Updated: May 13, 2020
By Cynthia Gellis
Jenny Rivera is the Executive Director and CEO of Long Beach Opera and a Belmont Heights resident. A two-time Grammy nominee, Jenny has sung leading roles in operas on five continents. For much of her professional singing career, she was also an award-winning blogger and a contributor to the Huffington Post.
Her time writing about the opera world and the performing arts, while working as a professional opera singer, allowed the seeds for her eventual transition from performer to arts administrator to germinate. Jenny was interested in finding a way to address questions such as how to make sure that opera doesn’t go away, and why it is such a leap to get someone to go to see an opera. Her interest in finding ways to build audiences that would find opera relevant, combined with motherhood, made her serious about transitioning out of the nonstop traveling lifestyle of an opera singer.
After living in New York for twenty years, Jenny’s fond memories of her childhood in northern California led her to look for positions in the State, and in 2017 she was hired at Long Beach Opera as major gifts officer. In Belmont Heights, her family was able to find an ideal two-family home that would not only accommodate Jenny, her husband, and their son but also Jenny’s parents.
Coming from New York, she was pleasantly surprised by the unique arts scene she discovered in Long Beach. Jenny wishes that more locals realized that they don’t have to go to Los Angeles for high-caliber performances; there are plenty of excellent productions right here. Many of Long Beach Opera’s patrons come from all over Los Angeles because of the caliber of its innovative productions.
During the stay-at-home order, Jenny kept her son away from his grandparents for a month to make sure that no one was contagious. Her family’s biggest challenge during this time was not only her husband suddenly having to share his home office (he has always worked remotely), but trying to at-home school their son while they were both still working full time. After the first month of quarantine, Jenny’s son was able to spend some time with his grandparents, both retired schoolteachers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge for the Opera (and all performing arts organizations). The three site-specific performances planned for the 2020 season had to be canceled. The Lighthouse, which was scheduled to be performed at the Aquarium of the Pacific, will be included in the 2021 season. However, Billy the Kid (a U.S. premiere), at the Sunnyside Cemetery, and Frida, at the Museum of Latin American Art, will not be produced. With three-quarters of their programming for the year gone, Jenny has found herself in the challenging position of juggling the competing needs of the organization, trying to retain staff, and finding ways to pay the artists who committed to these projects.
The magic of live opera is the way that performances bring people together in a shared experience. Opera is an adaptive industry and Jenny hopes that this crisis will serve as an opportunity to create new tools that will help Long Beach Opera better serve its current and potential audiences and increase access for everyone.
Jenny loves Long Beach, the Belmont Heights neighborhood, and her neighbors. She admired the ways that people found to come together while retaining social distance during the stay-at-home order: the artwork people put in their windows or chalk on the sidewalks. Her neighborhood even organized an impromptu car parade for Easter. She is pleased to be a part of this community, a great place to live.