After three decades with FM Opera, David Hamilton prepares for farewell season
“Any arts organization benefits from new blood and new ideas,” Hamilton says.
The FM Opera announced that Hamilton is stepping down after leading the organization for more than 20 years.
“Any arts organization benefits from new blood and new ideas,” Hamilton says. “It’s a good thing for an organization to try something new and take it in exciting directions.”
After starting in the troupe as a performer in 1994, he took over as artistic director in 1999 and became general director seven years later.
Hamilton says his role was fairly unique as artistic and executive director, which will require extra help finding the next director. FM Opera is working with a Toronto-based firm that specializes in operas to find a new leader and Hamilton says he won’t be involved in the search for his replacement.
He is also retiring from his day job, teaching music at Concordia College, at the end of the school year.
“I find myself drawn to create beauty wherever I am. I’ll miss the creative process. It’s so gratifying to see on the stage something I helped create,” he says.
In his tenure with FM Opera, Hamilton created art on and off the stage, transforming the organization from a mostly community group to a professional opera where performers are paid. The company claims that Fargo-Moorhead is the smallest community to have a full-season professional opera company.
It’s one of the highlights he lists when thinking about his time with the organization.
“One of my big dreams that Gate City Bank made possible was the Young Artists Program,” Hamilton says of another of his accomplishments. “It gives us more reach into the schools and community and gives training and opportunity for young artists.”
Emerging singers from around the country will apply to get in. The four or five picked annually come to town in January, perform chamber concerts, meet with community groups and schools and may even be cast in the spring mainstage performance.
Alicia Russell Tagert and Lloyd Reshard Jr., the leads in “The Marriage of Figaro,” which opens the season on Oct. 28, are both former Young Artists, as will be some in the cast of next spring’s “La Bohème.”
Hamilton says a couple of recent productions have been his favorites, like 2019’s “Carmen” set during the Spanish Civil War. And then there was that fall’s “Hansel and Gretel,” which featured Hamilton going Dame Edna-like drag.
“I had a blast singing the Witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel,’” the tenor says.
He also takes pride in 2014’s pair of world premieres, modern twists on the writings by Edgar Allan Poe. The troupe partnered with American Lyric Theater in New York and Fort Worth (Texas) Opera to produce the show.
“It’s the most expensive production we’ve ever done, but it’s worth it,” Hamilton said at the time.
“Funding is a continual challenge. Opera is very expensive because of all of the people involved,” Hamilton says. “Realistically, because of finances, we’re not going to produce Wagner anytime soon.”
He says overcoming old notions of what opera is has been one of his biggest obstacles.
“Trying to dispel some of the stereotypes of opera, I think it’s much more compelling storytelling than people think,” he says. “It’s really gratifying that we’re producing 21st Century opera, the stories of today.”
Hamilton says the board allowed him to pick his two favorite operas for what the organization has started billing “the farewell season” to the longtime director. He adds that another favorite, “Turandot,” will likely be produced by his successor.
This will be the third time “Figaro” and “La Bohème” have been produced since Hamilton started in the opera in 1994, making them the most popular shows alongside “Cinderella,” which was performed last year.
While he starred in those shows more than 20 years ago, he wasn’t interested in trying on the roles for old time’s sake.
“No one wants to see a 60-something Rodolfo,” he says, referring to the male lead in “La Bohème.” "You have to have a little self-awareness.”
Hamilton doesn't know what's next for him professionally. He and his husband, Bernie Erickson, will move to Palm Springs after retirement .
"Who knows, maybe I'll get something started out there," Hamilton says.