WHY I GIVE: CONSTANCE CHESNUT

Patricia Bardon as the title character in Carmen (2013); Photo: Robert Millard

Patricia Bardon as the title character in Carmen (2013); Photo: Robert Millard

Constance Chesnut grew up in the performing arts. Both of her parents were classical musicians. Her mother occasionally performed in her hometown opera’s orchestra and was its first female French horn player. “That was a time when women weren’t encouraged to work,” she said.

Ms. Chesnut’s exposure to opera at a young age cultivated a love for the art form that carried over into adulthood. She and her husband, Sheldon Benjamin, have been enjoying performances at LA Opera for many years, and one of her favorite operas inspired her to become a donor and provide financial support above and beyond the cost of her tickets.

“We received a letter from LA Opera, saying that they needed help funding a production of Carmen. I really love Carmen and had just assumed other people were taking care of [the financial needs],” she said. “What I discovered was that I enjoyed the operas so much more once I became involved.  It was more rewarding than I expected.”

Ticket sales cover less than half of the cost to produce world-class opera. “It takes a lot of support. The reason opera’s great is that there’s so much going on. You’ve got singers, costumes, the orchestra, the behind-the-scenes crew, and more. So much goes into it,” Ms. Chesnut said.

Because of her contributions, Ms. Chesnut receives membership benefits that provide a behind-the-scenes look at how opera is produced. “I love those experiences and seeing what goes into the development of a production. I enjoy learning how the company decides on the operas it will produce and seeing how they’re put on. It’s fascinating.”

Ms. Chesnut encourages support for LA Opera regardless of how much someone gives. “Every gift matters. If you’re a participant in society and enjoy the arts, you need to support them. Support what you value,” she says. “A first rate opera company is essential to a first-rate city. The art form must be performed at this level in order to preserve it.”

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