Portland Opera’s Interim Music Director Talks Exercise, Matcha, Anti-Racism and More

Damien Geter: My essential seven.

When Damien Geter, Portland Opera’s interim music director and artistic adviser, says that he listened to every kind of music growing up, he means it.

“It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true,” Geter says. “We probably listened mostly to R&B and gospel, but we listened to Dolly Parton, we listened to Madonna. I went through a grunge phase. There was a lot of jazz in the house. We had records of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.”

The epic range of Geter’s passions makes him the perfect music director for Portland Opera in 2022. Beginning with When the Sun Comes Out, a love story between two women set in an imaginary country, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Central Park Five, the company will introduce audiences to a diverse array of works that promise to expand audience perceptions about what opera can be—and who it can be for.

“You’re going to see grand opera in totally different ways,” Geter says. “From a visual standpoint, you’ll see singers from every background you can think of, we hope.” With the shadow of the pandemic looming, he also adds, “We don’t want to do a whole season of drama and trauma. We do like to have a balanced season.”

Geter has stories of his own to tell—including an opera he is currently composing that he describes as a dark comedy about Mary’s decision to give birth to Christ—but he took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss seven things he considers essential in his life, which he listed in no particular order.

1. Gym membership

I’m a member of Me Fitness in Northeast Portland. I go four times a week. I’m not one of these people who’s, like, a gym head. I’m not doing this to get muscles or anything. I’m doing this mostly to keep moving because most of the work that I do, I’m staying in one place, just kind of sitting there. Your body’s an instrument.

2. Matcha

Matcha is the type of thing you either love or you hate. It tastes very bitter. It’s a green tea that’s been ground. I don’t particularly care for coffee, but I will do matcha in the morning. I haven’t found it to have any kind of effect on the voice or anything like that. It may dry it out a little bit, but it’s nothing that’s detrimental.

3. Health care

I don’t know why this country hasn’t figured it out yet. I went to England and I had to go to urgent care for something minor. I didn’t pay a dime. I’m not even a citizen of that country. I’m getting on my soapbox now, but we’ve seen that universal health care can work.

4. Friends

I consider myself to be an introvert. I really do. Not even an extroverted introvert, whatever that is. But if I’ve noticed anything in the last year, it’s that I still need connection to my friends in some way. So it was fun for me to reconnect with a lot of people this past year when I felt a little safer to do so.

5. Laughter

Well, I’ll tell you what makes me laugh lately—TikTok videos and these reels that pop up on social media. They have definitely gotten me through a lot of dark moments. Like today, I saw a reel of this doll that looked like [it was from] The Exorcist. It said something like, “Returning to work after day six of COVID.”

6. Anti-racist ideation

Anti-racism to me means decentering white voices, putting voices of Black people in the center, creating intentional opportunities for Black people. That was hard [when I was teaching] because I worked in private schools, and the culture and dynamics were set up for white people. I’m just being honest with you. When I taught at Portland State University, I had one Black student, and I made sure that he was aware of everything out in the real world. I don’t teach there anymore, but we’re still in touch. And he still calls me and asks me for advice.

7. Music

My brother was a DJ for a while. My mother sang in church. My grandmother played piano. Music has always been a part of our lives. My willingness to listen to everything has stayed with me as an adult. I actually don’t understand people who only listen to one type of music.

SEE IT: When the Sun Comes Out plays at the Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers St., 503-241-1802, portlandopera.org. 7:30 pm Friday, Jan 28; Thursday, Feb. 3 and 10; Saturday, Feb. 5 and 12. 2 pm Sunday, Jan. 30. $75.