Opera Santa Barbara (OSB) has a new artistic director. As just the fourth music director in OSB’s 21-year history, Kostis Protopapas steps into a coveted position as the organization’s primary creative force. He has directed Tulsa Opera for the past seven years, and, as is common practice among artistic directors in the classical world, he will retain that role while expanding his career to include his responsibilities in our city. Protopapas has also served as assistant conductor at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, and Santa Fe Opera. Known for his boldness in championing new work, Protopapas is equally at home with opera’s standard repertoire. His recent and upcoming schedule spans a remarkable range of periods and genres, from La bohème to Of Mice and Men.
Asked about his decision to take the job with Opera Santa Barbara, Protopapas praised the rigor of the selection process and touted the company’s reputation as a magnet for young and talented singers. With degrees in art history and archaeology from the University of Athens in his native Greece, the maestro clearly frames music in a larger cultural context. In describing his goals for Opera Santa Barbara, he said, “the future of the art form is really the most important thing. Although some people think opera is a sound museum of old music, it’s actually a living, breathing art and one that has, in the 21st century, become very American.” His interest in serving the community goes beyond programming and performing, as he believes strongly that “opera has the potential to reach everyone, but to do that it has to be out there. We have to bring it to the schools and where people are.”
As artistic director, Protopapas sees listening and learning about Santa Barbara as his first task. He’s glad to have this year, which is already programmed and begins with Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Granada on November 6 and 8, as a time to hear what people have to say about what’s being done now. “Every community is different,” he said, “and the first thing on my mind is how to reach as many people as we can and how to do it in a substantial way.” Asked if we should expect to see some newer works or even some premieres as part of his tenure, the maestro demurred, implying that it’s too early for him to say. What he did say was, “I will certainly always remain interested in new works, but the real challenge is to achieve a valid mix and to say something with the standard repertoire.” For Steven Sharpe, the dynamic general director of OSB, this appointment is a big step toward an even brighter future. Sharpe said that “given Kostis’s remarkable record of achievement, as well as the respect he justly commands in our industry, we are confident that he will contribute significantly to our artistic and educational efforts. This appointment marks an important and exciting milestone in the evolution of our company.”