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Timothy O'Leary

Timothy O’Leary was General Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis from 2008 until 2018, heading a leadership team that includes OTSL Music Director Stephen Lord and Artistic Director James Robinson.  Mr. O’Leary currently also serves as Chairman of the Board of OPERA America, the national service organization for opera.  He joined the board of Opera America in 2011 and previously served as Treasurer.  He also served on the Board of Directors for the St. Louis Diversity Awareness Partnership, as well as the Steering Committee for Arts & Faith St. Louis.

During Mr. O’Leary’s tenure with Opera Theatre, the company continued to earn acclaim for innovative programming, and achieved sustained growth in new audiences. While maintaining subscribership at rates above industry standards, OTSL was also nationally recognized for success in attracting new subscribers and building a younger and more diverse audience. Efforts included an Engagement and Inclusion Task Force and a Young Friends program, which has quadrupled in subscribership in the past seven years. In 2016, Mr. O’Leary received the St. Louis Business Journal “Innovation Award” for this work, and Opera Theatre became one of four U.S. opera companies to receive a major grant from The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative.


Mr. O’Leary’s tenure also brought new records for fundraising. Opera Theatre’s endowment doubled from $16.5 million in 2008 to exceed $33 million in 2017. Annual contributions grew by more than 46% during the same period, to exceed $6 million per year.


In 2013, Opera Theatre launched its New Works, Bold Voices series, a cycle of world-premiere American operas that embrace diverse influences and tell stories of the modern era.  The first opera in the cycle, Champion, an “opera in jazz” by Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer, was co-commissioned with Jazz St. Louis and became the best-selling world premiere in OTSL history.  The second opera, “27” by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek, prompted The Denver Post to write, “If you want to understand where opera is going in America you have to travel right to its middle; to … Opera Theatre of St. Louis.”  The cycle continued in 2016 with Shalimar the Clown by Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph, based on the novel by Salman Rushdie, which was described by the Chicago Tribune as “a gripping production that exemplifies what this envelope-pushing, opera-in-English company does best: high-gloss music theater that speaks to the cultural and political issues of today.”  When An American Soldier by composer Huang Ruo and librettist David Henry Hwang had its world premiere as a two-act opera in 2018, St. Louis Magazine wrote, "This opera may make you weep, but through weeping comes moral and cultural nourishment." The fifth opera in the series, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, by composer Terence Blanchard and screenwriter Kasi Lemmons is based on the memoir by Charles Blow and opens in 2019.


Also during Mr. O’Leary’s tenure, Opera Theatre presented important but rarely staged works, such as the first new U.S. production of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer since its original 1991 staging. The production won widespread acclaim, and in 2012 Mr. O’Leary was awarded the Norman A. Stack Community Relations Award by the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council for community projects surrounding the opera as well as for a collaboration with civic leaders to establish an annual interfaith September 11th concert. Further recognition for OTSL’s work includes the Missouri Arts Council’s Arts Award in 2010, and the Arts and Education Council’s St. Louis Arts Award for Excellence in 2013.  In 2016, Mr. O’Leary was named a “St. Louis Superhero” by Metro Theater Company.


Before his appointment as OTSL General Director, Mr. O’Leary was part of the management team at New York City Opera under General and Artistic Director Paul Kellogg, and he was also the first Managing Director of New York’s Gotham Chamber Opera, where collaborations included the Lincoln Center Festival and the Spoleto Festival USA. 


Mr. O’Leary’s training included an apprenticeship with San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, graduate studies in Theatre Management at Columbia University, and a degree in English from Dartmouth College.  As an assistant stage director, he worked for the New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Florida Grand Opera, and others.  He has also completed National Arts Strategies’ “Chief Executive Program,” which included training at the business schools of the University of Michigan and Harvard University.  Mr. O’Leary now lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife Kara, a clinical psychologist, and their three children.