We recently announced, on Facebook, that Hal France will be guest blogging about the Bluebeard’s Castle rehearsal process. The post received many “likes” from the Omaha community. However, some of you may be wondering, “Who is Hal France?” This information is for you and for anyone who would simply like to know more about this enthusiastic, energetic arts and arts education advocate.
Hal served as Opera Omaha’s Artistic Director for nearly 10 years, from 1995-2005. We are thrilled to have him return to conduct Bluebeard’s Castle. In addition to preparing for our production, Hal is currently teaching an opera appreciation course at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In February, Hal returned to his alma mater, Northwestern University, to conduct The Grapes of Wrath. He is a hard-working and positive part of our vital Omaha arts community.
Watch for Hal’s blog posts to begin within the next two weeks. He will share insights and observations from the Bluebeard’s Castle rehearsal process. It’s sure to be an exciting and educational series!
First, we’ll share Hal’s official (and impressive) conducting biography from his management company, Pinnacle Arts Management. More information about the conductor’s operatic repertoire is available on the company’s website.
Hal France is a sought after guest conductor of opera throughout the U.S.A. He has conducted nine productions for the Houston Grand Opera, seven productions for Central City Opera (La Fanciulla del West, L’Italiana in Algeri, Gloriana, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Saint of Bleecker Street, Candide, and Susannah), four productions for Opera Theater of St. Louis (including the world premiere of Beauty and the Beast), five productions for Kentucky Opera, three productions each for the New York City Opera (Oliver Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are, The Ballad of Baby Doe, and the world premiere of Ezra Laderman’s Marilyn) and Orlando Opera (Macbeth, The Merry Widow and Il Barbiere di Siviglia), and two productions each for Cleveland Opera (Tosca and Rigoletto), Madison Opera (La Boheme and The Magic Flute), Calgary Opera (Tosca and The Ballad of Baby Doe), and Utah Opera (Lucia di Lammermoor and Romeo et Juliette).
Elsewhere, he has conducted productions for Seattle Opera and Florida Grand Opera (The Passion of Jonathan Wade), Minnesota Opera (Madama Butterfly), Opera Company of Philadelphia (The Rake’s Progress), Santa Fe Opera (A Dream Play – world premiere), Portland Opera (Tosca), Chautauqua Opera, Glimmerglass Opera (Iolanthe), Tulsa Opera (Don Pasquale), Opera Carolina, Chicago Opera Theater, Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Hawaii Opera Theater, Arkansas Opera Theater, Mobile Opera and the Manhattan School of Music (Street Scene). In Europe, he has conducted Maria Stuarda with the Royal Opera in Stockholm.
Notable future engagements include productions of The Grapes of Wrath at Northwestern University, Bluebeard’s Castle at Opera Omaha, and Show Boat at Central City Opera.
Mr. France has served as Artistic Director of Opera Omaha, as Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic, as Resident and Associate Conductor for the Houston Grand Opera, Music Director of the Mobile Opera, Lake George Opera Festival, and as Music Director of Opera Omaha before assuming the position of Artistic Director. He was also Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic. Early in his career, he served on the music staffs of the Glyndebourne Festival, Aspen Festival, and the Netherlands Opera. He began his professional career as assistant to John DeMain at the Houston Grand Opera.
On the concert stage, he has conducted the Richmond Symphony, Orlando Philharmonic, Nebraska Festival Orchestra and Jacksonville Symphony in subscription concerts, and the Chautauqua Festival Orchestra, Juilliard Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony in special galas.
Next, we present the transcript of an interview with Hal for the Nebraskans for the Arts website. In this interview, Hal answers questions posed by Marjorie Maas about his arts education experience and influential people along the way.
Interview with Hal France, relayed by Nebraskans for the Arts Director, Marjorie Maas
MM: What set you on a path pursuing the arts? Did you have a particularly impactful arts educator?
HF: I had some very strong experiences in elementary school and a very large hiatus until college. My parents were both strong in education and the arts. No one pushed me, but it was there. I had a wonderful music teacher in sixth grade, Mrs. Fish, in band and the production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.” She really supported me and made it a lot of fun. I hadn’t been on stage that much, I’m sure I was pretty obnoxious. But I was so excited by it, that I thrust myself forward. I didn’t see any other way to do it. That was one of the best years of my life; it had so many dimensions to it.
I had a fine piano teacher third grade to eighth grade, Mr. Cafarelli. I also played piano for kids at school, and noticed when I did that girls were more interested in me. I didn’t really have arts in high school and was very involved in sports, football and basketball. As I got into junior high, sports won over.
MM: What transitioned you back to the arts, opera in particular?
HF: I got to end of high school 1970, and there was a lot of music going around that was related to what we were doing with the Vietnam War. I started writing songs and performing in coffee houses, and this led me back to take music lessons, piano lessons in particular. Mrs. Wolffe was my teacher, and I studied with her for a summer. She gave me recognition of my ability and told me I was very musical. People don’t necessarily know that themselves.
I went from not playing the piano to playing eight hours a day. This changed my life; all my friends were athletes. I became a different kind of person. I would consider Mrs. Wolffe my most important art teacher; she gave me a view of myself that I wouldn’t have had by myself. It impacted me so much so – that I would later become a music major.
Starting my sophomore year, I took a lot more music classes. Then I transferred to another school for a better program. This led to me following a teacher out to Los Angeles. I got hooked up with opera at 24 and then went on to Julliard. When I got to opera, it made sense, it was definitely what I wanted to do. That early experience of being in a production early on made all the difference.
MM: Anything else you would like to say?
HF: My parents never pushed me – they waited a long time to see if this was really what interested me, and then gave me 100% support. I was also so shaped by being involved in opera, which is the collaboration of the arts. It gave me an opportunity to work with people in different areas of arts.
(Arts) teachers open doors for people, I had some that opened doors for me. Then, they leave it up to you. You never know what the door might lead to – it might not be a career in the arts, but it will be something. It’s a window into yourself.
Thank you for taking time to learn more about Conductor, Hal France.
Tickets for Bluebeard’s Castle on April 19, 2013 and April 21, 2013 are available online through Ticket Omaha or by calling 402-345-0606. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Hal conduct Bartok’s only opera! Call or go online to get your tickets today!