The Fort Worth Opera’s new general and artistic director will be a locally based artist and educator, officials announced Wednesday.
Angela Turner Wilson, Fort Worth-based opera singer and Texas Christian University’s chair of the vocal arts division, will begin her new position Dec. 12. Wilson replaces Afton Battle, who announced her resignation in October after two years.
“We were looking for strong leadership, performance experience on a national scale and someone who knows how to manage and grow an important arts organization,” said Fort Worth Opera Board Vice Chairman Hayne Shumate. “We were fortunate to find these qualities and capabilities in Angela Turner Wilson, and we can’t wait to see her take our organization to new heights.“
Wilson, 51, a soprano, has performed with the Fort Worth Opera and has appeared with the New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Boston Lyric Opera, Atlanta Opera, Portland Opera and the Dallas Opera among others. She has served on the faculty of the vocal arts division at TCU since 2008 and was named chair of the vocal arts division in 2019. She was also the founding director of TCU’s “Festival of American Song.” Turner will leave her TCU position at the end of this semester.
“I am honored that the Fort Worth Opera asked me to lead this important organization,” Wilson said. “Fort Worth Opera is a pillar of the fine arts in Fort Worth. I look forward to continuing the FWO’s high standard of artistic excellence and community outreach while expanding the national reach of the company into an exciting future.”
Wilson said she wants to “hit the ground running.”
“My background has prepared me,” she said. “My connections and roots are here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. … This is very exciting for me.”
Under Battle, Fort Worth Opera shifted away from its festival format and moved to a year-round season. The pandemic caused Fort Worth Opera to cancel its 2020 festival and the company began virtual offerings. It has since been performing smaller-scale productions – chamber operas and concert works – and away from the more expensive Bass Hall full-scale opera productions. But plans are to return to that venue with a large-scale production in 2024, but that will require a larger budget, Shumate said.
“Our budget needs to increase so that we can do fully staged operas, and we can be in Bass Hall as often as we want to be,” he said. “That’s going to take a different kind of fundraising than we were really doing before.”
Battle was named as general director following the departure of Tuomas Hiltunen in January 2020. Hiltunen oversaw two seasons after taking over after longtime general director Darren Woods was fired in 2017. According to the nonprofit organization’s filings, the company had been carrying several years of debt. Under Woods, the Fort Worth Opera had pursued an ambitious agenda, including a high-profile, but poorly received original opera, “JFK.”
Shumate said fundraising is a key focus going forward.
“I think the fundraising philosophy, prior to my involvement or Angela’s, relied too much on social media and email correspondence,” he said. “Moving forward, I guess the expression is ‘boots on the ground.’ We need to be talking to people face-to-face about our challenges, and also how exciting the future really should be and can be.”
Wilson will keep both the general director and artistic director titles though those roles could be split in the future, Shumate said.
“We talked about it, but for right now, we’re keeping it as is,” he said.
Wilson said she is ready to get in front of people.
“Now that we are post-pandemic, it is back to making those personal relationships, making eye contact, shaking hands, one-on-one, having coffees, lunch, dinners, making those connections and making it personal again,” she said.
Shumate said that while the company will be moving toward larger productions, there will still be a focus on smaller productions out in the community that were a hallmark of Battle’s tenure.
“There is a recognition, I think, throughout opera in the U.S. that it has to be made more relevant going forward, that it has to represent the community better, and Afton was a real leader in that regard,” he said. “I want to assure everybody on our staff and our customers and anybody that’s out there that this change doesn’t represent a change from that.”
The Fort Worth Opera will continue to find pieces and programs that are relevant to the community, the younger audiences and diverse audiences, he said.
“There are some great historic works, and they’re wonderful to perform and we’re going to do that.” he said. “But at the same time, we have gained a commitment over the last 10 years really to trying to get closer to our community and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Wilson performed with the Fort Worth Opera in L’Italiana di Algieri and Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini. While maintaining a busy performing career, Wilson began serving on the faculty of the vocal arts division at TCU in 2008. Wilson has performed at several high-profile events, including performing at the Clinton White House for a state dinner honoring Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in 1998. She also performed at the opening of the Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in 2013.Wilson was one of several opera singers to accuse opera star Placido Domingo of harassment.
Wilson believes Fort Worth is ready for a strong opera organization.
“Opera is the most expensive art to perform, art to produce. So it’s always going to have its challenges,” she said. “But I do feel like post-pandemic, there’s a wave of optimism. And I think that we will become a part of that where people can understand that it’s time once again to reclaim our lives and do the things that add beauty to them. And one of those things is to attend beautiful productions we have here at the Fort Worth Opera.”
Wilson is a long-time resident of the Fort Worth-area. She and her husband, Michael, are parents of two children: Luke, a freshman at TCU; and Wyatt, a sophomore at Keller High School.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.