Singing Her Praises: Opera Guild Welcomes President-Elect Mary Poland

Mary Poland

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Rejoicing in their 94th year, the San Francisco Opera celebrates that of their newly elected Opera Guild board president, Mary Poland. A classical music major from the University of Washington, Poland has held music composition in various forms dear to her heart for decades. Studying piano specifically, Poland learned from a young age to love the arts, specifically opera. She adores opera’s qualities of drama, theatre, and suspense all paired with a live symphony. Once she settled in and made San Francisco her home, Poland soon came to witness that the San Francisco Opera in the 1970s drew in the most exceptional talent, style, and artistry that this city’s art scene had held in some time. It was a natural fit for Poland, as she gravitated towards involvement in a philanthropic medium melding music and charitable opportunities within the city of San Francisco.

She is assuming her leadership role with the San Francisco Opera Guild, her oversight includes guild operations, fundraising initiatives, educational outreach programs, and Opera Ball—San Francisco’s Opera season-opening gala. Also, Poland will serve on the San Francisco Opera Association Board of Directors. Poland’s two-year term as elected president has widely excited the community at large. Her passion for sustaining supreme talent, spearheading funding initiatives, broadening the network for educational outreach programs as well as strengthening the attendance of the Opera during the season, drives Poland to further inspire the love of this art form onto those in her community and far beyond.

Linle Froeb, Poland, and Kim Dempster at SF Opera’s Evening on the Stage 2018

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the SF Opera Guild; the primary funding and educational arm of the Opera. As Guild President, Poland shares a series of exciting, fun and insightful behind the scenes chronicles of her present and future hopes for the SF Opera and its mission to inspire and create its many layers of depth and promise. In an exclusive in-person interview, Poland reveals how sitting at the helm of the guild will bring forth a vow for wow!

Haute Living: How has the Opera Guild shaped the opera?

Mary Poland: The Opera Guild and the opera have always worked hand in hand in a most collaborative way. This year we are celebrating 80 years in taking on our mission: providing a strong educational arm to the opera. The guild’s mission became most important after Prop 13 was passed because that decimated the arts in schools. We have helped backfill that vacuum. Two of my favorite programs are Book to Bravo and Voices of Social Justice. Voices of Social Justice deals with bringing real-life situations acted out through drama and sound into an artistic context that the children put on from start to finish.

Poland looking glamorous at the 2018 Opera Ball

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

HL: How will the guild commemorate its 80th anniversary?

MP: We have decided to do a whole year of celebrating! We’re bringing it to people in different manners.  We will kick off the celebration with a Marchesa fashion show on May 16th; also, some high profile recitals around one of our programs called Opera Scouts.

HL: What inspired you to get involved with the opera initially?

MP: I was exposed to all the art forms at a young age and the piano was my instrument. My father was very instrumental, my mother loved music, but my father played the piano, the drums and had a jazz group in the basement of our house and would jam once a month. It was fun hanging with dad and playing the piano alongside him. Then, I was a music major at the University of Washington. When I moved down to SF in the mid-’70s, the opera was a big deal. I had some good friends who were involved in an auxiliary group. These wonderful women were dedicated to the philanthropic and educational side of the guild. I was impressed, I learned a lot, and I thought, this is a good, strong organization for me to be involved with.

The Polands and Olivia Hsu Decker at the 2016 Evening on the Stage

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

HL: What new fundraising initiatives are you implementing this season?

MP: The Marchesa Fashion Show on May 16th is exciting. For the designer, Georgina Chapman, it was timely. She knows SF rejoices in her designs. She trusts it will be a fabulous, successful experience. In a perfect world, I would love to see something like this every year. We have a wonderful fundraising counsel. Part of what I would like to do as president is to build a long timeline. I’ve already got the leaders in place for Opera Ball and for the Evening on the Stage event we do in December. What I’m looking at now is for 2020. If you want good people, you need to give them time. In my perfect world, we are planning two years out.

HL: As president, what would you like to accomplish this season?

MP: I want to see and embrace the younger generation, that being the millennials, the GenXers, to come, participate and to possibly even be board members. We are always looking for new talent. It’s a robust board of 80 members. I believe that younger generations care what a particular organization is doing for the community that they live in. We do resonate with them. We get a fantastic amount of rockstars from Bravo [SF Opera’s young professional group]. You’ll see a number of those folks bubble up into leadership positions with us soon. Board development is what I am working hard on this year. Our board reaches out there to look for younger folks. One of my most important jobs is to mentor the next generation of leaders.

Mary Poland

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

HL: How do you plan to drive funding and charitable opportunities to greater shape the opera?

MP: We brought on a contracted grant writer to take the funding outside of the private sector.  Getting that kind of financial sustainability through institutional giving as opposed to individual contributions is crucial. We need to shift and change the percentages.

HL: What does listening to an Opera do for you metaphysically?

MP: It’s these timeless themes that you see in movies today. It’s the element of mystery, of surprise; the production is strong, tight, the vocals are amazing. It’s a wonderful way to tell a story and be on that stage–it’s another form of Broadway musicals, and I love musicals. They can sometimes get dark. Human nature is human nature. It’s the evolution of just how sensorial the opera is.