October 12th, 2009 by Paula Fowler
October 2009 marks an important anniversary for Utah Opera: exactly 10 years ago, Christopher McBeth began his work in artistic direction with the company. It is fitting that for his anniversary, the company will produce Macbeth, an opera that is both one of Christopher’s favorites among the standard opera repertoire and one that is a near namesake.
Christopher is quick to point out that his name is not unlucky—that there is no little “a” and there is a “big B” (many actors believe saying “Macbeth” instead of “the Scottish play” will jinx a performance). But he’s still a Scot, so he can’t help but enjoy Lucia and Macbeth, two famous Scottish operas.
I suspect that you have noted the stellar quality of the last decade of Utah Opera productions, and particularly the superb casting in productions like last season’s Don Pasquale and Regina. Despite recent financial downturns and funding challenges, Christopher has managed to hire great singing actors for our productions, and his technical staff has continued creating impressive visual spectacles on the Capitol Theatre stage.
Christopher did not begin as a lover of opera: his father was a United Methodist minister in Wisconsin, so Christopher’s first musical experiences were singing hymns in church gatherings. He went to college in Iowa intent on becoming a high school choir teacher, but there was introduced to opera and changed his major to vocal performance (listen to his speaking voice just once, and you’ll hear his rich baritone).
Christopher married soprano Julie Poe just after graduation, and they both earned master’s degrees in vocal performance at Baylor University in Texas. But gradually they both decided that they didn’t want the separated lifestyle a singing career requires, and they both started exploring the behind-the-scenes side of opera. Julie now is personal assistant to USUO’s CEO, and she occasionally sings in the opera chorus (she will be onstage in Macbeth).
Christopher put his own singing aside to become an administrator. Most critical in his learning curve were two experiences: serving as personal assistant to David Gockley, famed general director of Houston Grand Opera, now at San Francisco; and working as both director of production and artistic administrator for Fort Worth Opera.
The McBeths have dedicated their lives to making opera, but they also wanted to settle those lives in a beautiful place. They found the perfect combination of those goals in their positions with Utah Opera, where, in addition to producing excellent mainstage opera, Christopher oversees the young artist Ensemble program. He especially delights in launching new talents, and in bringing back exceptional artists he has helped discover to enrich our Utah Opera productions.