Opera Theatre of Saint Louis 2017 Fiscal Year Closes with New Records in Fundraising and Endowment Support & Artistic Director James Robinson Contract Extension Announced Through 2021

FY17 ended at 101% of goal for annual fundraising, a record number of donations from individuals, and the endowment reaching a record high, with invested endowment portfolio at $33.7 million

St. Louis, MO, November 7, 2017 – Opera Theatre of Saint Louis General Director Timothy O’Leary today announced results from OTSL’s 2017 fiscal year, which closed on September 30, 2017.  The company reported another year of financial and artistic success thanks to the generosity and partnership of the St. Louis community. Complete details will be announced when the company publishes its annual audited financial statements in February. Mr. O’Leary also announced the extension of James Robinson’s contract as Opera Theatre’s Artistic Director through 2021, along with other artistic details on the horizon.


Financial Results

OTSL once again exceeded its annual fundraising budget in FY17, achieving 101% of goal for FY17 operating support, totaling $6.06 million. Donors from 1,054 households, the highest number to date, supported Opera Theatre’s programming in 2017. Those individual donors provided more than 50% of the company’s operating funds. In addition, corporate support for the company’s mission increased by 12% over 2016, and foundations and government agencies continued to make generous investments in Opera Theatre.  In total, operating support has increased by more than 50% in the last ten years.   


Further, OTSL received nearly $2.3 million in endowment commitments for the Stephen H. Lord Fund for Music to celebrate the naming of Maestro Lord as Music Director Emeritus at the close of the 2017 season. The Fund was established in 2016 with a generous challenge gift of $750,000 from longtime Opera Theatre board member Patricia Hecker to ensure continued artistic excellence and to support OTSL’s acclaimed music staff.  Donors from 26 states responded to Mrs. Hecker’s challenge with more than $1.5 million in additional support for the Fund.


Such gifts combined with favorable investment returns brought Opera Theatre’s invested endowment portfolio to more than $33.7 million as of September 30, an unprecedented high. Opera Theatre’s annual operating budget is approximately $10.5 million, making the company’s more than three-to-one endowment ratio one of the strongest in the U.S. opera field.  During the tenure of General Director Timothy O’Leary, the endowment portfolio has more than doubled, from $16.5 million at the start of FY09.


Artistic Leadership

With the close of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s 2017 fiscal year, Mr. O’Leary also announced that OTSL has extended its contract with Artistic Director James Robinson, who has held that post since October 2008, for four years, through September 2021.


Mr. Robinson has brought a string of critically acclaimed productions to OTSL over the years, staging John Adams’ Nixon in China, Dominick Argento’s Miss Havisham’s Fire, and Kurt Weill’s Street Scene before beginning his tenure as Artistic Director. Among his signature achievements in recent years at OTSL have been the commissioning and staging of such world premieres as Terence Blanchard’s Champion, Jack Perla’s Shalimar the Clown, and Ricky Ian Gordon’s “27,” in addition to mounting major revivals of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer, John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, and Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath.


Opera Today recently wrote of Mr. Robinson’s 2017 production of The Grapes of Wrath, “James Robinson has no equal when it comes to directing such sprawling, contemporary works, and he has once again covered himself in glory…” His work has been praised by The New York Times, Opera News, The Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and other publications around the world.


In his role as Artistic Director, Mr. Robinson has championed new American operas and has fostered OTSL’s New Works Bold Voices cycle of new American operas. The impact of this cycle continues to be felt nationally. In 2017 alone, recent OTSL commissions from the New Works Bold Voices cycle made debuts in Washington D.C. (Champion at Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center) and New York (“27” at City Center) and new productions were announced at New Orleans Opera (Champion) and Michigan Opera Theatre (“27”).


In addition to his artistic leadership at OTSL, Mr. Robinson has created productions for The Santa Fe Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center, the Houston Grand Opera, the London Symphony, Opera Australia, and many companies throughout the world.


Also continuing his decades-long association with Opera Theatre, Stephen Lord became Music Director Emeritus at the close of the 2017 season. He will continue as Artistic Director of Young Artist Programs in 2018, when he will also collaborate with James Robinson on OTSL’s upcoming production of Marc Blitzstein’s Regina featuring an all-star cast. Mr. Lord and Mr. Robinson will team up again in 2020 for a new production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, which will feature Russell Thomas, Roland Wood, and Laura Wilde.


