Austin Lyric Opera: Fat lady sings for artistic/managing director split

Austin Lyric Opera Artistic Director Richard Buckley and Managing Director Tamara Hale are both leaving their posts in June 2007, after which ALO will return to a single general director running the show

Richard Buckley
Richard Buckley

The final weeks of 2006 signaled big changes for Austin Lyric Opera in the coming year. On Dec. 12, Richard Buckley announced his resignation as artistic director when his contract expires next June. Then a week later, Tamara Hale, his administrative counterpart in the leadership of the company, announced that she'll be resigning as managing director when her contract with ALO is up the same month. The two have been running the company since the ALO board ousted co-founder and longtime general manager Joe McClain in October 2002. So what does it mean that both will be departing at the same time? Well, it means that the board wants to ring out the old and ring in … the older.

For some months, a board task force has been studying the management structure of the organization, weighing the merits of an artistic director/managing director team against a single general director. Seems the former is relatively rare among American opera companies the size of ALO: Only three companies are led by a split-responsibility team as opposed to 18 run by a solo director. And no less than an authority than Marc Scorca, president of the service organization Opera America for the past 16 years, strongly recommended that ALO revise its management structure. So on Dec. 19, that's just what the board voted to do. It's returning to the structure that was in place before 2003 and will hire a general director to succeed Buckley and Hale.

Board Chair Steve Davis explained that there are more benefits to be had from a single person in the top spot, "having somebody who is the face of the opera." And as the company moves into a new era with the opening of the Long Center in March 2008, that's what the board would like to see. "We want a person who is a tireless advocate for the opera and who carries the artistic mantle" along with the managerial responsibilities, Davis says. For the new director to be leading ALO for its first full season in the Long Center the following fall, this is the time to make that move.

So a new task force has been formed, one charged with deciding the type of person the opera wants to fill that position and whether to hire an executive search firm to find that individual. "July 1 is our solid target for having this person on board," says Davis, and with most companies winding up their seasons in early spring, he considers this "prime time to be searching for a new manager." As to what kind of person ALO might hire: Don't expect another conductor or even a stage director such as McClain. Davis suggested that the board favors more of a producer whose attentions wouldn't be divided or managerial allegiances compromised by artistic involvement in a production. While the new director won't get the plum of choosing the first show ALO performs in the Long Center – long lead times of the opera world being what they are, that decision was made some time ago – he or she will get to program the 2008-2009 season.

It should be noted that this new director will inherit an opera company that expanded its endowment from $700,000 to $3.2 million and saw annual fund-giving increase 21% under Hale's stewardship and that hosted the American premiere of a major new work by Philip Glass (Waiting for the Barbarians, coming in January) thanks to Buckley's artistic leadership. Their contributions have helped keep Austin Lyric Opera in the forefront of American regional companies. And maestro Buckley's contributions won't end in June: The board has voted to retain him as principal conductor for ALO's 2007-2008 season.

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Austin Lyric Opera, ALO, Richard Buckley, Tamara Hale, Joe McClain

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