We Want Answers: David Devan, General Director of Opera Philadelphia

The general director of Opera Philadelphia talks about Twitter at the opera, proper audience attire — and playoff hockey.

Photograph by Stefan Radke

Photograph by Gene Smirnov

Earlier this season, you hosted a “Tweet at the Opera” experiment and something called a “Robot Opera.” Do you worry that any of this stuff is going to look gimmicky? No, not at all. I mean, we’re not doing the “tweet seats” to be gimmicky. We are trying to do new things. We do them in a controlled way — the “tweet seats” were a section. We weren’t trying to get a headline out of it. We weren’t trying to be notorious. We wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t disrupt patrons … and we were successful in doing that.

Your predecessor, Robert Driver, was once flagellated with a newspaper by a grumpy old patron unhappy with his attempts to innovate. Are you getting whacked, proverbially or literally, by more conservative opera-goers? No, I am not getting whacked by newspapers, frying pans or any other household objects from more traditional patrons. I think the reason is that we have been very respectful in our approach to innovation. The tweet seats are a great example. If you’re a 20-year subscriber and you don’t own a smartphone, you didn’t even know they were there.

On average, you’re selling 83 percent of your seats. Do you think that’s a good number in this day and age? That’s a great number. We want to say 80 to 90 percent is the sweet spot
for us.

Opera Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Orchestra are collaborating this season for the first time ever, on Richard Strauss’s Salome. You and Orchestra director Yannick Nézet-Séguin are both Canucks. We are!

Well, the production falls right in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Are you guys going to head to the Fox and Hound after the shows and catch some hockey? Yeah, I think we’re going to have, like, a hockey therapy group going. [laughs] Yannick will have to be at the performance because he’s conducting, so I will not leave him in the lurch. I’ll be there. But depending on how things all play out, who knows what we’ll be doing after the show? [still laughing]

Are you guys buds? Do you hang out? We actually don’t all that much. We know each other from Canada, because he was the principal guest conductor in Victoria when I was the executive director there. Certainly every time we’re in a theater we talk, and we’re big fans of each other. His travel schedule hasn’t allowed us to just chill out and watch a hockey game.

When you said “chill oot,” I heard your Canadian accent for the first time. I’ve been here for eight years, and when I first moved here, within my first five words, people would be like, “Where are you from?”

Not that anyone with a Philadelphia accent has the right to critique you. Yeah, exactly.

Can we talk about dress code, or lack thereof? I understand that we don’t need to go back to penguin suits, but don’t you get annoyed when people walk into the opera dressed like German tourists? I don’t care what anyone wears. I am happy that people come.

Really. Shorts? Sandals? Fanny packs? I don’t care. I don’t care. Bring it on.

That’s very populist of you. Well, it’s true. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me wanting everyone to be happy all the time.

Salome opens tonight, Thursday, May 8th, and plays again on Saturday, May 10th, in the Verizon Hall of the Kimmel Center. For tickets and more information, go here