Get to Know the Staff: Dimitri Kontos
Engagement Programs Manager—Community Programs
Length of time you have worked with Opera Omaha:
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do:
Build and produce community based programming
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job:
Seeing the faces of members of our community that are affected by our programming, and using my position to be an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion in our community. Two groups that are so often not included in today’s society are the elderly and the disabled.
At The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home we created a special 45-minute recital program by one of the artists from our mainstage production of Handel’s Semele. Our artist, Nikola Printz, accompanied by Opera Omaha’s Resident Music Director J. Gawf, presented a program to 86 seniors—most of whom were wheelchair bound—that included music from opera, musical theater and jazz. It was amazing to see the transformation of this elderly group of adults as the power of music caused all of them to straighten up their posture and beam with joy. We had several seniors come up to us at the end of the program and thank us for bringing music to them.
Opera should be used as a form of expression to help heal and empower our community. Our new collaboration with disabled adults at Ollie Webb Center, Inc. provided another opportunity to do just that. These adults were hungry for an opportunity to feel included in the performing arts world. From meetings with their Artistic Director, Jim Hoggatt, I created two special programs. The first being an open staging rehearsal for La fanciulla del West with our principal artists followed by a talk back with the director Lillian Groag. Ms. Groag talked with the adults before the rehearsal about what they were about to witness and then guided them through the rehearsal process as it was taking place. The adults left excited and thrilled to be there. One of the attendees said she was now inspired to write a story about cowboys in outer space. The success of this initial program caused us to create another program for Handel’s Semele. This time we had the director James Darrah talk with the adults about the choreography in the production. Then they met three dancers from the opera, who demonstrated how they warm-up and then performed several minutes of choreography. It was heartwarming to see these members of our community that so often feel left out, seem validated and a part of the arts world.
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect:
I have a lot of coffee dates. Most of the programming developed is done through an organic collaboration with several different organizations. I try not to simply create programs beforehand and then go to organization to tell them what I want to specifically do with them. Of course, I have a rough plan, but I am more interested to see what excites a community partner about a collaboration with Opera Omaha. From there, I find that partnerships and then the programs developed from those meetings are more meaningful and impactful not only to the parties involved, but to the people that they are serving. Being a bit of a control freak, this process can be a bit nerve-racking as you need to put a lot of trust into other organizations. In the end though, the success of the programs makes it all worth the while.
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production:
Well it all depends on when you catch me. As of today—at this moment—I would have to say my favorite opera is Otello followed by La traviata, Norma, Il trovatore, Lohengrin amongst others.
Your unofficial position in the company:
Opera Guru / Opera Editor
Your secret talent:
I could say a practical one, but I think I should add some color to this description. Yes, it is true I can do the Elvis lip.
Create a super-hero persona based on your position in the company:
Normal thirty-year old guy by night, but by day possessing lighting speed, unyielding stamina and a strong moral compass that allows me to bring together people of varying backgrounds, religions and ideologies through the healing power of opera.
Pick two more staff members to be your sidekick and arch-nemesis:
Ha… I know better than to pick sides in a small office. I consider the whole staff to be my partners in crime.
Outside of the office you can be found doing….:
Exercising, listening to opera, practicing piano and voice, cooking up a new vegetarian dish, face timing with friends and family back in NYC or hanging out with my best friend at La Buvette or Plank.