Among the most selective young artist programs in the country, the young artist programs that Mr. Lord oversees attracted 1,225 applications in 2017, the largest pool of applicants in OTSL’s history; 35 artists were selected. The Richard Gaddes Festival Artist and Gerdine Young Artist programs have an unparalleled record of attracting talent of the highest quality; countless alumni have gone on to perform on the stages of every major opera company in the world.


“This has been a remarkable fiscal year for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, thanks both to the generous support of so many in the St. Louis community and to the extraordinary quality of work Artistic Director Jim Robinson and Music Director Stephen Lord brought to the stage. We are deeply grateful that Stephen’s extraordinary talents will continue to support OTSL in his new role as Music Director Emeritus for years to come, and we are very excited to see the continuation of Jim’s artistic vision take the company to even greater heights. Both Stephen and Jim are so highly regarded and admired in the opera world, and indeed we are extremely fortunate to have their vision, expertise, and guidance for years to come,” said the Chairman of the Opera Theatre Board Noémi Neidorff.  



Acclaim from Audiences and Critics

OTSL’s financial strength in 2017 supported continued artistic achievements during the 2017 Festival Season, at which the company presented both the American premiere of Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton’s The Trial and the new performing version of Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s The Grapes of Wrath. Both received critical acclaim both locally and nationally – with reviewers traveling from The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Europe’s Opera Magazine, and Los Angeles-based People’s World.


The 2017 season also marked important milestones for ticket sales. The company’s continued community engagement and audience building work generated a record volume of new opera-goers, with 34% of single ticket buyers were new-to-file – a total of 1,109 new opera-going households. The adventurous 2017 repertory brought in audiences who traveled to St. Louis from 48 states, the highest number of states OTSL has ever reached in a single season. (Only Vermont and Delaware were not represented in the audience database.) Additionally, patrons from 8 different countries as far as way as Australia attended OTSL during the season. Young Friends events, which cultivate the next generation of opera-goers, also saw a continued increase in attendance, with 660 Millennial and Gen X members.


“The support of the Opera Theatre family for our company’s mission is truly inspiring,” stated General Director Timothy O’Leary. “I am deeply grateful to the tremendous OTSL board, staff, artists, donors, and volunteers.  As always, it takes an incredible team effort to make possible this company’s work.  It is a joy and a privilege to be part of this team.”


The 2018 Festival Season opens on May 19. Early Bird subscription renewals have already reached over 80%, and single tickets went on sale in October, five months earlier than usual, to accommodate increased demand for national travel audiences, including patrons from across North America who will arrive in St. Louis when OTSL hosts the National Opera Conference June 20-23. The 2018 Season will feature Verdi’s La traviata directed by renowned soprano Patricia Racette, Marc Blitzstein’s Regina starring Susan Graham, James Morris, and Ron Raines, the world premiere of the two-act performing version of An American Soldier by Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang, Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice, and the annual young artist showcase concert Center Stage conducted by Stephen Lord. Subscriptions and single tickets can be purchased online, in person at the Loretto-Hilton Center Box Office, or by calling (314) 961-0644.  





About Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony.  As of its 2017 Festival Season, Opera Theatre has presented 26 world premieres and 27 American premieres — which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company.  Described by the Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis annually welcomes visitors from nearly every state and close to a dozen foreign countries.  Although the size of the theater typically limits box office income to less than a quarter of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit.


Opera Theatre also has a long tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation.  Among the artists who had important early opportunities at Opera Theatre are Erie Mills, Jerry Hadley, Christine Brewer, Thomas Hampson, Sylvia McNair, Dawn Upshaw, Susan Graham, Dwayne Croft, Patricia Racette, Matthew Polenzani, Nathan Gunn, Lawrence Brownlee, Kelly Kaduce, and Jennifer Johnson Cano.  Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 by general director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord (1992 – present) as music director.  Timothy O’Leary was named general director in October 2008 with acclaimed stage director James Robinson succeeding the late Colin Graham.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is funded in part by the Regional Arts Commission, Arts and Education Council, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Missouri Arts Council, with audience building programs supported by The Wallace Foundation.

Generous leadership support for the services of the St. Louis Symphony is provided by the Taylor family and the late Jack C. Taylor.