Long before you hear the singers on the Central City Opera House stage or the music from the orchestra pit, the festival’s visual art is what captures your attention. It conveys the experience and emotions of each production through powerful imagery. Whether through a brochure, digital post, an email or another medium, you’re getting a glimpse of what to except on the stage. We connected with Melissa Rick, Central City Opera’s Art Director and Graphic Designer, to discuss the importance of graphic design in the arts and the many ways it can be utilized.

What do you do in your role at Central City Opera?

I create visual assets for Central City Opera’s festival marketing materials and also serve the design needs of CCO’s internal departments, such as education and development. The start of each season’s design is the search for a new artist - usually an illustrator, painter or photographer - whose work could best represent the shows chosen for the coming season as well as the festival in its entirety. My role in working with each artist is to provide them with the necessary art direction in their process of creating each piece to ensure that it captures the stories we are telling and the look and feel we want to represent our festival. In coordination with the marketing department, we use these works of art to create a host of print and digital graphics to market our festival. The artwork is also showcased in our festival program book. That is a good place to see the full set of illustrations and to learn a bit about the artist who created them. I’m so proud of our recent work with Sonia Pulido, who won the NY Society of Illustrators Silver Medal for her 2020-21 Festival illustrations!

Why is your work important at an arts company?

Experiencing the arts is so important to thriving communities–thus all of our contributions within an arts company are vital. And I see visual design as essential to helping communicate what the Central City Opera experience is all about.

Tell us a bit about your life, education and career before Central City Opera (CCO).

I graduated with a BFA with an emphasis in painting while also focusing on coursework in Psychology, art therapy, art education and design. During those 4 years I volunteered at National Jewish Health with the resident art therapist at the time and supported myself taking commissions for murals, portraits and faux finishing. Immediately after graduation I moved to California and while there began applying to masters degree programs. I had courted the idea of a masters in art therapy, but after interviewing practitioners in the field I decided on graphic design, a more perfect application of my interest and skills. I first landed in NYC, staying with a friend while starting my masters at The College of New Rochelle, a small, private college 20 minutes from Manhattan in beautiful Westchester County. Two years later I graduated with a Master of Science in Computer Graphics. After graduation I worked for a short time at Clarion Marketing. It was a good experience but a large corporate firm wasn’t for me. I returned to Denver for a short stint, working at a small 3-person design studio before heading back to California to work as a graphic designer at a publishing company and eventually as a freelance designer in LA. During this time I discovered how important it was for me to work with companies who had a mission I believed in and wanted to support. So 11 years later I followed my heart back to Denver and started my own graphic design business. This is what lead me to CCO.

Melissa and friends in Hong Kong

How did you make your way into the field of opera? Why does the artform appeal to you? 

I responded to a post on a Denver nonprofit job board! I had never seen a live opera performance until starting my work with CCO. I’m now a fan. I love all that goes into a production, from set design to lighting, costumes, every instrument in the orchestra and of course, the performers with their such acoustical mastery. At each performance there is usually a moment when I step back from the story and try to take in the grand scale of all that is happening on stage, under the stage, behind the stage. I find it very exciting….especially when we are in the opera house. That place is magical. It is both intimate and grand at the same time.

Tell us about your world outside your position at CCO.

I really am lucky to now have both my office and art studio at home, giving me the convenience and opportunity to work fluidly between the two spaces and letting my work in each space influence the other. Traveling is always a source of inspiration and a few years ago I was finally able to make it to Hong Kong to visit friends from college. On my way, I spent a week in Vietnam where I took a fishing lesson among the rice fields!

I also love learning new skills. Some of my favorites have been taking ukulele lessons at Swallow Hill, learning sign language, completing the Master Community Gardening and Composting programs through Denver Urban Gardens and even learning to make my own shoes at the Colorado Shoe School!

Melissa fishing in Vietnam

Melissa celebrating in Hong Kong

What’s your personal mission statement? Why do you do what you do?

To remain open, curious and to never stop learning.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about opera? 

Opera, like many other art forms, is still evolving. Operas are being written that tell relevant, contemporary stories.

What does Central City Opera mean to you? 

It has been my introduction to world class opera and equally manages to produce innovative opera and musical theatre from a historic mountain town or the Denver Art Museum, DCPA, churches, and even outdoor venues, as we saw last year. I am also grateful to CCO for their continued support of the staff, performers and people like myself when the 2020 season was postponed due to the pandemic. Their commitment of support was a lifeline to so many.