When Irene Dalis announced six weeks ago that she would retire from Opera San Jose, the company she founded in 1984 and has directed ever since, people wondered who would take over. The answer is in: Larry Hancock, Dalis' right-hand man for three decades.
Hancock, 62, will step into Dalis' job as general director in July 2014, at the close of the company's 30th season.
"Opera San Jose is in good hands," said Dalis. "This man has done everything there is to do here. He was actually our first hire, and has gone up the ladder and been in charge of every department. I will tell you that Larry Hancock has helped me to develop this company, in every way."
Hancock's appointment was announced Tuesday, following a vote last Thursday by the company's board of trustees. There long had been speculation in South Bay cultural circles -- where Dalis, a former Metropolitan Opera star, is an icon -- that the company would launch an international search to find a replacement. In the end, the board went with the inside hire.
"This has always been Irene's hope," said Hancock, currently the company's general manager. "She's been preparing me for this position for 30 years, and the way she was preparing me simply was by moving me, as soon as I got comfortable in any department, straight into another."
In 1979, Hancock became Dalis' graduate assistant at San Jose State University, where she ran the opera workshop. ("He was a very good tenor," Dalis,
When Dalis, a native of San Jose, founded Opera San Jose five years later, Hancock began his rise through the ranks. His jobs have included media relations director, artistic administrator, director of marketing, director of development and director of production. He is well-known to local audiences as an opera historian, giving pre-performance talks at the California Theatre.
Given the current economic climate, foregoing a costly national search was a prudent move by the trustees, said Dalis. "And anyone who's wondering about hiring from the inside should just look at Joseph Volpe at the Metropolitan Opera." That legendary former leader of the nation's most famous opera company began his career there as an apprentice carpenter.
Hancock said that the coming transition period will be a serious challenge.
Since the economic crash of 2008, ticket sales at opera companies and other arts organizations around the country have "nose-dived, amazingly," he said. At Opera San Jose, sales have plunged, as well. "So we'll be working very hard in the next six months," he said, "to get a handle on how we can increase income and lower expenses, so that we can make the budget for my first season" in 2014-15.
He expects the company's $4 million operating budget will have to be cut to about $3.5 million. Asked whether the company can afford to keep giving eight performances of each of its productions, he said, "I seriously doubt that that will be possible" in the years ahead. "We're going to be looking at all the dimes we spend."
But no decisions have been made. For the time being, the company is able to draw on its cash reserve; it hopes for an increase in gifts from donors.
"I believe in the artistic quality of what this company does," Hancock said. "It is unique, the only resident company in America. I think this is special and needs to be preserved and assisted."