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 and former Associate Conductor of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, where he served under a Bruno Walter Memorial Conductor’s Grant. He continues to conduct critically acclaimed opera and symphony performances, including the West Coast Premiere of As One with West Edge Opera, Cosí fan tutte and Il barbiere di Siviglia with Opera Idaho, performances with Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra, Diablo Symphony, St. Louis Symphony (Cover Conductor), and has conducted Erling Wold’s last three operas: Queer, Uksus, and the World Premiere of Certitude and Joy.
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. As Assistant Conductor for Opera San José, he worked on Don Pasquale, Die Zauberflöte, The Crucible, Un ballo in maschera, Manon, La Rondine, Werther, Barber of Seville, Die Fledermaus, La voix humaine, Pagliacci, and the West Coast Premiere of Anna Karenina, becoming the second conductor to perform the work. With Eugene Onegin, Bryan made his Opera San José debut as Principal Conductor. His work with Festival Opera is equally robust, including award winning productions of Floyd’s Susannah, A Jake Heggie Triptych, a Star Trek themed production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Puccini’s Turandot and Tosca, Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, and multiple productions of Bizet’s Carmen with reviews that stated, "Nies is undeniably a talent to watch."
He can be heard on the MSR Classics release of Amour sans ailes: Songs of Reynaldo Hahn with baritone Zachary Gordin, which was named “Best Lieder Recording of 2017” by Voix des Arts, and is regularly in demand as a collaborative pianist. Pursuing an avid interest in all musical genres, Nies has also been an Associate Music Director for American Musical Theater of San Jose, Theatreworks in Palo Alto, and was on the faculty at Stanford University, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and San Jose State University where he was Director of Orchestras and Opera. During the summer of 2002, Nies 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 professional conductors, including Michael Morgan, Roberto Abbado, Jeffery Tate, Hans Vonk, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, and Grant Llewellyn.
A native of Chicago, Nies holds a BM in Piano Performance and a BA in Psychology from Northwestern University. 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, as Assistant Conductor of the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, and 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
Michael Morgan, Artistic Advisor Laureate
Diane Farrell Mauch
Frederica von Stade
Philip J. Terry
Ted Weis, MD, Founder
Artistic & Production Staff
General & Artistic Director: Zachary Gordin
Principal Conductor: Bryan Nies
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
Director of Social Media: Ruchi Kapila
Press Representatives: Davidson & Choy Publicity
Media and Marketing Consultant: Blake Hill-Saya
Executive Assistant: Kristen Campbell
Bookkeeper: Lori Howard
Graphic Design: Temerity Design