Festival Opera’s new General Director, Zachary Gordin, has joined a cadre of cutting-edge visionaries in opera leadership that are giving audiences and artists hope that the art form will survive and thrive in seasons to come. Gordin brings to this new role the artistic experience of a decades-long career as a critically acclaimed Baritone. He brings a proven track record, along with a breadth and depth of experience as an impresario, conductor, educator, artist mentor and organizational consultant.
Gordin began his administrative relationship with FO in the role of Artistic Advisor, providing crucial guidance in producing a successful fundraising Gala in 2018. Shortly thereafter, Gordin was appointed Artistic Director for the 2019 Season. Of his debut as Artistic Director, San Francisco Classical Voice wrote: “A gripping production of Carlisle Floyd’s tragedy Susannah this past weekend made it clear that Festival Opera has returned to full production in high gear. After several years of reduced offerings, the Walnut Creek-based company, with newly appointed artistic director Zachary Gordin, brought this lush American opera to the Lesher Center with savvy stage direction and first-class music from singers and orchestra.” The same publication later named FO “Best New Discovery” in their annual “Best of the Bay” awards. Gordin has since created the Festival Opera Artist Recital Series, where audiences can experience principal artists in an intimate salon setting, featuring innovative and inclusive programming. His promotion to General Director is a harbinger of many more such innovations and artistically uplifting seasons for this newly restored cultural asset of the Bay Area.
An Oakland native son, Gordin grew up amid all of the arts and multi-cultural offerings that the Bay is famous for. During his early childhood, he was inspired by his Great-Grandfather, an organist, and began his own training on keyboard instruments. To this day Gordin’s keyboard skills are concert quality and he has even been known to fill in as accompanist in opera rehearsals, or to play harpsichord continuo with baroque ensembles. His own experience being from a diverse cultural background, and as a participant in once-robust public school music programs, informs Gordin’s ongoing dedication to community programming and building educational access. He firmly believes, with his own life as testament, that classical music has something to offer every human being and every community. As a music educator, Gordin has served on the voice faculties of the Oakland School for the Arts, Santa Clara University, and currently holds a post at Sonoma State University and the Green Music Center, conducting and directing operas and training vocal performance majors. Through his own vocal studio in Oakland, he has trained and mentored many artists who perform on the world’s great stages.
Gordin continues his work as a sought-after performer and presenter. His passion for fitness, community engagement, artistic consulting, and mentoring makes him a positive influence in online and social media spaces as well as print and television. Gordin continues to collaborate and communicate in ways that uplift and lead the opera world toward a more innovative, equitable and worldly position in society. With his reverence for tradition, his passion for excellence, and his modern and socially progressive vision, Festival Opera will be in skilled and restorative hands for years to come.
Bryan Nies is the Principal Conductor of Festival Opera, Associate Conductor of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Lecturer at Stanford University, and continues to conduct engaging modern opera and symphonic concerts. He returned to Festival Opera to conduct performances of Mozart’s Die Entführung in a Star Trek-themed production in 2016, Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins in 2017, and Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah in 2019. With West Edge Opera, he conducted the West Coast premiere of Laura Kaminsky’s As One and has conducted Erling Wold’s last three operas: Queer, Certitude and Joy (World Premiere), and Uksus. In 2012, he completed an eight year tenure as Principal Conductor of Oakland Youth Orchestra, which he led on international tours including Costa Rica and Australia and New Zealand during the orchestra's 40th season. Nies conducted sold-out performances of Puccini's Turandot, Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, and Bizet's Carmen at Festival Opera to rave reviews that stated, "Nies is undeniably a talent to watch." In addition, he has been a cover conductor for the St. Louis Symphony, conducted performances with Opera Idaho (Cosí fan tutte and Il barbiere di Siviglia), and the Oakland Chamber Ensemble. With Eugene Onegin, Bryan made his Opera San José debut as principal conductor after serving as assistant conductor for 12 company productions between 2003 and 2012: Don Pasquale, Die Zauberflöte, The Crucible, Un ballo in maschera, Manon, La Rondine, Werther, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Die Fledermaus, La voix humaine, Pagliacci, and the West Coast premiere of Anna Karenina, becoming the second conductor to perform the work.
Pursuing an avid interest in all musical genres, Nies has also been an associate music director with American Musical Theater of San José, Theatreworks in Palo Alto, was on the faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and San Jose State University where he was director of orchestras and opera. He regularly performs in recital and has debuted his first recording "Amour sans ailes: Songs of Reynaldo Hahn" on the MSR Classics label which was named “Best Lieder Recording of 2017.”
During the summer of 2002, he was honored with a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship to participate as a conductor at the Tanglewood Music Center. There he conducted performances to rave reviews in the Boston Globe. In addition, he received personal instruction with many leading conductors, including Michael Morgan, Roberto Abbado, Jeffery Tate, Hans Vonk, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, and Grant Llewellyn.
A native of Chicago, IL, Nies also holds a B.M. in Piano Performance and a B.A. in Psychology from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. He has won numerous piano competitions in the Chicago area including a Gramma Fisher Scholarship to study at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. In addition, he has performed with William Warfield for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, as their Assistant Conductor. Nies also served on the staff of Northwestern University's Theater Department as vocal coach and piano accompanist.
Board of Directors
Susie Hanson, Chair
David Baer, Secretary
Timothy Evans, Treasurer
Frederica von Stade
Ted Weis, MD, Founder
Artistic & Production Staff
General & Artistic Director: Zachary Gordin
Principal Conductor: Bryan Nies
Artistic Advisor: Michael Morgan
Resident Stage Director & Choreographer: Mark Foehringer
Director of Production: Frederic O. Boulay
Orchestra Personnel Manager: Carole Klein
Chorus Manager: Elizabeth Robertson
Director of Marketing: Dick Brundage
Press and Media Relations: Blake Hill-Saya
Director of Social Media: Ruchi Kapila
Executive Assistant: Kristen Campbell
Bookkeeper: Lori Howard
Graphic Design: Temerity Design