So how did I get into opera … I grew up in Philadelphia and my parents had season tickets to the Philadelphia Orchestra. My father was a chemist, but he and my mother would have friends over and they would play chamber music. I heard classical music all my life, but my parents weren’t opera fans. When I was a junior in college, my father was given some tickets to the opera. He called me up because he didn’t want to go alone and my mother had no interest in opera. I went to see Rossini’s Cinderella and boom, overnight, I was hooked. I became a season subscriber and every time during my junior and senior years that I could go to the opera, I would. I became that crazed opera buff.
I went to graduate school and came back to back to Philadelphia. I would go into New York as often as I could. I took piano lessons and night classes about opera; I wasn’t a singer or conductor. I started asking myself about what sort of career I could have involving the arts. I thought I could go back to school and get a doctorate in music history and I could teach. I was admitted in the graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania. There I was and I was not having a good time. All the research and scholarship wasn’t me. I just loved going to the opera. I saw an ad for an MBA in arts management and thought I could do this and work for an arts organization.
The first job offer I had was at the Tulsa Opera. I came to Tulsa and to my surprise they had lots of oil money. It was wonderful opera of high level and I had a boss of high principles. It was a great place to get started. The residents are proud of it. I did that job for two years from 1977 to 1979. Then I got a job in Chattanooga, Tenn, running a very small opera company from 1979 to 1982. I had to do a little bit of everything there, it was a gracious community with lots of southern hospitality. The people were wonderful and I learned even more about running an opera company. In 1982, I went to the Michigan Opera Theatre as the director of finance. At that time, I was running the non-artistic operations. It was 10 times the size of Chattanooga so I felt like I had made the big time. Despite what folks say about Detroit, there are places and beautiful areas in the suburbs. I got the experience of running the business side as the vice president of finance and administration.
I came here in 1986. I was the managing director. From my training, when I got into the field, the National Endowment for the Arts and the states’ arts councils, wanted to know how grants and donations were managed and … how the money was being handled. The artistic director might have been all right handling this, but there became a need for people like me who are passionate about the arts, but who also understood the business side. … Here in Kansas City with Russell Patterson (Lyric Opera founder), he felt comfortable with me that I wasn’t trying to run the company, but I had some knowledge to call upon with my love of opera. So he would take me with him on auditions. I knew these operas and could suggest things. I suppose I came at it from a business perspective somewhat. I had always assumed that my career goal would be directing the finances of a big opera company. However, Russell retired in 1998 and recommended to the board to hire me as general director. I was flattered and at that time, I thought I didn’t have the depth of knowledge to be make artistic decisions. In 1998 I was named general director and I was allowed to hire Ward Holmquist as artistic director. I trust him and we talk about the big decisions such as the season and the casting. I often feel that I want to pinch myself; I thought I would be a bean counter at a big opera company and I would be fine because I would be around opera. I never thought I would be general director with a certain level of artistic input. I am most surprised as to where my career went to have an opportunity to do this
Speaking of opportunities, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City has staged some incredible operas. Some of my favorites include The Rake’s Progress, Billy Budd, our 2011 Marriage of Figaro, Of Mice & Men, our 2004 Cinderella with Joyce DiDonato the opera that hooked me. By the way, I still have the program book from all those years ago. Of course, the upcoming Nixon in China it’s a fabulous piece of such an interesting period of time. It’s a fabulous score and it will be a spectacular production. We couldn’t have done this in the Lyric Theatre. How do you land Air Force One unless there’s fly space provided by the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts? There will be people who will say the music is really hard for them, but they will be blown away by the production. The staging, the production, will be the window into this piece.
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ Muriel Kauffman Theatre has a flexible stage. The proscenium opening is 50 feet wide, just as the Lyric. The difference is the height and depth to the stage. We have the ability to do things like bring in Air Force One. Of course, we don’t always have to use the whole stage. We did for Turnadot, but not for Cosi fan Tutte. Basically we had six people on stage and it worked. We are able to be artistically and financially flexible. The acoustics are fabulous and the amenities for the audiences are great like the titles that run on the seatbacks. The original language is translated to English and we remain true to our mission. The singers get proper dressing rooms and they take back to their friends and agents what a good experience they had. I want people to go home and say Kansas City is a great place.
Some guest artists like Sandra Piques Eddy are the kind of artists you like to engage in Kansas City. She had sung Mercedes at the Met, but she was itching to do Carmen, which she did and she’s returning for The Barber of Seville. We can offer younger sopranos, the younger singers period, the chance to try a role. They are away from the critics of New York. We also have the reputation of second productions. While we have had a few world premieres, we have staged many second productions. Composers love that. They know their work has further life.
As for my legacy, I wonder about what can I truly take credit for … my view of management has been collaborative. I don’t have all the answers. I have had a career doing what I can being the generalist. … I have handled union negotiating, fundraising, or negotiating with a singer’s management … I have been a jack of all trade and master of none. Here we have a staff to share ideas with and to be part of that collaborative team. I will leave my successor with a physical plant that is second to none. It’s my hope that they attract a good replacement and this person will have the energy to take the Lyric Opera of Kansas City to the next level. I wanted to be here to spend one year in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, but someone needs to be here for 5, 10 or 15 years. I have been in opera management for 35 years. Someone young needs to surpass what I have done.
It is a good chapter for me to close. There are things that I want to do while my health is good. I want to study Japanese. I am going to take the piano back up. I took lessons through my MBA, but in 1977, when I went to Tulsa, my career took off. When my parents moved out of their house and into a retirement community, they gave me their piano. It’s a family heirloom so I was the musical son and ended up with the piano. I taught preschoolers so I want to volunteer with children. I want to travel. We are going to stay in the area; we have built up so many relationships. My wife and I love the arts in Kansas City. Our daughter and granddaughter aren’t far. Our son lives in Washington D.C. and my brother isn’t far. And if I get an itch, I can go to New York, but this is home.