The creative force adjusts to a new cultural landscape at the opera center.
Like almost any child, Carrie-Ann Matheson did not grow up loving opera—her native small town in Canada wasn’t exactly a hub. But when she was studying piano performance at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, a trombonist friend noticed a sense of drama in her playing and suggested the medium. She brushed him off. But he played her Puccini and Verdi, and they saw Turandot live. “It was amazing, the grandeur of the whole thing,” she says. “Opera is such an all-encompassing art form.” And like the princess in the story, she fell in love.
Beginning in January, Matheson will join the prestigious, industry-leading San Francisco Opera Center as its new artistic director, a role that mainly involves coaching, scouting and casting talent, as well as overseeing the selective Adler Fellowship with new general manager Markus Beam.
A conductor and pianist who cut her teeth at The Metropolitan Opera in New York and Zürich Opera House, Matheson is expanding the fellowship into a more holistic experience that includes training in financial management, wellness and diversity, in addition to the arts.
“We want to train the entire person, not just the artist,” Matheson says. “We want to see them live as thriving human beings, as well as artists.”
Although she’ll now be busy coaching the talent of the singers she once thought were crazy, Matheson still plans to perform herself in recitals with singers. However, the role of cultural institutions such as opera houses has undeniably changed in the wake of the pandemic. Many, like SF Opera, have opened past performances up to streaming, possibly ushering in a new generation of fans. In Zürich, the government funds cultural institutions, and Matheson has still been able to perform in limited-capacity concerts. So I can’t help but ask: Why would she want to come to the U.S.?
“The truth is that this is a really exciting time to help rebuild,” she says. “This is going to end. Now is when we need to get our creative juices flowing to get audiences back. Then they’ll get to see it live. And opera online is great, but opera live is amazing.”