Risk-taking Fort Worth Opera leader suddenly departs after 16 years
There seems to be some confusion over at Fort Worth Opera. On February 13, the Fort Worth Star-Telegramreported that the company's general director for the last 16 years, Darren K. Woods, had been terminated. Woods says in the same article that he asked to leave.
FWO board chairman Mike Martinez told the paper that they will be seeking to hire a new general director who will "focus more on business and management ... to be creative with the fundraising and development aspect. We just didn’t feel Darren could provide us with that leadership from that aspect."
The search for a new artistic director begins immediately, though seasons are planned until 2020.
A statement from the FWO board of directors was released shortly after the article posted online. In it, Woods' artistic vision and contributions are praised but the need for stronger financial support is repeatedly stressed.
"The new economic times within which we find ourselves present unique challenges that call for a fresh perspective and an innovative approach to an aging business model. After months of discussion, the Board of Directors has decided the best thing for all parties is to build on the artistic foundation we have forged together, while allowing each of us to grow and meet new challenges."
For his part, Woods tells the Star-Telegram that "I think it’s best I go a different direction with my life. I have wanted to go into a little bit different direction, where I am dealing more with new music, librettists, singers ..."
Woods is also artistic director and new music specialist at the Seagle Music Colony in central New York, and he expressed a desire to be able to spend more time there. He tells the Star-Telegram that he is unsure whether he will remain in Fort Worth. On his Facebook page, he posted, "I have been told not to post on social media but I just want to say thank you to all of you for the love you have given me. I am so blessed."
During his time with FWO, Woods championed new works and revived the festival format that the company has been using since 2007. Last year's highly publicized and critically lauded opera JFK, by David T. Little and Royce Vavrek, was only the latest in a series of world premieres commissioned and programmed by Woods; others include Thomas Pastieri’s Frau Margot (2007), Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls (2010), and Daniel Crozier and Peter M. Krask’s With Blood, With Ink (2014).
The regional premieres of Angels in America, Dog Days, Glory Denied, Dead Man Walking, and Silent Night, along with the first Fort Worth productions of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw and Philip Glass' Hydrogen Jukebox, furthered Woods' risk-taking cred.
He also introduced the Frontiers program, which showcases 20 minutes of new works in progress. The 2017 Frontiers lineup was recently announced, and participating works range from a doomed love triangle to stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe to an opera that follows the search for Colombia’s most notorious cocaine trafficker, Pablo Escobar.
TheaterJones reports that after the 2016 opera festival, which included JFK, the Fort Worth Opera had a large budget shortfall and began a campaign to raise $1 million in a matching grant, which it achieved.
Fort Worth Opera chairman emeritus Jill Fischer closes the statement by saying, "Fort Worth and Darren K. Woods were made for each other — they both combine a love for the arts with a determination to do things their own way. I thank Darren for the passion and energy he brought to the Fort Worth Opera for the past 16 years. We both may be turning a page, but our stories will be forever intertwined. Thank you, Darren."