I’ve had the good fortune to make my living as an opera conductor working in the United States and abroad for the past 34 years. A number of those years have been in Nebraska that I now call home.
My path to a life in the arts began with the support of my parents who provided me, and my sisters with a secure home, a good education and the privilege to pursue our dreams. My dad began as a music teacher in elementary schools and later became a superintendent of schools in New Jersey. My mom was an amateur singer who sang alto in local choral groups. My sisters and I lived in a house that was filled with music. Growing up, my passion was for sports!
That changed at 18 when Margaretha Wolff, my piano teacher, opened the doors of a “purposeful” life for me with the suggestion that I was musical. I didn’t know where it would lead, but from that point on I pursued music with everything I had.
My love of opera began while playing rehearsals in a small theater in Colorado. At the piano I could pour my energy into the music, theater and people energy of the group! It had an attraction similar to the one that drew me to sports, but came together through works of imagination, creativity, culture, humanity and fun instead of competition. Anyway, it was a winner for me!
It was opera that brought me to Nebraska in 1985 when Artistic Director John Demain invited me to guest conduct Opera Omaha. This began a long and happy relationship with that company and the arts in Nebraska. I served as Artistic Director of the company from 1995 to 2005 and during that time had some of my most satisfying professional experiences.
My Nebraska relationships continue to grow with non-profit organizations, schools and individuals working to “open doors” for people of all ages and backgrounds through the arts and humanities. Engagement with music, art, literature and theater provides balance and perspective and develops 21st century skill sets in future leaders and community members.
I recently had the opportunity to join in a partnership event of the Omaha Conservatory of Music and the Omaha Symphony at the Holland Performing Arts Center. 350 pre-school children from the OCM Violin Sprouts Program in North and South Omaha played with the Symphony. This quote by American composer Aaron Copland was also part of the evening’s reflections: “As long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.” That night the spirits of music and partnership were present in “living form.” What a privilege to make one’s livelihood involved in such moments!
During a thirty four-year conducting career, Hal France has led organizations and performed with opera companies and symphony orchestras around the US and abroad. He has conducted the New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, The Royal Philharmonic, National Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, the Royal Opera Stockholm and many others. Most recently he conducted operas for the Hawaii Opera Theater, Central City Opera, Opera Omaha and Northwestern University Opera Theater.
While in Nebraska he works with students at UNO’s Op Shop and conducts education programs for the Omaha Symphony and Omaha Chamber Music Society. He offers classes to the community including Opera Then and Now and Orchestra In and Out at UNO and For the Love of It: Opera Series at Joslyn Castle. This summer he performs in the Blue Barn 33 Variations, joins Omaha Performing Arts as Music Director of the High School Musical Theater Awards Showcase and plays a supporting role with the Sovereign Native Youth Leadership Camp of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. Next season he joins Jill Anderson for the Literary Festival on Bram Stoker at Joslyn Castle, the Omaha Conservatory of Music for the Inside the Mind of the Artist Series of Coffee Chats and Showboat for the Portland Opera.