Matthew Buckman, who for more than two years has guided Fresno Grand Opera through both financially turbulent times and artistically rewarding ones, is stepping down as general director of the company.
He also is leaving Modesto’s Townsend Opera, where he has been general director for nine years. The Fresno and Modesto companies joined forces in 2014 by sharing productions and artistic staff but maintaining separate boards of directors.
Ryan Murray, the music director of both companies, will take over the leading role of artistic director in Fresno and Modesto.
With Buckman’s departure, the administrative structures of both companies will change. Instead of one general director dividing time between two communities, separate managing directors in Fresno and Modesto will oversee day-to-day operations of their respective companies.
“One of the real struggles was me having to split my time,” Buckman said.
Matthew Altamura, who recently joined Fresno Grand Opera’s board of directors, has been named Fresno managing director.
Buckman will remain as a formal adviser to Fresno Grand Opera for the immediate future. He does not have a new job lined up.
“I anticipate I will be stepping away from day-to-day responsibilities by the end of the month,” he said.
The board for eight months has been planning for a transition in leadership.
The reason for his departure is personal and not professional, Buckman said.
He has been engaged since November 2015 to Deleana Quan. She lives in Sacramento and has a good job there, and he’s been commuting to Modesto and Fresno.
In a letter this week to patrons, Buckman wrote: “With each passing month, this has been harder and harder to maintain, and I have reached a point where it is no longer personally sustainable. Unfortunately, as much as I value the work we continue to do, my heart is in Sacramento with my wife-to-be and the life we’re building together.”
If his fiancée lived in Fresno or Modesto, things would be different, he said, but that isn’t the reality.
“It’s a little sappy, but at the end of the day it’s truth. It’s important to me for people to know that it is a personal reason I’m leaving.”
He’s going to take some time off for some much-needed rest and then examine his career options.
During his tenure at Fresno Grand Opera, Buckman helped guide it to notable artistic successes, including bravura productions of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Our Town,” all titles that eschewed the predictability of classic, traditional opera. He also put a strong emphasis on expanding ties with nontraditional opera audiences. The popular “Opera Remix” series included collaborations with area musicians and poets.
Buckman also had to guide Fresno Grand Opera through some harrowing years financially, and the organization still faces fiscal challenges. Last June the board of directors self-reported the organization to the state attorney general’s office for a long list of financial and ethical allegations against former management.
After his arrival in Fresno in 2014, Buckman said he soon discovered a spate of issues with the company’s books and past practices, including alleged falsification of tax forms, an alleged failure to disclose an outside business relationship with a for-profit company owned by key employees, alleged improper accounting methods misrepresenting the organization’s true financial health, and allegations that board minutes were created several years after meeting dates.
The state attorney general to date has not issued any response to the opera company’s self-reported charges.
One notable financial piece of information was revealed when the company turned over documents to the media and the attorney general: Fresno Grand Opera hasn’t been able to pay Buckman’s salary for some time.
That situation remains, he said, though he noted that the company is able to cover the rest of its payroll.
Altamura is aware of Fresno Grand Opera’s financial situation.
“The next managing director has a full understanding and is willing to work in a gratis capacity until the organization’s finances are stable,” Buckman said.