Crystal Manich
Crystal Manich

The key reunion scene in the opera Madama Butterfly is heartbreakingly sad, but the reunion that director Crystal Manich is experiencing is a joy.

Raised in Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon, Crystal Manich is back in town to direct the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of Puccini’s opera of love and betrayal. It runs at the Benedum Center from Saturday, March 16 through Sunday March 24.

“My home base has been in New York since 2006, and I’m on the road all over the country for about 10 months a year – the typical theater gypsy’s life,” Manich said. “Still, every time I come back home, that’s how it feels – like home.”

A fan of musical theater as a child, Manich, at 15, saw the Terrence McNally play Master Class about legendary opera soprano Maria Callas. “Her character fascinated me,” Manich said. “I went to library and picked up the CD of Tosca. It had this little booklet with the lyrics in English and Italian. I became enamored of the form and started buying CDs like crazy.”

“Hearing opera for the first time opened me up to the great possibilities that arise when music and drama are fused together in a very big way through the relationship between voice and orchestra.”

She entered Carnegie Mellon University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in drama, although opera was always in the back of her mind. A semester spent in Italy studying opera history and the language cemented the connection. Back at CMU, she found opportunities to direct scenes in the university’s music department and at the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s Summerfest, ultimately earning both a bachelor’s degree in drama and a master’s in arts.

She began apprenticing for a small, newly created company, the American Opera Project, in New York, building her skills. She assistant directed at Pittsburgh Opera, for a time working as resident director. Her directing work now takes her all over the country, although she has been back to Pittsburgh, directing at the Pittsburgh Opera now for the fourth time.

Manich’s parents were both born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to Texas when her engineer father accepted a job in the energy industry in Beaumont, Texas. The family moved to the Pittsburgh region when her father joined Ansys Inc., as an engineering software developer in Canonsburg. Joe Manich is a long-time board of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

How was it growing up as a Latina in Pittsburgh, a region with a traditionally small Hispanic population?

“To be honest, I never really thought about it,” she said. “We’d go visit Puerto Rico every year, and I spoke two languages at home, but I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until later, though my dad’s involvement with the chamber, that I became aware that there was a community of people in town with this common thread.   I realized that life was a bit unusual, but it was also really cool.

“I see that arts organizations are valuing diversity and bringing it onto their boards of directors – seeking out African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others to be more influential in the arts.

“I see that happening around the country and in Pittsburgh, too. There’s a great arts scene here. For a mid-sized city, Pittsburgh has a pretty amazing number of cultural offerings,” she added. “There’s a unique history here with the arts, and they seem to thrive.”