<span>Tianyi Lu</span>
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A Milestone for Women Conductors

Dallas Opera General Director & CEO Keith Cerny describes professional development opportunities for women administrators, plus a major milestone for women opera conductors.

published Friday, August 4, 2017



Dallas — Following the very successful reunion of past participants in San Francisco, The Dallas Opera recently announced six new conductors and four observers for the third residency of the Hart Institute for Women Conductors, to be held from November 5-19, 2017. It’s an extremely accomplished group, with conductors hailing from Australia, Brazil, Colombia, France, Poland, and the United States. There will be two public concerts in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. Each will feature The Dallas Opera Orchestra led by all six women conductors—a too rare sight even in the 21st century. The first concert will be held on Nov. 11, 2017, and the final concert on Nov. 18, 2017.

While the Hart Institute began with a focus on supporting talented women conductors, I soon realized that the challenges faced by women opera administrators are equally daunting. One doesn’t have to look far for proof: none of the nine largest opera companies in the United States are currently headed by a woman General Director and, historically, women have accounted for, at most, 10 percent of these positions. To help address this imbalance, The Dallas Opera is adding a new component to this year’s institute, also funded by Linda and Mitch Hart. Beginning in 2017, and for the next six years, TDO will invite between two and four American opera administrators to participate in the program each year. These women will be selected based on their potential to become a leader of one of America’s top opera companies later in their careers. The Dallas Opera has encouraged applications from diverse backgrounds, including opera executives with wide experience in a variety of business and artistic functions. These would include general directors of smaller companies, leading academics, singers, and instrumentalists. Later this month, The Dallas Opera will announce the selected arts administrators for the 2017 residency.

Photo: Chicago Opera Theater
Lidiya Yankovskaya

These opera administrators will participate in many of the sessions that the conductors and observers attend, including the role of the Board, leadership development, personal branding, media and PR training, effective artist management, and navigating recruiting processes for senior level positions. They will also participate in additional sessions on marketing, development, finance, and organizational roles and responsibilities, taught by TDO’s talented staff.

To provide additional support and visibility for Opera Administrators, The Dallas Opera has recently added material to our website that tracks women administrators, conductors and artistic leaders for the largest 134 companies in the United States. The data is broken down into five budget categories from Budget 1 opera companies (those with the largest budget) to Budget 5 (the smallest). As I have written about before in these columns, budget size is not a measure of quality, but it does reflect the level of resources available to the artistic leadership of the company (e.g. for commissioning new works, designing and building new productions, hiring well-known artists, etc.). For each company, we note where women are taking leadership roles as the general director (or top administrative leader in companies that do not have a general director), music director (not all companies employ a dedicated music director) and artistic director (again, not all opera companies are structured the same, and not all incorporate this role). For each opera company (and female executive) there are imbedded links connecting to detailed company and biographical information.

Why is this new web resource necessary?  One of the most persistent pieces of misinformation about the opera field—often shared by executive recruiters and Board search committees—is that there are very few qualified women available for leadership roles as general directors and music directors. While this view is demonstrably false, it is true that identifying qualified candidates is time consuming, given the large number of companies in our survey (134 in all), and the lack of reliable “off the shelf” listings. This data—assembled from public information obtained from OPERA America and additional research and analysis by TDO Intern Mariama Holman and my Executive Assistant Lindsey Simmons, provides an efficient “road map” for anyone seeking qualified female candidates for consideration. The Dallas Opera will update this information quarterly, to ensure that it remains accurate and up to date.

This employment data also provides important insights into the opera field. As readers will recall, OPERA America categorizes opera companies by budget level, from Budget 1 ($15 million annual budget and above) to Budget 5 (under $250,000 annual budget). Here are some of the key findings from our analysis regarding opera general directors (including other top administrative leaders):

  • Of the 134 companies in our survey, 43 are headed by a woman (34 percent)
  • For Budget 1 companies, none are currently headed by a women
  • Among Budget 2 companies (annual budget of $3-15 million), of which there are 28 in this survey, six are headed by a woman (21 percent of the total)
  • Among Budget 3 companies (annual budget of $1-3 million), of which there are 25, six are headed by a woman (24 percent)
  • Intriguingly, a majority of the 28 Budget 5 companies are headed by a woman (17 in all, which is 61 percent of the total)

And, here are some key findings about music directors in American opera companies today:

  • 60 opera companies have a music director or equivalent position, out of 134 companies included in our survey. Nationally, there are only 6 women in these roles (10 percent of the total). Half of the six women music directors lead Budget 4 companies, with more modest budgets in the $ 250,000-$1 million range
  • In Budget 1 companies, 8 out of 9 have a music director or equivalent position. None are women, although I was very proud to appoint Nicole Paiement at TDO as our Martha R. and Preston A. Peak Principal Guest Conductor several years ago
  • Until last month, none of the top 62 opera companies (Budget 1, 2, and 3 combined), of which 34 companies employ a music director or equivalent position, had a woman serving in that capacity!

As many readers will have already read in the music press, Hart Institute alumna Lidiya Yankovskaya from the 2015 residency was recently named music director for the Chicago Opera Theater. How significant is this? As noted in the third bullet point above, until her appointment last month, not one opera company employed a woman in this key, musical leadership role. I hope that Lidiya’s appointment marks the beginning of increased recognition and opportunities for women opera (and symphonic) conductors on a national basis. In the meantime, “bravissima” to Lidiya!

We are excited to prepare for our third residency this fall, which will include parallel programs for both the Hart Institute for Women Conductors and the Hart Institute for Women Opera Administrators. I couldn’t be happier with the impact of the program to date. While many of our alumnae are enjoying career successes, I did want to highlight one other recent notable appointment. New Zealander Tianyi Lu, who participated in the 2016 Hart Institute residency, and accepted our invitation to conduct a concert with TDO this fall, was just named a Dudamel Fellow at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She joins German conductor Ruth Reinhardt (who serves as Assistant Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) and American Jonathon Heyward in this internationally acclaimed program. I am extremely proud that two of the three Dudamel Fellows have such strong ties to North Texas, and pleased to have independent confirmation of the opportunities both The Dallas Opera and the DSO have created for these exceptionally talented women conductors.

◊ 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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A Milestone for Women Conductors
Dallas Opera General Director & CEO Keith Cerny describes professional development opportunities for women administrators, plus a major milestone for women opera conductors.

by Keith Cerny

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