Christopher Mattaliano steps aside as general director, becoming artistic consultant, while Sue Dixon takes over company on interim basis

COURTESY: PORTLAND OPERA - The Portland Opera is moving on from Christopher Mattaliano as general director.The Portland Opera is undergoing an executive leadership change.

Christopher Mattaliano, general director for 16 years, will step aside as the company executive leader and serve as artistic consultant beginning with the 2019-20 season, and Sue Dixon took over as interim general director as of Monday, July 15.

In a news release, the opera did not specify the reason behind the move, and whether it was Mattaliano's decision or not. He said change in leadership was part of a new "strategic plan."

"I was incredibly fortunate to become Portland Opera's general director in 2003, and the past 16 years have been among the most satisfying and meaningful years of my life," Mattaliano said. "I have formed deep, lifelong friendships within the Portland community, and have been very blessed to work with a great staff and extraordinary artists. Completing the framework for a new strategic plan that will build Portland Opera's future created the right time for me to step aside."

Said Curtis T. Thompson, president of the board of directors: "We are looking forward to building upon his work with this next chapter for Portland Opera, and with Sue Dixon's leadership, vision and commitment to community."

Dixon, as director of external affairs, currently oversees all aspects of fundraising, marketing, sales, communications and special events.

"I know first-hand that we have realized many great accomplishments, and also that we have great work ahead of us," she said. "As we look toward creating the future, we celebrate Chris' legacy at Portland Opera."

Dixon wasn't made available for further comment Wednesday.

The opera, which Mattaliano said had survived struggles during economic downturns that hurt arts companies, switched to a spring-summer schedule in 2016, but recently started putting on events in fall and winter again.

At the time of the schedule change, in 2015, Mattaliano said the Opera felt it needed to "challenge" itself and be "proactive" in the face of financial issues with other opera and symphony companies around the country. Mattaliano said the Portland Opera had been financially stable, but it also wanted to remain financially stable.

But finances weren't the only reason for changing to the summer schedule.

"We wanted to make a bold change," he said at the time. Changing to summer "allows us to be artistically viable, and maintain a level of excellence that we strive for.

"There's very little happening during the summer (in Portland) for classical music outside of Chamber Music Northwest. We felt we could make a larger footprint during the summer months in Portland."

Portland Opera is currently staging "La Finta Giardiniera," a new production of Mozart's heartbreaking and comedic work, at Newmark Theatre. Remaining shows are July 18, July 20, July 24 and July 27, all at 7:30 p.m.

Portland Opera puts on the Philip Glass opera "In the Penal Colony" for the first time, starting July 26 at Hampton Opera Center.

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There had been other management changes in recent years, including Dixon taking over the new position within the department of external affairs.

"We are taking a holistic view with this change and recognizing that our patrons don't fall into discrete categories of donors or ticket buyers, but rather as opera and musical theater lovers who participate with us in a wide variety of ways," Mattaliano said in October 2017. The changes at the time allowed the opera to "more efficiently and effectively serve our patrons and be responsive to our community."

Then, in October 2018, Mattaliano said the opera decided to go to a year-round schedule, answering the suggestions of fans that wanted to see shows in the fall and winter months. They use the Hampton Opera Center, Keller Auditorium and Newmark Theatre for shows.

"We're unique, probably the only opera company with three venues," Mattaliano said at the time.

"We're in our third year of this schedule adjustment, and the clear message we've gotten from our patrons is that they miss the opera in the fall and winter. On one hand, people are enjoying dining outside and having a drink and dressing more casually going to opera in the summer; on the other hand, we felt we needed fans to know that we're listening to them."

He added: "We're picking up subscriptions significantly, and we feel like we're over that hump, that people are now embracing the summer season. But, at the same time (fans) made clear they don't want us out of season; they want one grand opera in the winter. ... We feel we've hit upon a good formula moving forward."

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