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Elizabeth Hughes | Photo: Ellen Barnes | December 26, 2013
Arizona Opera’s General Director, Ryan Taylor, is earning rave reviews.
The artistic community is applauding Ryan Taylor for his role in the turnaround of Arizona Opera, but the 40-something says humbly, “Trust is earned.”
The company promoted Taylor to general director in April 2013, amid its financial crisis, and after his brief but successful run as director of artistic administration. “When I started with the company, we had a little over $3 million in debt,” he explains. “Our annual budget was somewhere around the $5.5 million mark, and that’s not a terribly healthy ratio for an organization that has to raise that money or earn that money every single year.”
An alum of The Atlanta Opera and an industry veteran with 10 years’ worth of performances under his belt, Taylor was working as an artist representative in Manhattan and in community development for Wolf Trap Opera Company in Virginia when Arizona Opera extended an offer. In his first months of leadership as general director, Taylor raised $1 million by enlisting the collaboration of his board, securing gifts and inspiring staff to donate, among other efforts.
But Taylor says his mission is far from accomplished. Arizona raises 60 percent of its opera budget from ticket sales, exceeding national averages by up to 40 percent. The statistic sounds enviable, but Taylor clarifies there’s room to grow contribution revenue. To do that, the organization continues to stage classics with widespread appeal, such as this season’s La bohème, as well as offer discounts to students and make visits to schools across the state—since exposing youth to the art form is crucial to fostering a future generation of opera lovers. “We’re really looking at rebuilding support across the state, just by showing people what we do,” he says.
Taylor himself attended a performance when he was young and claims it had him hooked—a reason he encourages would-be opera enthusiasts to take the plunge. “Just give us a try,” he says. “If you’ve never been, there’s the idea that it’s a little bit scary and that you have to be highly cultured to appreciate it. I really don’t think that’s the case at all. I think that if you go to something that grabs you from the gut the minute you experience it the first time, it’s probably something you’re going to want to stick with and spend more time around.” No doubt that after the next fabulous Arizona Opera performance you attend, you will being singing Taylor’s praises too.