Michael Sakir, Intermountain Opera interim artistic director

Intermountain Opera's new interim artistic director, Michael Sakir. 

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Intermountain Opera announced Michael Sakir as its new interim artistic director this week, just one of many changes the opera company is undergoing during the pandemic.

Sakir will be replacing Linda Curtis, who served as artistic director for Intermountain Opera for almost 25 years before retiring this spring, according to a news release.

Sakir, who also serves as the music director to Opera Memphis in Tennessee, said he plans to bring free opera performed by local musicians into nontraditional spaces while traditional performances in concert halls are still out of the question because of COVID-19.

“Opera has the unique ability to use story and text and music to connect us to the struggles of characters,” he said. “We are able to think outside of ourselves and sympathize with other people ... opera is all about empathy, and what I told the board is if there’s anything we need today, it is more empathy.”

Intermountain Opera executive director Jackie Vick said that while the opera would normally do a national search for an artistic director, COVID-19 made that impossible. The organization is “thrilled” to have Sakir on board, she said.

“The board chose to go with an interim artistic director because we need the artistic leadership, and within that format, open the pool to people who had worked with us before,” Vick said. “Michael will continue as interim as we emerge from the pandemic situation and at the time that we are able to do the full national search, we will do that.”

Sakir had worked with Intermountain Opera once before in 2016 and said he has “very fond memories” of the time he spent in Bozeman.

Another major change for the company is the transition to virtual auditions. But that’s not a bad thing, Sakir and Vick said — it means more opportunities for local musicians to audition.

“We want to double down on our commitment to the community through a greater number of performances in the community,” he said. “We need and want those performances to be performed by people from the community.”

In the past, Intermountain Opera has brought singers from all over the country to perform. But Vick said the company is viewing the pandemic and the lack of regularly scheduled performances as a chance to get more local musicians involved permanently.

“We have a year that we’re not in our regular routine where we can get this core group of regional singers established and up and running,” Vick said. “This will become an integral part of who we are in the future.”

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651. 

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