SFOpera - Backstage with Matthew-Creating the Art of Opera

Backstage with Matthew-Creating the Art of Opera

In just a few days, the street lights and bus sides of San Francisco will be transformed with the arrival of the Opera’s new bold, energetic marketing campaign.

Back in October we met with our advertising agency, Mission Minded to explore designs for the summer campaign. We had already decided that the three classic operas—La Bohème, Don Giovanni and Rigoletto—would be ideal reflections of the Summer of Love celebration sweeping the City. But in that meeting we realized that the combination of popular titles, the aesthetic of the 1960s, and a desire to capture public attention gave us an exciting new possibility: to explore the summer operas through the graphic visual style of the Summer of Love.

Taking us on what became a vanguard design journey was Pamela Sevilla, our Marketing Manager, Single Tickets. Pam is responsible for coordinating the design and implementation of all our single ticket strategies which, for Summer 2017, means helping to sell 32,000 tickets (representing $3.4M in revenue) across three operas in a very tight window of just one month of performances.

Pam began with the Opera in January 2012 as Marketing Associate. She grew up in the City but left for San Diego to pursue an education in music theater, getting a Masters in Theatre Arts, focusing on Arts Administration and Dramaturgy. While at San Diego she ran the box office, performed, and worked as a Literary Associate and Festival Coordinator for Native Voices at the Autry. On finishing her Masters, she got a job in audience development at the Sierra Repertory Theater before coming to the Opera. Although her background was in music theater, not opera, she fell in love with the art-form after seeing Nixon in China here and developed an affinity for the more challenging operas like Makropulos and Partenope. In reading a blog written by David Gockley about the connection of American music theater to opera, she realized that the two worlds were not so far apart and began to feel much more at home in the opera house.

Pam with sketches-in-progress for the summer campaign.

With Pam’s background being in theater, she enjoys being able to see the operas unfold on our stage, from the first piano dress rehearsal to feeling the audience’s dynamic on opening night. But she also has a huge pride in her own creative process. She remembers seeing her work for the first time as she walked out of BART and looked up at the 6-foot-tall pole banners displayed around Civic Center, and the 20-foot-high banners on the front of the Opera House! For Pam, it was an amazing moment, seeing the manifestation of her creative role in the marketing campaigns. 
Once we were set on a graphic approach for this summer, Pam began digging into possible options with Mission Minded, looking for designers who would utilize bright colors, a high level of sophistication, and something out of the ordinary. Using the historic Folsom Street posters but also the turn-of-the-century Ricordi opera posters as inspirations, they pulled together three artists for us to review.

Early inspirations for the Summer of Love campaign.  

Matt Leunig’s art quickly rose to the top. We loved his bold, confident sensibility. He was local, living in Oakland, and he had a history designing posters for music events. It quickly became clear that Matt was a strong collaborator, willing to explore a variety of designs. For Pam this was a fascinating new approach. Typically our campaigns utilize photos and so are ostensibly fixed once the photos are chosen. With graphic art from a commissioned artist we were able to go back and forth, refining and experimenting along the way. You can also see a video interview with Matt Leunig and me.

(left) A recent Matt Leunig poster for a Van Morrison concert at SFJAZZ; (right) Matt and I in his Oakland studio. 

Pam started by focusing with Matt and Mission Minded on the most important elements of each opera—the aspects that created the emotional core. Originally the concept was to find one figure for each opera. But as the iterative process went along some interesting dualities developed. Bohème worked much better with both lovers. Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda became represented as the dagger handle, and in Giovanni the specter of the Commendatore rose up behind the wayward Don. Then the arc of all those characters came together in a singular spread on the front of the Opera House with the realization between Pam and Matt that we could have, for the first time ever, a full image taking up that space.

The sketch for the front-of-house banners going up next week.

This has been a thrilling new direction for the Opera and we’re proud to be celebrating the iconic Summer of Love through the lens of our summer operas. Pam has made this possible through her exciting work with Matt and Mission Minded and I’m thrilled to see the results come to life! Pam, by the way, is still performing in San Francisco, having done a cabaret show recently and has recently finished a run of Avenue Q at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. It’s inspiring to see the breadth of talent across the full spectrum of the Opera!

Pam as Christmas Eve in Avenue Q. Photo by Lois Tema. 

Here’s to a great summer of opera ahead!

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