The Austin Chronicle


By Robert Faires, August 29, 2003, Arts

A New Day at ALO

Austin Lyric Opera has found its new leader. On Monday, Aug. 25, the ALO board of trustees approved the appointment of conductor Richard Buckley as artistic director of the 17-year-old company. The move ends 10 months of speculation as to who would succeed Joseph McClain, the general director and co-founder of the company who was fired by the executive committee rather suddenly and shockingly last October. Buckley arrives with a wealth of experience drawn from his work with an impressive range of both opera companies and orchestras. He served as music director of the Oakland Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Seattle Symphony, and held posts at Seattle Opera and Washington Opera. Numerous other opera companies in this country have employed his baton, including Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Los Angeles Opera, while in Europe, he has conducted for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Paris Opera, and Royal Danish Opera, among others. Alfred King, who chaired the search committee, is quoted in the press release as saying, "We've selected a charismatic leader committed to Austin Lyric Opera's mission of artistic excellence and balanced and exciting repertoire."

If this announcement has caught you by surprise, don't be alarmed. The process by which Buckley was hired was a stealth operation, especially compared to similar searches conducted recently by Ballet Austin, the Austin Symphony, and the UT School of Music. Information about ALO's candidates and finalists was kept strictly in-house, which seems a missed opportunity on the part of the board. Given the turbulence around the opera this year -- the ugly dismissal of McClain, the resignation of Managing Director Michael Murphy after less than a year, the firing of seven staff members, the elimination of ALO's Young Artist Program led by acclaimed soprano Cheryl Parrish, and the appointment of a managing director from the ranks of the board -- which has not gone unnoticed by the public, the search could have been used to put the opera's name before the city and assure Austin that ALO still has the cultural interests of the entire community at heart.

Buckley joins the company Sept. 1. Of course, the opera's 2003-2004 season has long been set, so long that Buckley won't have an artistic role in its productions of Puccini's Turandot (Nov. 21-24), Mozart's Così Fan Tutte (Jan. 9-17), and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (Mar. 26-29). While it may be premature to speculate on the direction Buckley wants to take ALO, his résumé notes a strong interest in new works, so perhaps coming seasons will see a renewal of the company's commitment to 20th-century operas and world premieres. (And now that a new director has been chosen, perhaps the board will see fit to acknowledge Joe McClain's role in ALO's creation and meritorious years of service.)

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