Since then, he has established an opera program in a place where there was no such thing. He knew Birmingham and Atlanta had somewhat of a scene to offer, but he found the right potential at Jacksonville State University and hit the ground running with a slew of high-quality opera productions.
A baritone from Kermit, Texas, Wight has performed in both national and international productions, solidifying his passion for the craft and willingness to spread awareness throughout Calhoun County.
He recently talked to The Star about college students' perceptions of opera, his first impressions of the area's art community and Bugs Bunny's contributions to the art form.
What was your opinion on Calhoun County's arts scene when you arrived here in 2003?
I was impressed that the Knox Concert Series was here in such a small community. It's bigger than it looks. I was struck by the fact that there was no opera in this area except for Birmingham or Atlanta, so we started an opera company here.
In what ways has it changed since then?
I think Music at McClellan coming in and the number of CAST performances, they've become more visible. There's certainly a lot more art opportunities here than there have been in the past, speaking of performing arts, of course.
How has the community responded to the increased presence of opera?
It's been very favorably. In our first season here, we had about 120 people that came to the first performances that we did. This past year, we had over 2,000 that came to our performances. It's grown. I wish it wasn't so hard to get word out about it.
What's the annual interest of JSU students in the opera program? Have you seen consistency in the enrollment and awareness?
Among the music students, yeah, there's a consistent awareness of it. Among the general population, there's still that general surprise that you have that student that comes in that's not willing to go see an opera because that's the fat lady singing with the horns. Then they come to an opera performance, and they realize that's not what it is. Bugs Bunny didn't really do a service for opera. There is an aspect of opera that is that, but we try not to touch on that too much because it's beyond the scope of what we're doing here. We dwell more on the lighter side of opera and the side that's fun, usually.
Are you pleased with the venues in which you hold your current productions?
Nope. There needs to be a theater here in this community that is worthy of musical productions. Probably the best theater that I have access to is of course the Stone Center, but it's not really for musical productions. It's more of a spoken theater, and sound travels differently. It's better than what I do my fall productions in, which is basically an empty space. We've done the best with what we've had.
What kind of productions from the JSU opera department can the area look forward to in the coming months?
In January, we're doing a children's opera, called "Saint George and the Dragon," by a composer named Sterling Tinsley from Portland, Ore., and it's an opera that's specifically geared towards kindergarten through about fifth or sixth grade. We'll do a week's worth of performances at JSU. We have a performance scheduled at the University of Alabama. We've got two performances in Pell City and possibly one in Sylacauga. We're going to take it on the road, and it will be a traveling show in March and May where we can do it for elementary schools in their performance space. It's going to be a lot of fun.
As a fan of opera, where do you go outside of Calhoun County to hear what you'd consider high-quality performances?
Atlanta's pretty good. I'm partial to Houston if I could ever get there. Of course the Met and Chicago.
How has your youth apprentice program helped to expose young people to opera and art forms like it?
It's been a benefit to the university because it gets high school students on campus. I think it's been a benefit to the other music programs around here because it shows students what the next step is in learning about arts and what the potential is from where they are.
How can Calhoun County continue to improve itself as a cultural arts center in Alabama and the Southeast?
Hmm. So many answers. I think that there needs to be a collaboration of all the arts entities and a stepping up of all of the arts supporters to come together and create an atmosphere that will benefit all of us. I've tried to work with everybody here that's in the musical side of things. We tend to focus on our own individual programs, and we don't take a step back and look at the big picture of everything that's going on. We're all trying to dip into the same community if we can make a concerted effort to create an art governing board.
This story is the tenth in a series that examines Calhoun County's arts and entertainment scene. The Anniston Star surveyed members of the community who play prominent roles in delivering residents with high-quality entertainment options about their craft and how they feel about the local entertainment scene. The series will feature local musicians, fine artists, filmmakers, arts educators and public figures who make entertainment decisions in the county. The mission of the series is to offer an introspective look at this area as a cultural attraction in Alabama and the Southeast. The Star takes a look at local entertainment's past, present and what it could and should be, seen through the eyes of the entertainers.