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Puttin’ on the Weitz

Opera Omaha Welcomes Roger Weitz

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Roger Weitz is back home.The native son assumed the role of Opera Omahageneral director last summer following a long stint asChicago Opera Theater artistic administrator andgeneral manager.

The Westside High graduate’s return marks ahomecoming in many ways. While studying artsadministration at Carleton College (Northfield, Minn.),where the legacy student followed his parents, Weitzworked an Opera Omahainternship. That experienceproved formative.

"It gave me my first peek at what it would mean to bein the professional world of arts administration andfrom then on that was my path," he said. "I found outjust how many things go into arts administration. Allthe planning. You're not a performer but it takes almostas much creativity to make it all come together."

A lifelong choir singer, Weitz studied piano and voice,majoring in music in college, but never seriouslyconsidered a professional performing career.

"To be a performer you have to have this real fireburning inside you, and I didn't have that passion."

Besides, he battled "horrible stage fright."



Weitz remains unfazed by public speaking and often does sotouting Opera Omaha. Community engagement is a major focusfor Weitz, whose philanthropic parents, Wally and Barbara Weitzand their Weitz Family Foundation, seek to break the cycle ofpoverty by supporting education programs. Like his family, Rogerbelieves the arts enrich lives, saying, “We need to be a part of thecommunity, serving the community and improving the life of thecommunity to make a better Omaha.”

He foresees the company’s educational outreach efforts addingmore opportunities for youth participation in opera.

"If you can get them creating it I think you really hook them for life,and the wonderful thing about opera is that it involves so manyforms of expression. I think opera is actually a great way tointroduce kids into the arts."

Giving youths a solid foundation is a focus of Building BrightFutures, among the educational initiatives his family supports. Hisparents always emphasized giving back.

"They've really set a great example. I wouldn't think of doing itdifferently myself.

They're huge shoes to fill. I want to honor them, so I'm very muchaware of that. The fact this is my hometown and I have this legacyonly raises the stakes. I need to do everything in my power to dothe best job possible. I don't want to let down the community, myfamily or the wonderful people that brought me in and who aretaking a chance on me."

At 34 Weitz may seem young to head an opera company but he'salready led one of comparable size and scope. The wunderkindenjoyed a fast rise in Chicago and enhanced his training as an ArtsManagement Institute Fellow at the Kennedy Center for thePerforming Arts. He’s worked opera’s expense and income sides,giving him a deep appreciation for what it takes to mount and sellproductions. He can answer donors’ hard questions.

If anything, he sees his age as “an opportunity” to reach a youngergeneration and thus cultivate new audiences.

Getting opera more love, he said, takes quality programming, goodcommunication and relationship building. Referring to Omaha’s“arts renaissance,” he said, “I would love for Opera Omahato getcaught up in that wave of new energy and excitement. That’s achallenge and an opportunity because I don't think we’re quite inthat wave yet.” He’s confident interesting programs and newpartnerships will draw new members. "We need to state our casefor support."

“One way to get the word out and to get some extra buy-in is bycollaborating. Future productions are going to have a highlycollaborative nature to them. If we can get other groups involvedand get their patrons to give opera a chance, then we can open updoors. We just need people to give it a chance.”

Opera Omaha's 54th season kicked off with This is Opera!andHansel & Greteland continues Feb. 17-19 with The MarriageContractand April 13 and 15 with The Mikado. He expects futureseasons to represent similar range. Meanwhile, he championsopera as "the best deal in town," saying. "For the price of oneticket you get a night at the symphony, the theater, the art gallery.”Opera, too, he said, is great literature and design. Where else, heasks, can you get so much?

He didn’t expect the stars would align to bring him home to runOpera Omahabut he’s glad it happened, especially as he and hiswife Kate have just started a family.

“I’m thrilled.”




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