In 2023, the Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo community welcomed new leaders at some of the community’s largest, oldest, and sometimes loudest (depending on the performance) arts organizations, including Curt Olds as the Fargo-Moorhead Opera general director.
Olds replaces David Hamilton, who retired after 25 years with FM Opera, making Olds the third general director in the 55-year history of FM Opera. He brings 25 years of experience as an executive and artistic director in all aspects of arts management with specific focus in opera and musical theater.
Before packing up and moving from New York to Fargo, Olds was on Broadway and at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall performing with regional and international companies and symphony orchestras. Most recently, he appeared as Monsieur Andre in the international tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
We’d be here a long time if we shared Olds’ storied CV in its entirety, but we’ve got a word count limit and you’ve got things to do. Fortunately, Olds is no stranger to curious onlookers, so he’s got a website where people can learn more about him.
What we can give you is the gist, plus some of this Butte, Montana, native’s pithy and poignant perspective on the power of opera.
Here’s more about Curt Olds.
You are an arts leader and a performer. What’s it like being both?
It’s an interesting balance. I can’t imagine not performing at least some of the year and taking on some of the projects. My national connections and agency in NYC are really interested in working together and seeing what happens here.
I was a fellow at the Kennedy Center DeVos program that really highlights performers transitioning into executive positions. I learned to use my stage deportment to speak with passion in ways that others cannot. The program walked me down working as an administrator.
You’re one of three new leaders at three of our major performing arts organizations. How does that feel?
One of the most exciting parts (of taking the job) was knowing there would be new leaders at other organizations. Time will tell how that benefits the arts community, but I’m all about collaboration and looking forward to what we can do together.
How do you see yourself evolving FM Opera?
My feeling about any opera company is that it’s not just the soloists; it’s groups coming together. That’s what makes opera so special. It’s so massive. When you do a full evening, it makes it so much better if you can see the whole group together.
So, we’re going to focus on how we excite our audience. We’ll continue to produce the same great standards, but we’re going to incorporate musicals, and look at some sort of secondary markets and acts as part of a second season—smaller and intimate events—in spaces ranging from large homes with a very exclusive crowd to TAK events center type spaces.
We’re also looking at how we engage the orchestra on its own, as well as the opera chorus to give them more of an identity and highlight them.
You put a lot of value on community and collaboration. What plans do you have to carry that value forward?
We plan on enhancing what we’re doing collectively and see what we can enhance our offerings in tandem with other organizations. The more we engage together really makes life easier. It brings empathy, humor, passion. That’s where the arts are very important. It’s time that we see that coming back.
It’s very important for me to create an environment in the room where everyone can come together. That’s what art does!
What do you want people to know about opera and musical performance in general?
I want to create a sense of ‘come join us.’ We will enhance your experience on the three nights a year (we present main-stage opera), but we’re going to have a lot of fun with the other events going on around those main events.
We also like to have the patrons guide our experience. To see where we take programming collectively. I definitely have the ability to make some major suggestions, but I always want to keep that with the temperature of the market.
Curt Olds, the new general director of FM Opera, plays Monsieur Andre in the world tour of the Hal Prince production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” Contributed Photo / Really Useful Group/S&Co.
Opera is about the singer as an artist and they’re more like painters than musical theater performers. They’re developing a palate of color. They’re coloring human sound—silver, sweetness.
When we cry, we make a different sound than when we’re scared. An opera singer will be able to paint in those colors. You’re listening to the shades of color. Once you understand that, audiences have a lot more patience with the length and way we listen to the opera. You’re watching a painting being painted. With musical theater, you’re watching a story, and if the voice cracks, the voice cracks, and you cry and emote. In the opera, you’re watching the painting.
I think of my dad. He was a big sports guy, but the man had ears. I never lost touch with what he gave me. He could tell when he heard something special. I go back to my dad all the time, because he’d say’ I was touched by that person and I don’t know why.’
Audiences shouldn’t get lost in what the visual is because it shouldn’t look like a film. You should be excited by the color of the human sound and how it comes together with the orchestra, the chorus. It’s an all-encompassing art form.
Were you always into performing on stage?
Since day one. I’m one of those. I was very entrepreneurial. I always had a sense of a producer in me. Everybody has the story of performing in the garage. Mine went so far as to take every comforter off of every bed and rig them so they could be different drapes and scenery and I’d pay someone in candy to be the box person. I enjoyed the garage performance and that just went on from there. I found leadership positions very quickly because of that and turned everything into theatricality. Swim team, high school drums. If you can do it with a little bit more class, why not add the five minutes to make it better?
Tell us about one of your mentors.
I was fortunate to have someone in Montana hear me sing. Gayle Avrutis. She was the one who taught me a love for art song and that’s still something I’m incredibly dedicated to. Art song, being those very small intimate compositions that include voice equal to the accompaniment or any instrumentation, like the pianist and vocalist are enhanced equally.
It’s a wonderful way to learn art song, which led to opera. There were other mentors, but that’s what she gave me. That’s how I learned a deep passion.
Keep up to date with FM Opera
Olds and his staff encourage anyone with questions about or interest in the opera to reach out to the organization online at fmopera.org or call their office at (701) 239-4558.
About the author
Lonna Whiting is an independent journalist and content strategy consultant based in Fargo. She covers a broad range of topics, including local arts, health care, senior living, startups, technology and education. Lonna also writes extensively about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for journals and publications such as Being Patient. Read more of Whiting’s work at lonna.co.