understudy has landed the lead role.

David B. Devan has been named the Opera Company of Philadelphia's new general director.

Devan, 48, has been shouldering increasing responsibility since coming to the Philadelphia troupe as managing director in 2006, after serving as director of Pacific Opera Victoria in British Columbia.

Robert B. Driver, leader of the company since 1991 and now artistic director, has been gradually handing over parts of the job to Devan and will continue to handle artistic matters - developing productions and coproductions, scouting vocal talent with music director Corrado Rovaris, guiding repertoire decisions, and directing one or two productions each season.

Devan's five-year contract runs through May 2016. Asked about his salary, he said it would not change, referring a reporter to the company's tax returns, which showed total compensation of $184,000 in 2010.

The decision was official as of the Opera Company's Jan. 7 board meeting, but by the time of that vote, it was a fait accompli. Devan was brought aboard for what was intended as a five-year grooming process that started with a William Penn Foundation-funded search for Driver's successor.

"When I started five years ago, this was the plan," said Devan. "We each gravitated toward what we do best."

The innovations begun by Devan and his team will continue. The company will repeat its successful practice of presenting three traditional operas in the 2,900-seat Academy of Music, while developing more innovative repertoire for the 600-seat Perelman Theater (although the exact ratio of three in the Academy and one in the Perelman could change slightly).

On the funding front, it hasn't escaped the notice of Opera Company leaders that just 90 miles to the northeast, three of the Metropolitan Opera's biggest funders have Philadelphia roots: the Annenberg Foundation, Toll Bros., and the Neubauer Family Foundation. Whether it can attract that kind of big-league support, Philadelphia's much smaller company is determined to expand its donor base.

"We need to make sure we're attracting new philanthropists," said Devan, "to ward off fatigue for our most loyal donors."

The company is almost halfway to goal in its "Fueling Artistic Excellence" campaign, a $10 million, three-year initiative launched in May 2010 to support artistic initiatives.

Devan expects that, in a short time, the company will have $2 million in operating capital. While not the same as an endowment, it puts the company in a better position than it was in three years ago, when it wasn't sure it could meet payroll.

Partnerships with other opera companies on new productions and commissions will continue, as will exploration of new media. The Opera Company had tremendous popular success with its flash-opera video of the Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus at Macy's, which has drawn more than seven million views on YouTube. The question now being pondered is whether any of the same principles can be applied to electronic distribution of actual operas - which would further the goal of creating a "digital footprint" considerably larger than the live one experienced by audiences in the Broad Street theaters.

"It's a great business plan," said board chairman Stephen A. Madva. "Our goal is to become one of the five most influential opera companies in America."

For his part, Driver is relieved to have handed over the administrative reins to someone else. He marvels at the fact that the company now is participating so exuberantly in social media and new technology. When he took the job in 1991, he was shocked to discover that technological abilities were so stunted that a patron could not purchase Opera Company of Philadelphia tickets with a credit card - nor over the phone.

"I remember coming home and calling my wife and saying: 'This is going to be harder than I thought.' "


Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at pdobrin@phillynews.com

or 215-854-5611. He blogs

at www.philly.com/philly/

blogs/artswatch.

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