A chat with Tim Wallace, technical director at San Diego Opera

Tim Wallace is the technical director for the San Diego Opera, shown here backstage at the Balboa Theatre on Dec. 11, 2019.
(K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune)

This month’s In the Arts subject Tim Wallace gives us a peek behind the curtain of San Diego Opera, offers advice to people new to opera, and more.


It takes a lot to stage an opera — from the grand sets to the dramatic lighting — and the person who oversees all that for the San Diego Opera is Tim Wallace.

As the opera’s technical director he handles the logistics for each show, from intimate performances to large-scale productions like next month’s Hansel and Gretel. Wallace has a hand in installing sets, coordinating crews and building whatever the production needs in the Scenic Studio.

Wallace, a San Diego native, got his start working with local theaters and bands before being the opera’s backstage guru. He explains what it takes to make the opera run smoothly and safely, as well as whether or not he even likes the art form.

What would people be surprised to know about the opera’s backstage process?

It’s a calm and quiet environment until a scene shift, then things look chaotic, but they are in fact, extremely orchestrated in moves and timing.

What’s the most stressful part of technical directing?

Scene changes during rehearsal. It’s very important to get the timings right to not slow down the production. There are often hundreds of artists waiting to continue the rehearsal during a scene change, and it is important we rehearse these changes as well for actual performances.

What does it feel like to see your work taken down after each show?

Depending on if it’s a show that I had a hand in painting or designing or one that we rented, the feelings vary. Sometimes a show might be a tough one to stage and you can’t wait for it to go. Sometimes you’re with a set for such a long time that you have a strange sense of loss when the run is over.

Do you ever save anything from a set?

Over the years we have saved some strange and sometimes random pieces from past shows. Saved pieces range from painted flowers out of the opera La hija de Rappaccini (Rappaccini’s Daughter) to a full scale satellite used for a business conference in Coronado.

Tim Wallace is the technical director for the San Diego Opera, shown here backstage at the Balboa Theatre on Dec. 11, 2019.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

How did you get started in set design?

I actually fell into set design by accident. Prior to being the technical director for the Opera, I painted scenery for 29 years. My wife is a local actress (Amanda Sitton) and we are friends with several local directors. So it really started with a “hey, do you want to design a set for me?”

What about sound design?

The sound design sort of happened the same way. I was working at a local theater as their technical director and doing the set design as well. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling that music can add to a play or a movie, so I asked if I could try sound designing a show. Being able to design the set and sound was truly challenging and rewarding all at once.

And you also got experience working with local bands — which ones?

I’ve mostly worked with Rocket From the Crypt doing backdrops and some stage scenery for them for the past 20 years, and I’ve helped out on a few videos for No Knife and Hot Snakes.

Did you like opera before you joined San Diego Opera?

I liked opera before I joined, but at a distance. I was familiar mostly with the popular operas. I have a growing appreciation for opera the more that I am immersed in it. I’m sure a lot has to do with hearing and seeing it performed live. I’ve seen some amazing performers.

What advice do you have to someone who is new to opera?

Don’t be afraid to give an opera that you’ve never heard of a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised. I have been on numerous occasions.