The other day I asked Ian Campbell, general director of the San Diego Opera, to draw a graph showing his stress or excitement level throughout the year. Is he more relaxed in January, when the season kicks off, or in May, when it wraps up?

The answer is both, he said. Crunch times for Campbell are July and October, when he has to sort out budgets. From January to July, the stress-o-meter is low — so low he labeled that portion of his diagram “Joy.”

That’s because Campbell’s work for “Faust” started and wrapped up long ago. This timeline shows all the steps that took place up to mid-April, where our series, Countdown to Curtain, picks up.

2006 — Campbell started thinking about doing Faust in the 2011 season.

2007 — Campbell hired tenor Stephen Costello as Faust and soprano Ailyn Perez as Marguerite and, soon after, the rest of the principal singers, the conductor and the director. Costello and Perez signed contracts that fall, committing them to singing four performances of “Faust” for a certain fee. Beyond being a financial investment, Campbell said the decision to hire someone four years ahead is a technical and artistic one: “You’re making an investment in a voice that, from your experience and judgment, you think will develop in the right way,” he explained.

For every opera there are several versions of sets and costumes that belong to various opera companies. These companies use them or rent them out. For example, the San Diego Opera rents out its “Pearl Fishers” production, and it seeks sets for other operas from outside companies. For “Faust,” John David Peters, production carpenter, inspected photos and technical specs of sets around the country. He found one from the Lyric Opera of Chicago that fit Civic Theater’s stage and had the look the artistic team wanted. (Incidentally, it was a perfect fit because the San Diego Opera built those sets back in 1989 for another opera, and then they were turned into “Faust” in 2005.)

2010 — The sets and costumes arrived from the San Francisco Opera, the last company to rent them from Chicago, and they went into storage. Schedules, down to the days and hours of rehearsal, were finalized by Mary Yankee Peters, the stage manager.

January to May 2011 — Occasionally, Campbell puts out last-minute fires. A principal singer could get sick, a crew member could fall and get hurt, there might be a visa snafu for one of the singers traveling from a different country. You never know what’s just around the corner.

But as Campbell’s days grow calmer, the frenzy for everyone else begins: costume fittings, acrobat training, dance practice, rehearsals, and set construction.

Next up: More on that last one, the set construction.

Roxana Popescu is a San Diego arts writer. You can reach her directly at

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