Strains of Puccini and Verdi Fill the Halls of Silicon Valley Tech Firms

Katharine Gunnink performs at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Arias in the Office brings singers from Opera San José to various workplaces around Silicon Valley.  (Photo: James Tensuan/KQED)

Silicon Valley companies pull in all sorts of celebrities and theatrical acts for lunchtime entertainment to keep techies tethered to their corporate campuses. That gave the folks at Opera San José an idea. What if they took advantage of those captive audiences to make a pitch for opera?

Enter "Arias in the Office," a new pop-up series touring South Bay tech companies this fall. "The idea is to bring what we do to people who are fans and to people who've never heard it," said Aaron Nicholson, director of marketing and development for Opera San José.

On a recent sunny Tuesday at noon, people passing through the lobby of Adobe's West Tower in San Jose were confronted by soprano Katherine Gunnink soaring through a performance of the famous aria "Ch'il Bel Sogno" by the 19th century Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, accompanied on the piano by Veronika Agranov-Dafoe.

Trevor Neal performs during Arias at the Office at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. Arias in the Office brings singers from Opera San José to various workplaces around Silicon Valley for 40 minute performances during the lunch hour.
Trevor Neal performs during Arias at the Office at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. Arias in the Office brings singers from Opera San Jose to various workplaces around Silicon Valley for 40 minute performances during the lunch hour. (Photo: James Tensuan/KQED)

These pop-up performances are not only designed to sell tickets to full concerts, but also to introduce people to the very concept of opera. Many of those present in the audience at Adobe were opera newbies.

Among them was Adobe employee Jyh-Jiun Liu, who’s lived in nearby Sunnyvale for 25 years but had no clue of Opera San José's existence until she heard the company's singers performing in the lobby. She said she hasn't paid much attention to opera in the past, but was impressed by what she heard. "I really like it," she said. "So if I see they will have a performance, maybe I will purchase a ticket."

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Some of those present, like Zori Sanchez of Adobe's finance department, were already opera fans. "I go with friends periodically," she said. "I tend to go with people who kind of love it."

Adobe employees listen to singers from Opera San Jose perform as part of a touring series called "Arias in the Office" at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif.
Adobe employees listen to singers from Opera San José perform as part of a touring series called "Arias in the Office" at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif. (Photo: James Tensuan/KQED)

In recent years, a growing number of opera artists and organizations have cultivated new fans with pop-up concerts in parks, pubs and other non-traditional venues.

"We can't just expect that if we put together a great season, people will come," said soprano Indre Viskontas, who runs the San Francisco chapter of Opera on Tap, a national nonprofit that brings opera to bars and other unlikely places. "We need to go to where they are, and show them how awesome our art is, and then they'll come to some of the bigger productions."

Adobe employees in San Jose find themselves inexorably drawn to the lobby to listen to singers from Opera San José perform arias from Verdi and Puccini.
Adobe employees in San Jose find themselves inexorably drawn to the lobby to listen to singers from Opera San José perform arias from Verdi and Puccini. (Photo: James Tensuan/KQED)

In addition to hosting the opera pop-up, Adobe also donated $10,000 to Opera San José for the first time this year. The arts organization is just one among several Bay Area nonprofits chosen by employee advisory committees for support.

In addition to Adobe, "Arias in the Office" has visited Oracle and Nvidia. Cisco, Applied Materials, and other firms are on the hit list for September.

"You know, opera is an older art genre, and it typically appeals to an older generation," Neal said. "So it’s always nice to present to a younger audience an art form that we love, in a way that’s fresh and accessible."

 

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