Angela Turner Wilson: “How do you reach every community, every group, who has not been approached and made to feel welcome at our events? We need to find that out.” Courtesy Fort Worth Opera

Visiting her grandparents in Graham, Texas, in the 1980s, Angela Turner Wilson said they would all take road trips to Fort Worth to shop and sightsee. While Wilson did not attend concerts by Fort Worth Opera (FWO) at the time, her grandparents were avid fans of the company.

Her grandparents told her, “Maybe someday you’ll sing at the Fort Worth Opera,” Wilson recalled.

She trained and did just that, performing with Fort Worth’s resident opera company and singing in many of the most prominent concert halls in the country. Last August, after the abrupt departure of FWO general director Afton Battle, the company board approached Wilson to fill the vacated role.

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Wilson had just stepped down as chair of TCU’s vocal studies program but was still committed to teaching.

Joining FWO was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said, “especially to have the option of staying close to my family in Dallas and be a part of the opera community on a level that so few have the privilege to experience.”

With the new season beginning in a few months, Wilson will have her first year of full creative control over the group. Her current title of general director and artistic director is unique for an organization this large, but given her past career at TCU and as a performer, it makes sense for now.

Wilson said she will endeavor to maintain the progressive visions of her two immediate predecessors. In Battle’s two years, she labored to diversify the company’s programming and audiences before resigning last fall, expressing frustration with working in a conservative state as a Black woman, and Darren Woods, who served from 2001 to 2017 before the board fired him (citing a need for a “fresh perspective”), championed contemporary opera and living composers.

Maintaining continuity between her own goals for FWO and its past leadership is a challenge.

“Both of those amazing people brought their passion projects to the front” of their roles, she said. “I see the incredible value of both, and I want to continue both of those.”

Wilson said she also feels compelled to balance “what our community wants to see. Younger generations have very strong ideas about what they want and how they want to be spending their money and time. How do you reach every community, every group, who has not been approached and made to feel welcome at our events? What do they want to see? We need to find that out. It’s a matter of opening yourself up and being in conversation with what this community needs.”

FWO’s 78th season offers a regional premiere, a nationwide Spanish-language premiere, community concerts, and a return to Bass Performance Hall after 2022’s La Traviata.

The season opens with three runs of La Médium at the Rose Marine Theater on the North Side. The work by Gian Menotti tells the story of Madame Flora, a psychic who willfully tricks clients into believing her predictions until one evening they start coming true.

“We are the first company to do a Spanish translation in the States,” Wilson said of the show. “It’s a great show for the [Halloween] season. Someone gets murdered. It’s going to be spooky.”

December brings Menotti’s version of Amahl and the Night Visitors at BRIT (Botanical Research Institute of Texas). The one-act opera recounts the story of a crippled boy visited by three kings on their way to the newborn Jesus.

The company closes 2023 with Wintersong: A Musical Holiday Celebration, featuring resident artists. Singalongs of carols, holiday favorites, and opera classics will be a large part of this free concert at a to-be-determined venue.

In February, FWO puts on the regional premiere of dwb (Driving While Black). Presented in collaboration with the Kimbell Art Museum and TCU, the work by composer Susan Kander and librettist Roberta Gumbel is a montage of the ups and downs of Black mothers as they raise children in a society where policing practices routinely endanger the safety and lives of Black drivers and passengers.

“The set is the interior of a car,” Wilson said, and the show takes viewers “through the thought process of a Black mother with a teenage driver. I have two [white] sons, 20 and 16. I don’t have to have that conversation [about police shootings] with my sons. When people stop talking about these problems, the conversion dies. Art should inspire dialogue.”

The 2023-2024 season finishes at Bass Hall, where two performances of La Bohème will showcase the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) onstage.

“We asked, and people love seeing the musicians” who are normally offstage, Wilson said. “Since we are bringing the musicians out, we are taking out the pit so the singers can go out to the audience.”

Fort Worth’s major performing arts groups have benefited from long-term leadership: Cliburn CEO Jacques Marquis, Texas Ballet Theater’s artistic director Ben Stevenson, FWSO’s former music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya (2000 to 2020). If FWO’s leadership and audiences are supportive, Wilson said she has big ambitions for the city’s resident opera company.

“This is my home,” she said. “If I can help my community and help opera, the passion project of my life, by building upon what [Battle and Woods] set forth, I will be a happy woman.”