Darren Woods, FW Opera’s gay boss, steps into the limelight (literally) for the 1st time at Bass
The Fort Worth Opera has done its festival format since the spring of 2007, but this year, the festival takes on a different tenor.
That’s because Darren Woods, the gay general director of FWO since 2001, is moving from behind the scenes to in front of them, taking on a singing role in its production of The Daughter of the Regiment, opening Saturday.
It’s not wholly a vanity move — there were financial considerations, as well.
“My price was right — I didn’t charge myself anything,” Woods laughs.
In all seriousness, this is a big development. Woods’ last singing gig (outside of the shower, at least) was at the New York City Opera in 1999, after which he retired from performing and transitioned into administration. But it is a homecoming of sorts.
“This is a role I did a looonnng time ago,” Woods says. “It’s not a big singing part, but it is a funny role — the long-suffering valet to the Marquise,” played by Woods’ longtime friend, Joyce Castle, with whom he shared the stage countless times back in his performance days. “When we realized she was doing the Marquise, I thought this was the one role we never did together, and would be a good time to correct that.”
At least, it seemed like a good idea 14 months ago when he came up with it. As the festival opens, he’s not so sure.
The opera comique, by Donizetti, is one of the more accessible in the classical canon (FWO will perform it in French; an Italian version is also less-widely performed) — a “silly, wonderful story about a baby left with a regiment and raised by all of them as their daughter,” Woods says. “It’s sort of a musical theater piece since it has dialogue, but it’s considered a ‘singers’ piece’ — the ensembles are so intricate.
It’s a really fun romp with beautiful music. Most of my singing is with the chorus, but I have a few solo licks to show people I still got it!”
It also caps a crazy year for Woods. In addition to acting and coordinating the festival (and planning next year’s), last summer Woods and his long-term partner married. Now he’s back onstage.
“I love performing — it has been a fun, fun time. But believe me, I am not gonna make a habit of this,” he says.
In some ways, it hasn’t been that much of an interruption to Woods’ schedule.
“I’m at every single rehearsal, every performance — I go because I might need to answer questions, such as whether we need to go into overtime with the orchestra,” he says. “But it wouldn’t work if the people involved weren’t who they are. Ava Pine [who plays the title role] is like a daughter to me, and Rod Nelman [who plays Sgt. Sulpice] is a regular here. It really feels like we’re doing a college play.”
The difference is: in college, the juniors don’t sign the sophomores’ paychecks. That’s where Woods can be tested.
“It can get schizophrenic,” he concedes. “I don’t think you can be somebody’s boss and colleague at the same time. I go to rehearsals and put on the character tenor hat; when I walk out of that rehearsal, I become the general director again.”
Still, the process has led to some amusing conversations.
“We were doing a scene and I asked [the director] Dorothy Danner a question. She said, ‘Take it up with the general director.’”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 26, 2013.