By his own admission, the darkest moment in Brian Asher Alhadeff’s life came during a job interview with a manager at Big 5 Sporting Goods.
As he sat there discussing shoe sales, Alhadeff saw memories of his musical career flash before him.
“It was at that moment that I threw up my hands and said … ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this,’ ” recalled the conductor, who vowed to return to opera.
According to Alhadeff, Opera San Luis Obispo’s artistic and general director since July 2011, conducting is more than a mere profession for him.
“We artists, we don’t do this because we want to. We do this because we have to,” he said.
Alhadeff, who grew up in Long Beach, learned to play the piano at age 7.
“Classical music just took me,” said Alhadeff, who discovered a passion for conducting as a teenage student at Long Beach City College. “I liked the sound of an orchestra as opposed to a rock band.”
He was studying conducting at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore when Hollywood Opera Ensemble founder Aida Monte invited him to conduct her all-volunteer production of “Carmen.”
“It was literally the worst company anyone could want to work with,” Alhadeff quipped, featuring an ill-equipped, amateur orchestra and cast.
Still, the experience paved the way for scores of other gigs — including a stint as the artistic and music director of the Hradec Kralove International Summer Opera Festival in the Czech Republic.
“Opera just really opened its doors to me,” said the conductor, who estimates that he worked on 15 operas in three years for five different companies thanks to “Carmen.” Meanwhile, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a master of music degree from CSU Los Angeles and a doctorate of musical arts from UCLA.
Upon graduation, Alhadeff went to work as director of orchestras at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich. But that job ended around the time the Czech opera festival lost its international funding.
“From late 2007 until 2010, I didn’t pick up a baton,” Alhadeff said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god. What’s happening to me? Is this really the end of my life as a musician?’ ”
Then, in 2010, two things happened.
Robert Ashens, then the artistic director of Opera San Luis Obispo, brought Alhadeff aboard to work behind the scenes on “La Bohème.” And Alhadeff was invited to guest conduct the Albanian National Radio and Television Orchestra for a nationwide broadcast including the Albanian premiere of Howard Hanson’s symphony “The Romantic.”
Alhadeff returned to San Luis Obispo in April 2011 to serve as assistant conductor on “The Barber of Seville” before becoming Opera San Luis Obispo’s artistic director.
He’d like to see the company perform one or two full operas plus a classical musical each year.
In addition, he plans to continue Opera San Luis Obispo’s “co-opera” collaborative partnership with Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre. In April, the opera company joined Cal Poly students and members of Cuesta College’s North County Chorus for performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at the Spanos Theatre.
According to Alhadeff, San Luis Obispo has the potential to become a destination for opera lovers.
“Part of the issue is training the public … about what opera is,” he explained.