April 18, 2019

Backstage Life: Dan Novak

What is your role at Lyric, and how long have you held the position?

I have the great privilege of serving as director of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s artist-development program, a position I’ve held since 2013. The Ryan Opera Center’s mission is to identify and nurture the talents of some of the most promising operatic artists of the next generation.

What led you to work at Lyric?

While pursuing a music education degree at Northwestern University, I developed an interest in arts administration. I was searching for internship opportunities in the winter quarter of my senior year and found one in the Development Department here at Lyric, working with the Women’s Board. I immediately felt a close connection with the people and the company. I went back to school, and, just before graduating, received a call from my internship supervisor with a job offer. That was June of 1989, and Lyric has been my only employer ever since.

In the Women’s Board office my duties centered on the special events they hosted, including the Wine Auction and Opening Night & Opera Ball. That latter event involved working closely with the Ticket Department, so it was a logical next step for me to move there as assistant ticket manager. Two years later I returned to Development as assistant director for Chapter activities, which gave me a chance to work with a wonderful group of Lyric supporters throughout the area, from northwest Indiana to southern Wisconsin. In March of 2000 I came to the Ryan Opera Center as manager, working closely with Richard Pearlman and Gianna Rolandi. This ultimately led to being named director of the program in April of 2013.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had amazing opportunities and experiences here over three decades—and especially to have met and worked with remarkably talented colleagues, volunteers, and other supporters, many of whom are dear and close friends. 

What’s a typical day like for you?

Most days consist of a pretty wide variety of tasks—overseeing our Ensemble members’ activities for the day (lessons, coachings, classes, rehearsals, and performances), working on short- and long-term future plans, sometimes hearing auditions, and so on. Our program is unique among our peers in that we’re up and running nearly the entire year—it keeps all of us very well occupied! One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is that I get to collaborate regularly with just about every other Lyric department.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

After working so closely with each artist in the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble for two or three years, it’s really tough to say goodbye. We develop a real family bond in the department. Happily, though, there are many future opportunities for our paths to cross, as I see them in performances elsewhere during my travels—and it’s always a joy to have them return to perform here at Lyric, their artistic home.

What keeps you committed to the work you do?

There is nothing more gratifying than witnessing the growth and progress of our artists. Every time I watch someone who has great talent work really hard to develop it and then see that artist succeed when given an opportunity to share it with the world—like stepping in for an ailing colleague to perform a leading role in a Lyric mainstage production—I’m recommitted to furthering the program’s work.

What’s something about your job that people might not know?

I’m very fortunate to work closely with the Ryan Opera Center’s very own Board of Directors, a remarkable group of people who are incredibly passionate and generous in their support of the program and the artists. Their enthusiasm and advocacy are extraordinary! Several Board members travel the world to see opera, and it’s very meaningful for our artists to see a familiar face backstage to congratulate them. We’ve also organized a few Board trips to see alumni perform. Last fall we went to the Met and saw former Ryan Opera Center artists appear on three consecutive nights—quite a testament to the program’s achievements!

A favorite Lyric moment?

It’s really hard to name just one, so I’ll mention the first. A few months after I started was Lyric’s 35th Anniversary Season. The opening-night production was Tosca (which has since become a favorite opera!), and I was lucky enough to be seated on the main floor. When Giuseppe Giacomini, who was portraying Cavaradossi, sang his first-act aria, I was absolutely stunned—I had never heard anything like that in my life. And how fortunate I have been since then to have heard so many incredible voices in the Ardis Krainik Theatre.

Beyond opera, what are your other passions?

I’m an avid theatergoer. Every August for the past 20 years, my husband and I have traveled to Stratford, Ontario, to attend their theater festival, seeing up to eight or nine plays in a week—and absolutely loving it! I’m also a lover of food, be it a delicious taco from a street vendor to a multi-course fine-dining experience—and everything in between!


Photo: Joleen Billingham