The Hart Institute Reunion in San Francisco
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Outlooks for Women in Opera

Dallas Opera General Director & CEO Keith Cerny on recent reunions of the Hart Institute for Women Conductors in San Francisco and Dallas, and plans to include female opera administrators.

published Friday, June 2, 2017



Dallas — As many readers are already aware, the Dallas Opera launched a unique initiative in 2015 for women conductors on the cusp of major careers.  It’s been a busy spring for the Institute, and I wanted to devote this column to providing an update about the program’s activities—and plans for the future.

This month, Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, Principal Guest Conductor Nicole Paiement and I are working to select six conductors and four observers for the third residency of the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute, which will take place between November 5 and 19, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. This extraordinary program is already having significant international impact, and conductors who previously participated are achieving great success in their careers. The Hart Institute was also the subject of a national PBS NewsHour report last January. As the culmination of this year’s institute, the conductors will lead public concerts of The Dallas Opera Orchestra on November 11 and 18, 2017 in the Winspear Opera House, accompanying half a dozen exceptional young singers.

One of the features of the Hart Institute is an annual reunion of the conducting “fellows.” Each year, for the first five years of their tenure, the conductors will be invited to participate in a workshop/reunion with their colleagues. Over time, these reunions will grow to 30 eligible conductors (six from each year of the program), creating a unique environment for collaboration and networking. The reunions also include special seminars, introductions to music industry leaders, and master classes with singers and piano taught by distinguished faculty.

For the most recent reunion, which included conductors from the 2015 and 2016 Dallas residencies, 10 women conductors, several staff members, and I travelled to San Francisco in April. There, the conductors had the opportunity to work in master classes with singers and piano coached by Ian Robertson (San Francisco Opera Chorus Master) and TDO’s Principal Guest Conductor Nicole Paiement. They also had the chance to meet with General Director Matthew Shilvock, and Sheri Greenawald (Director of the San Francisco Opera Center and Artistic Director of the Merola Opera Program). The artists for the master classes were drawn from the ranks of the San Francisco Opera Adler Program. In May of this year, six of the 12 conductors from the first two residencies participated in the Young Artist Auditions at the OPERA America conference in Dallas, where they had a chance to present to more than 50 of the most important hiring executives in the opera field. Plans are already in place for a reunion in New York in 2018, which will include conductors from the first three residencies—as many as 18 conductors in all.

Photo: Scott Wall Photography
The Hart Institute Reunion in San Francisco

As we plan for the third residency of the institute, we are also working to broaden the focus of the program. While the Hart Institute began by addressing the need to support talented conductors, the challenges faced by women opera administrators are equally daunting.  To address this imbalance, The Dallas Opera is adding a new component to this year’s institute. Beginning in 2017, and for the next six years, TDO will invite between two and four American opera administrators to sit in on the discussions and masterclasses each season. These women will be selected on the basis of their potential to become a leader of one of America’s top opera companies later in their careers.

The selected opera administrators will attend all sessions during the annual residency in Dallas. This curriculum will include the role of the Board, leadership development, personal branding, media and PR training, effective artist management, and navigating recruiting processes for senior level positions. To continue to develop their musical skills, which is essential for any opera executive, the administrators will observe rehearsals with The Dallas Opera Orchestra and conducting master classes. Special sessions on Marketing, Development, and Finance will also be offered to these administrators.  One of the further goals of the program is to build a network of talented leaders in our field. In addition to the residency, the administrators selected for the program will be invited to participate in quarterly conference calls to continue to develop their personal networks and leadership skills.

This program is open to women who are American citizens or green-card holders. There is no age limit and, in an effort to encourage greater diversity, The Dallas Opera is encouraging women of various backgrounds to apply. In addition to women currently working as opera administrators, applications are being accepted from women working in other arts organizations, as well as performers, directors, designers, choreographers, and composers looking to make the transition into line management.

The application deadline is July 15, 2017, but early applications are strongly encouraged. Selected applicants will receive a stipend, travel, and housing for the duration of this year’s institute. The link to apply is here.

As a further enhancement to the 2017 Institute, The Dallas Opera is also compiling a directory of Women General Directors and Music Directors for United States Opera companies of all budget levels. When I speak with Boards, search committees, artist managers, hiring executives, and recruiters about hiring talented women for senior musical and executive positions, one of the most persistent comments I hear is that they cannot easily track down qualified candidates. (There are other biases, too, which can work against capable female candidates.)

In June of this year, The Dallas Opera will be adding a directory of women General Directors and Music Directors to its website, organized by the size of the company according to classifications developed by OPERA America, ranging from the largest “Budget 1” companies (Annual budget of over $ 15 million) to the smallest “Budget 5” companies with budgets under $ 250,000. As I have written previously in this column, there are companies with smaller budgets doing work of extremely high quality, and the leaders of these organizations often represent a well-qualified pool of talent for the recruitment processes of larger institutions.

As we enter the third year of the Hart Institute, The Dallas Opera is proud to have made a 20-year commitment to this groundbreaking program. The reaction from candidates, the media, and the opera field has been very positive, and we are eagerly awaiting the next residency.   The addition of women arts administrators to the program, and the creation of a Directory of women leaders in the field, should also add considerably to the Institute’s impact. I sincerely hope that readers will join us for one of the public concerts on November 11 and 18, 2017.


◊ Keith Cerny is the General Director and CEO of The Dallas Opera. His column OFF THE CUFF appears the first Friday of each month in









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Outlooks for Women in Opera
Dallas Opera General Director & CEO Keith Cerny on recent reunions of the Hart Institute for Women Conductors in San Francisco and Dallas, and plans to include female opera administrators.
by Keith Cerny

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