Opera League News & Articles

My First Opera: Fernando Sanchez

It began as a work thing at the Huntington Gardens.

By Gary W. Murphy

If you’re an Opera League volunteer at our cast dinners, or at programs from LA Opera Connects, LAO’s community engagement and education team, you may have spotted a young man who’s been popping up at many such recent events.

Fernando Sanchez stands out amongst his peers for his passion, not only for the world of opera and classical music, but for deep commitment to service.

As a senior wealth management associate at Aspiriant, Fernando supports managers and directors of the Exclusive Family Office group. He leads teams in the day-to-day execution of financial plan recommendations, and philanthropic and foundation management for client engagements.

A graduate of UC San Diego (UCSD) and UCLA, Fernando is a strong advocate for a client-first approach to his work and finds great joy in creative problem-solving as he helps his clients connect their wealth to their vision, values and goals through comprehensive financial planning.

BRAVO: We are always happy to see young people at opera performances. Would I be correct in assuming that you began your opera adventures when you were a student?
Fernando Sanchez: Actually, I’m a fairly new aficionado of opera. My first opera was On Gold Mountain, which LA Opera presented [as part of their Off Grand series] at The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens’ Chinese Garden in May 2022.

BRAVO: That seems to be an unusual choice for a person’s introduction to opera. What brought you to that particular opera?
FS: Several clients mentioned they were going to see On Gold Mountain, and they invited me and encouraged me to go with them. The opera was based on writer Lisa See’s family history, particularly Fong See, her great-great grandfather, who emigrated to California and became a prominent figure in L.A.’s Chinatown after struggling with adversity, a story that resonated with me. Plus, the Chinese Garden was a special place for my clients.

There was one section of the opera that really impacted me. It was the moment where Fong See sang about regret, about how hard he was with himself, and with his family. It just got to me, and I was deeply moved. I knew right then that opera was going to be my thing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those clients basically changed my life by encouraging me to see the opera and introducing me to a wonderful art form that I know love.

BRAVO: It’s such a short span of time from the beginning of your operagoing life to becoming a member of the Opera League. How did you find us?
FS: Soon after I attended On Gold Mountain, I bought tickets to Verdi’s Aida [LAO’s final mainstage production of the 2021-22 season] and was so impressed by the music, the production, the entire spectacle, that I knew that I had to dig deeper and learn as much as I could about opera. I wanted to be part of the opera world, and that’s how I found out about the Opera League and just signed up and became a member.

BRAVO: I believe you volunteered with our Education team, which works with and supports LA Opera Connects, LAO’s community engagement and education department, correct?
FS: Yes, I’m very impressed with LA Opera Connects and its many different programs. Plus, the League’s Opera Prep series is so beautifully designed for students. I was with the high school students who came to see The Marriage of Figaro [in February 2023]. I helped to shepherd them into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, many to see their first opera, and then I sat with them. I was amazed at their reaction. They were laughing and just enjoying the opera so much that The Marriage of Figaro is now my favorite opera. The Marriage of Figaro’s story of forgiveness is so moving. The Countess Almaviva seems so evolved as she sings the beautiful aria “Dove sono” about how she longs for life’s lost moments, yet understands and forgives her husband’s transgressions.

I realized that opera has so much to teach us about moral values and humanity, ideas that people often don’t want to deal with in their everyday lives. Opera really has the power to move us and teach us along the way.

BRAVO: Before you went to University of California, San Diego [UCSD], you graduated from the City of Los Angeles’ public school system [Los Angeles Unified School District], namely Venice High School. Is that where you first became aware of classical music?
FS: I’ve always loved music and have been a classical music lover since I was 14. At that time, I wanted to play rock and blues. But when I was at Venice High School, my teacher, Mr. Bernstein, loved Baroque music, so we listened to Bach, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, and he encouraged us to play classical guitar. He then introduced us to Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz and then jazz, and basically created a music history class for his students.

He took us to Walt Disney Concert Hall for the LA Philharmonic, and to Royce Hall [at UCLA] for jazz concerts, and all that live music really stuck with me. I then found [radio station] Classical KUSC and started to listen to it while in high school. Mr. Bernstein wasn’t that into opera, but I found “Live from the Met” broadcasts on Saturday mornings [on KUSC]. I listened for a while and found it intriguing, but never thought to actually go and see it live.

BRAVO: Do you see yourself perhaps stepping into the role of a Community Educator, an Opera League volunteer role on our Education team that works with LA Opera Connects to deliver opera talks at venues around L.A. County, and visit your Venice High School alma mater and talk to the students about opera?
FS: I hope so. I spoke with Connects Director, Andrea Fuentes, who promised to let me know when Venice High School students attend a performance, and I’ll shepherd that group into the venue.

I think classical music and opera are such great art and very important to the development of students. The more students are exposed to theatre, dance, music, opera, the better the chance it will stay with them their entire lives. Certainly, it helped me become the person I am today.

BRAVO: The Opera League is a volunteer organization. Do you find personal fulfillment as a volunteer?
FS: I have a servant’s heart and love to be of service to others, other communities, and to be helpful. I work in the world of finance and wealth management, and I see that as helping people find clarity with their finances, not so much with complex financial products, but more of a guide or a helper attuned to their needs.

That’s how I feel about volunteering with the Opera League. In a short amount of time, I was able to immerse myself in opera, and the League has had a lot to do with that. The League has fueled my love of opera and helped with my own personal growth as well. I love being part of a community that loves and appreciates art and has welcomed me with such grace.

BRAVO: What are you looking forward to at LA Opera this coming spring [2024]?
FS: I’ve not seen Turandot, but I do have the 1973 recording of Zubin Mehta conducting Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti on my iPhone. I do want to see the David Hockey sets, for sure. I know Calaf’s aria “Nessun dorma” and look forward to Russel Thomas singing it. I’m really interested in the story, as Puccini deals with Chinese culture. As On Gold Mountain was my opera introduction, I’m interested to discover how this composer deals with it and incorporates it into his work.

BRAVO: We’ve focused on L.A., but is there a city or opera house you would like to visit to further your opera adventures?
FS: Actually, I went to the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina in June 2023 where I saw several concerts and a performance of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. Two months later, I visited Santa Fe Opera for the first time and saw three operas: Tosca, Ofeo and Rusalka, which was my favorite.

I’m planning a spring 2024 trip to New York where I’ll see three productions at the Met and visit the National Opera Center. But my dream trip would be to go to Italy and travel to the other Spoleto and the Festival of Two Worlds, then to Rome, Verona and Milan to go to La Scala. I’ll do it one day!

BRAVO: As a volunteer organization, the Opera League provides opportunities for members to go behind the scenes and discover more about opera. Did you volunteer right away?
FS: Not exactly right away, as it was COVID quarantine time, so opportunities were limited. However, the Opera League presented its gatherings via Zoom, so I started with those online lectures for the first year. But once performances returned, I started to find volunteer opportunities and fell in love with the Opera League.

My first time volunteering was a cast dinner for The Marriage of Figaro [in February 2023]. It was out of this world! The cast came into the fourth-floor rehearsal room we set up for dinner, and they were in costumes and makeup. Maestro James Conlon stopped by, and I couldn’t believe how close I suddenly was to the production side of the opera. I was a newcomer, and there I was. it was so enjoyable!

The Opera League members who run the dinners—George Solomon and Wilma Freeman—welcomed me with grace and open arms into this wonderful world of opera, and I will be forever grateful. I also had a chance to see my first opera rehearsal after the cast dinner, and that was very special. 

Author: Thomas Lady

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