Fort Worth Opera on Monday parted ways with its general director of 16 years, Darren K. Woods.
Citing a desire to move the company in different directions financially and artistically, board chairman Mike Martinez said FWO terminated Woods’ position with the company and is seeking to hire a new general director immediately.
“After several months of ... discussing our future, we felt that it would be best if Fort Worth Opera had a change at the general director position,” Martinez said in an interview Monday night. The opera seeks to hire a leader to “focus more on business and management ... to be creative with the fundraising and development aspect,” he said, adding that, “we just didn’t feel Darren could provide us with that leadership from that aspect.”
Woods said he and the board also had a difference of opinion on the opera’s artistic direction.
“I think it’s best I go a different direction with my life,” Woods said by phone Monday night. “I have wanted to go into a little bit different direction where I am dealing more with new music, librettists, singers ...”
He added that he’d like to spend more time at the Seagle Music Colony in central New York, where he serves as artistic director and new music specialist.
In his time at Fort Worth Opera, Woods became known as a champion of new works and new ideas, having introduced a festival format to the season, a Frontiers showcase of operas-in-progress, and numerous new works to Fort Worth stages.
“I’ve been most proud of ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Glory Denied,’ ‘Angels in America’ and ‘JFK,’” Woods said, “of putting out the voices of new composers in the world.”
Woods said he is unsure whether he’ll stay in Fort Worth; “future plans are in flux.”
One of the board’s goals, Martinez said, is to increase the number of FWO productions, which will increase costs, “obviously a thing we’ll have to achieve in terms of fundraising.” This season, there are three operas, a special opening-night concert and a Frontiers showcase in the festival, which begins April 15.
He acknowledged there were other artistic differences with Woods but declined to elaborate. Seasons are planned until 2020, he said.
Last summer, Fort Worth Opera became a shining example of fundraising in the arts community when it surpassed its goal of raising $500,000 in three months. The money raised was matched by an anonymous donor and helped cover a projected deficit of about $675,000 from the 2015-16 season — the result of a decline in giving and the $1.3 million price tag of the opera’s world premiere of “JFK.” The critically acclaimed work raised the company’s annual budget — usually between $4.5 and $4.7 million — to $5.2 million, opera officials said.
“JFK met our expectations artistically, the audience was there, and media organizations from all the country and the world covered it,” then-FWO board president Al Saenz told the Star-Telegram on June 1, “but the money didn’t follow like we thought.”
As part of the gift-match challenge, Tarrant-area community leaders, businesspeople and artists showed support. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price pledged the first donation to the campaign.
In an Aug. 31 Star-Telegram story on the conclusion of the “Million Dollar Summer” campaign, Woods stated his vision of growth for the opera company — which included his own goal of increasing the number of productions in each season.
“My vision is to get back to four productions, no matter what,” Woods told the newspaper then, adding, “We will try to get back to that in 2018 with two traditional pieces and two new pieces.”
Under Woods’ leadership, Fort Worth Opera has built an international reputation as a company unafraid to take risks artistically. This spring, FWO moves into what it’s calling the second phase of its Opera of the Americas series, “Noches de Ópera,” with a commitment to Spanish-language operas that will extend to 2020. This year’s festival will feature the area premiere of the mariachi opera “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”). The work, which blends mariachi and opera music, tells the story of a family divided by borders.
“If you’re not reflecting your community, you’re not going to survive, “ Woods told the Star-Telegram when the “Noches” initiative was announced last spring.
The 2017 festival will also feature the area premiere of “Voir Dire,” about the courtroom drama that plays out after a horrific crime. The work was the winner of FWO’s 2014 Frontiers new works showcase. Also on the festival bill is Georges Bizet’s beloved “Carmen.”
When asked whether Woods was offered a position as artistic director alongside a separate chief financial officer, Martinez said the board discussed several scenarios with him, but ultimately, he said, the board decided a parting of ways was best.
A national search for a new general director will begin shortly, Martinez said. “We would love to be able to announce a new general director to the festival, but we’ll be very deliberate, pragmatic, and find the best candidate to bring to our organization,” he said.
Martinez said Woods has brought the opera “to a point where we felt good artistically.” Now, he said, it’s time to move forward with a new general director who can help shape the company’s future, which includes being a good steward of donors’ money.
“The board of trustees is greatly appreciative of where Darren has brought us, and that is a focus on new works,” Martinez said. “We embrace that, we celebrate that, we envision [building] on that moving forward.”
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.