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Leadership in flux as general director now is artistic consultant; he said 'I love this company' and plans to possibly direct productions for Portland Opera and others

COURTESY: PORTLAND OPERA - Christopher Mattaliano, longtime Portland Opera general director, has helped set up the company's 2019-20 season.After its unceremonious parting with General Director Christopher Mattaliano, Portland Opera expects to move carefully on finding its new executive leader.

Sue Dixon, the director of external affairs, took over as interim general director Monday, July 15.

"The board of directors is working closely with OPERA America to lay out the full plan for this transition and search," said Curtis T. Thompson, board president, in an email response to the Tribune.

Mattaliano, the general director for 16 years, said in a news release that his departure came as part of the opera's new "strategic plan." He'll remain with Portland Opera as an artistic consultant.

He said in an email to the Tribune that "after much thinking, discussion with my family, etc." that he worked out an agreement to transition to an artistic consultant, in which he'll serve as an advisor and possibly direct productions.

"I love this company," he said. "But, after 16 years as general director, I am stepping away from the ongoing fundraising, budgeting, management of a large staff, and 60-70-hour work weeks.

"I have freelance directing engagements with other opera companies during the next two seasons. I still enjoy being a guest artist, and the change with Portland Opera allows me more time and flexibility to continue doing so."

Mattaliano was paid $253,151 in the 2017 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2018.

Thompson addressed Mattaliano via email: "Chris decided to transition. He will be part of the team as an artistic consultant for the 2019-20 season. ... This past year we've been working closely with The Metropolitan Group to create a framework for a five-year strategic plan for the company, to serve as a road map for our next chapter. As Chris mentioned in his statement, the time was right for him to pursue new directions, also. So, we both feel this change represents an opportunity to celebrate Chris' legacy as we create our future."

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

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

Mattaliano had helped put together a full lineup of 2019-20 operas: "Madama Butterfly," Oct. 25-Nov. 2; "An American Quartet," Feb. 7-15, 2020; "Bajazet," March 20-28, 2020; Big Night Concert, May 9, 2020; "Pagliacci," June 5-13, 2020; "Three Decembers," July 17-25, 2020.

The parting seemed abrupt, as Mattaliano had all his power within Portland Opera stripped. There have been multiple other management changes in recent years.

The opera 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 shared by 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.

Then, in October 2018, Mattaliano said the opera decided to go to a year-round schedule, answering the suggestions of fans who wanted to see shows in the fall and winter months.

Was Portland Opera struggling financially after the schedule change?

Said Thompson: "We face many of the same challenges that opera companies and performing arts organizations across the country are navigating, and some of those challenges include a decline in subscription revenue and diversified contributed revenue sources. Some of the strengths that make us unique include being the nonprofit partner of Broadway in Portland, owning our own building and rehearsal/studio spaces overlooking the Willamette River, and having a healthy endowment."

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