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Long Beach Opera's Andreas Mitisek adds a new post in Chicago

December 6, 2011 | 10:01 pm

Andreas Mitisek, leader of Long Beach OperaDefying the conventional wisdom that two heads are better than one, Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater announced Wednesday that the adventurous Southern California company’s general director, Andreas Mitisek, will do double duty starting in September, when he’ll assume the same role in Chicago.

Both companies are dwarfed by major operatic neighbors — Los Angeles Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago — but each has won respect with repertoire that’s either contemporary and offbeat or old but well off the beaten path.

Mitisek said he aims to “build synergies for two companies that are so unique in the landscape of opera in the United States,” and foresees one or two co-productions each season.

“There were other candidates who could do an excellent job, but he stood out on so many levels,” said Gregory O’Leary, board president of the Chicago company.

Sue Bienkowski, president of Long Beach Opera’s board, said it was no surprise that Mitisek, 48, had become a desirable catch. Under him, the company has more than doubled its annual budgets, to a shade over $1 million. She said Long Beach Opera is “close to finalizing” an extension of his current five-year contract beyond its 2013 expiration.

Mitisek has a five-year deal in Chicago, where he will succeed Brian Dickie, a highly regarded Englishman who announced in January that he would return in 2012 to Great Britain after 13 years leading the Chicago company. Mirroring a trend in opera, Chicago Opera Theater’s annual budgets have shrunk nearly 25% over the last four years, down to about $2.5 million.

Double-duty leadership has borne questionable results for Southern California’s two biggest opera companies. Los Angeles Opera’s general director, Plácido Domingo, also led Washington National Opera until earlier this year, and both companies ran into financial problems. For its first decade, Orange County’s Opera Pacific shared general director David DiChiera with Detroit’s Michigan Opera Theatre, and was running a big deficit when he left in 1996. Never having built a broad enough donor base, Opera Pacific folded in 2008.

Marc Scorca, president of Opera America, a nonprofit national service organization, said this week that those cases were complex, with no “causal link” between multitasking bosses and financial difficulties. He said that Mitisek, who serves on Opera America’s board, has “the energy, effectiveness and sensitivity” to pull it off. “Andreas is an inventive artist, and among the most disciplined workaholics I know.”

Mitisek says he regards fundraising “not as a duty but actually a pleasure,” and expects to be hands-on in both cities; both companies count on contributions for more than half their money.

Mitisek earned $98,641 from Long Beach Opera in 2009 and Dickie’s pay was $145,233, according to the companies’ most recent tax returns.

Long Beach Opera's seasons of four productions have been divided between the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro and the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, but also typically include smaller-scaled works in unorthodox spaces.

The 2012 season calls for two or three stagings of each production. The last two are a May mounting of Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang’s “Ainadamar,” about the life of Federico Garcia Lorca, in the abandoned former quarters of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and a June staging of Michael Nyman’s “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” at a former furniture warehouse.

Chicago Opera Theater’s seasons consist of three operas. It may branch offsite for special productions under Mitisek, board president O’Leary said, but is committed to the Harris Theater, its 1,525-seat home in Millennium Park.

As for those 3 1/2-hour flights back and forth, Mitisek said, “it’s actually a great perk, a time to really get focused, without interruptions.” He'll find an apartment in Chicago while keeping his home in Long Beach; his three cats will simply have to adjust. “I haven’t told them the full truth," Mitisek quipped. "But I have great friends and neighbors,” who he says will make sure they’re OK when he’s in Chicago.

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He led opera out of the ordinary

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Andreas Mitisek, general director of Long Beach Opera. Credit: Ricardo de Aratanha/Los Angeles Times

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