Sun Valley grad is artistic administrator of Dallas Opera

Jun. 30, 2014 @ 10:46 AM

Ian Derrer, 39, remembers long commutes with his parents from Monroe to Charlotte for piano lessons, singing and most importantly, opera. 

His exposure to opera, through performing and watching his parents, led to a lifelong passion and career. 

Derrer, a Sun Valley High School graduate, was recently named artistic administrator for the Dallas Opera in Texas. He begins full-time in mid-August. 

His journey through opera began as a child with the Charlotte Opera Association, now called Carolina Opera. He said his parents were both in the amateur chorus. He often tagged along and watched rehearsals and eventually took the stage, initially as a supernumerary, which is an on-stage role but there is no singing or speaking. 

“Opera was always in my house,” he said. He said his parents had a big opera collection and really liked performing. 

He rose from a supernumerary to the child chorus and eventually to the chorus in Charlotte. 

Derrer received an undergraduate degree in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University and master’s degrees in opera production, voice and performing arts management from Northwestern University and Brooklyn College.

He performed onstage for many years in school and some semi-professional performances. He said that when he was in Dallas earlier in his career, he worked with a director who thought he had the talent to be a stage director. 

He worked as a production assistant, stage manager and assistant director among other positions. 

“I got bit by that and incidentally found my way into doing that,” he said. He added that he found it to be as interesting as singing was. 

“It was just a mix of me trying to really figure out, do I really like singing more or directing more and it was really hard for me to find which one was my niche,” he said. 

He said that it took him a while, but after a number of years building up experience backstage and onstage, he realized administration was his calling. 

“I had this kind of dual approach to knowing what it was like to be a performer,” he said. “All the pieces came together ... once that clicked, everything seemed to go pretty quickly.” 

He has worked for the Santa Fe Opera, Opera Carolina, Opera Atlanta, Opera Pacific and other companies. He will move to Dallas from Chicago, where he worked with Lyric Opera of Chicago. 

In his new position, he said he will be working hand-in-hand with the general and music directors and offering up the ability to facilitate their visions and grow a great repertoire of singers. 

“In the midst of a superb group of candidates, Ian really stood out. I am delighted to add him to my senior artistic team,” Keith Cerny, general director and chief executive officer of Dallas Opera said in a statement. “Ian is well-known in the opera world for his wide-ranging background as a performer, stage director and administrator, as well as being equally renowned for his superb teamwork and leadership skills. With this exciting appointment, I am pleased to have completed my artistic leadership team.”

“I have known Ian for nearly ten years, and have worked with him both at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Santa Fe Opera,” Music Director Emmanuel Villaume said in a statement. “I have been consistently impressed with his ability to manage complex situations with diplomacy and tact; and I have developed great admiration for his knowledge of singers and their craft. I very much look forward to working with Ian in his new role.”

Derrer is excited to work with the directors. 

“(Cerny and Villaume) already have in hand a great idea of what they want and they have great ideas,” he said. “Dallas has this well-establish history of great singing ... it’s a company that knows great singing and great opera and the city does as well.” 

Derrer said it was a tremendous honor to be charged with safeguarding the company’s history. 

Growing up in Monroe, he said Sun Valley did not have a music program, apart from band. So his parents supplemented his interests elsewhere, mostly in Charlotte. 

“My parents went so above and beyond,” Derrer said. “I think of the hours spent in a car driving from Monroe to Charlotte back and forth ... they just did it and encouraged me the whole way.” 

Derrer hopes future generations will be inspired to love opera the way he was by his parents and the people at the Charlotte Opera Company. 

He said his mother was a teacher at Indian Trail Elementary for many years and used to bring her students to dress rehearsals and used to expose children to opera. 

“She has a love for it,” he said. He added that she always fostered it in her students. “The longer I’m in that business, the more valuable I know that is.” 

He said that any kind of love of the art form his mother may have past on is going to continue tog row. 

“That’s where it starts,” he said. “It was enough to light a fire in me.” 

Derrer believes that opera will continue to captivate new audiences. 

“I’m one of those people who remains confident that this art form...it really has the ability to captivate and inspire young people because it is so spectacular in its nature,” he said. 

He said that if people see an opera and if they are not overwhelmed aurally, they are overwhelmed by the spectacle and the nature of the staging. 

“As long as we continue to inspire people and really find good opportunities for young people to see it in its grandeur, we’ll be just fine,” he said. 

He has seen some outreach to children in Chicago, where the children watch opera and then get to come backstage and see how the production is made, meet the musicians and the singers. 

“You can’t beat the wide-eyed splendor that these kids come into the first time they’ve been to an opera house,” Derrer said. “It’s a really heart-warming experience, I have to say.” 

Derrer remembers being a child entranced by the opera. 

“I think what’s interest is that ... it’s a small town, Monroe, and I love it very much and I grew up in a family that loved (opera),” he said, noting that there are not many opera lovers in Monroe. “As a kid, I very much felt like an outsider because I had this love and passion for something that was uncommon.” 

He said his parents and the cast at the opera saw him through and took him for a great ride. 

He said now he is able to encourage other children “in a way that I hope is contagious for a lot of people,” he said. 

He said he would not be where he is today without the encouragement from family. 

“It was enough to make you feel like you were a part of something that was really wonderful,” he said.