“I was a senior in high school when I just fell in love with it—the storytelling, the costumes, the sets, the music—everything.”
Robyn Watson first became enamored with opera at a young age while a student in Tulsa, Okla. She has carried that love of the art form with her ever since.
Thirteen years ago, Watson moved to the Wood River Valley full time and soon became a regular attendee of Sun Valley Opera events. Fast-forward to summer 2019, and her passion for the opera has landed her the position of executive director of the Sun Valley Opera.
Earlier this year, after many years of devoted service, Mary Jo Helmeke retired from that role and passed the torch to Watson.
“I’m excited. We had a busy summer full of concerts, and I’m looking forward to the next items on the agenda,” Watson said. “We’re planning to continue to bring the high quality of performer that our audiences have come to know and expect from us.”
The opera’s summer festival concluded just this past Sunday, Sept. 1, with a Country Cookout event featuring live music by up-and-coming country music star Brandon Lay, who also played the Wagon Days street party the day before.
That event concisely captured what the Sun Valley Opera hopes to do for the local arts and music landscape. Though the word “opera” concludes the organization’s moniker, and that genre accounts for a fair amount of its programming, its reach extends well beyond the boundaries of opera.
“For the summer especially, we like to offer lots of different genres of vocal arts,” Watson explained. “You get a little Broadway, a little this and that, some country music. We are not just the opera. We are really the vocal arts.”
The winter season typically supplies a greater amount of traditional operatic performances, but diversity is the name of the game for the summer.
“Versatility is as important for us as it is for an artist, especially since we don’t present full-on operas,” Watson said. “We present vocal experiences.”
As executive director, she plans to maintain that pattern and trajectory, but hopes to enact far more community and educational outreach programs.
As it stands, students are always admitted free to Sun Valley Opera events, but Watson feels that this fact is not widely known among the general public.
This year, the opera also awarded a college scholarship to a Sage School graduate who will be pursuing vocal studies as an undergraduate.
“She will receive $5,000 a year for four years as long as she remains in the vocal arts,” Watson said, stressing that the opera hopes to continue offering scholarship opportunities for local students.
She also hopes to arrange for performers to visit local classrooms and provide educational content directly to children of all ages.
“I want to get our artists into the schools to engage with students, especially the younger ones. The artists I’ve spoken to are all extremely enthusiastic about doing that,” she said.
Along with preparing for the 2019-20 winter series and arranging for those classroom visits, Watson is busy at work gearing up for the return of the Met HD Live performance screening series. During those events, the Sun Valley Opera streams live performances by the New York Metropolitan Opera onto a big screen at the Big Wood 4 cinema in Hailey.
The first of those screenings is slated for Saturday, Oct. 12. To kick things off, attendees will be treated to mimosas and muffins before the show begins. The debut performance of the 2019-20 series will be Puccini’s “Turandot.”
To learn more about the Sun Valley Opera and its upcoming events, visit sunvalleyopera.com. As 2019 heads into its final quarter, the opera promises another exciting season, and Robyn Watson hopes to serve well as the new executive director.