Position Opportunity

General Director
Kentucky Opera
Louisville, Kentucky

Kentucky Opera invites nominations and applications for the position of General Director, available in the summer of 2018.

The Company

Kentucky Opera is a vibrant, robust organization and one of first opera companies in America to earn the designation “regional.” Founded in 1952, the Company soon gained national attention for its high quality productions, courageous repertoire, and enthusiastic audiences. Kentucky Opera was officially designated the State Opera of Kentucky in 1982.

Kentucky Opera has a distinguished leadership history. The Company was begun by Moritz von Bomhard with a budget of $10,000 to produce three operas and thrived under his direction for thirty years. Scottish Director Thomson Smillie succeeded Bomhard in 1982 and led the Company’s growth and development for the next 16 seasons. Deborah Sandler followed Smillie in 1998 and is now General Director of the Kansas City Opera; David Roth took the helm in 2006 and led the Company until his untimely death in July, 2015. Each left a legacy of artistic success and adventuresome programming. Ian Derrer came to Kentucky Opera in 2016 from Dallas Opera, where he served as artistic administrator. In July 2018, he will return to Dallas Opera as General Director and CEO.

Kentucky Opera also has a rich history of presenting new work and work that is new to Louisville audiences. Bomhard included one Louisville premiere in each season and presented five world premieres during the 1950’s. The tradition has continued for more than six decades. The 2017/18 Season introduced audiences to Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. The 2018/19 season will include the regional premiere of Ben Moore’s new opera, Enemies, A Love Story, which was part of Kentucky Opera’s Composer Workshop in 2009 and 2011. Also as main-stage productions for 2018/19, the Company will present Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Verdi’s Rigoletto. Each production will be performed twice at the elegant 1,400-seat W. L. Lyons Brown Theatre.

The Company has made a major commitment to education and community engagement. Programs include Hands on Opera, an interactive approach to introducing first to eighth graders to the elements of opera; Let’s Talk Opera! a multi-media, custom-tailored approach to exploring the connections between opera and literature, art, history, or language; and The Science of Opera, an interactive program that explores the physiology of the human body as a musical instrument. Oh Freedom is a musical journey from West Africa to present-day America that includes the songs of slavery and the civil rights. The Company also offers master classes, preview discussions, and admission to dress rehearsals for students and community members.

The Barbara and Halsey Sandford Studio Artist Program brings young professional singers to Louisville and offers them both training and the opportunity to gain performance experience as they prepare to launch their professional careers. More than 400 young artists audition for nine positions in the program. Studio artists participate in Main Stage productions covering roles, performing comprimario roles, and singing in the chorus. They work with resident composers and perform at a myriad of patron and community events.

The Company also provides training and professional development opportunities to young artists who are pursuing their graduate studies through an Apprentice Artist Partnership with the University of Louisville School of Music.

Kentucky Opera today has an annual operating budget of about $2.3 million, a strong balance sheet, and an engaged donor base. The Company is governed by a 35-member Board of Directors and has an artistic and administrative staff of 10; finance and patron services are shared with the Louisville Orchestra. The Louisville Orchestra plays for all performances and the Louisville Ballet is featured in repertoire with dance.

The City of Louisville

Louisville is a city with an active downtown that offers a wide variety of arts and entertainment, and with suburban and rural living within easy commuting distance. The city is home to Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Youth Orchestra, Kentucky Opera, Louisville Ballet, the Speed Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Museum, the Kentucky Derby Museum, and many more arts and cultural organizations. Louisville was home to the world’s first Festival of Faiths, which is now in its 23st year.

Louisville is recognized by food critics nationally for the quality of its restaurants. Also admired for its parks, the city is encircled by the 100-mile Louisville Loop trail. And Louisville’s Churchill Downs is the proud home of the annual Kentucky Derby.

The Opportunity

The sixth General Director of Kentucky Opera will join a Company with an outstanding record for success both artistically and financially located in one of the most livable cities in America. S/he will have the opportunity to lead and represent Kentucky Opera in a vibrant community where both the performing and visual arts are enjoying renewed energy and excitement as dynamic arts leaders explore creative ways to expand and engage audiences.

Kentucky Opera has adopted a strategic plan that extends to 2020. The Company receives major support from the Fund for the Arts, the country’s first and oldest continuing united arts fund, and from other area corporations and funders. As local philanthropy responds to an ever-growing number of arts organizations, their support for the Opera will decrease over the next several years. The General Director will be challenged to increase and diversify the Company’s patron base and to develop new sources of revenue to support the Opera’s programs and productions.

The Position

The General Director is the chief executive officer of Kentucky Opera, with oversight and ultimate responsibility and accountability to the Board of Directors for artistic vision, financial soundness, robust fundraising and deep community engagement. S/he oversees all aspects of operations, including: artistic administration; budgeting and financial management; development; marketing and public relations; advocacy; education; and human resource management.

The General Director sets and realizes an exciting and compelling artistic vision for the Company. Working with the Board and staff, s/he determines repertoire, assembles production teams, identifies casts, and engages artistic personnel. S/he ensures that the Company achieves and maintains the highest possible standards of artistic excellence with available financial resources.

S/he provides leadership and vision for the Company’s education programs and community engagement activities. S/he fosters an environment that allows artists to do their best work.

The General Director leads the fundraising efforts of Kentucky Opera. S/he invests significant time and energy in the identification, cultivation, and solicitation of donors. S/he provides impetus, support, and guidance to the fundraising efforts of Board members and volunteers.

The General Director establishes and maintains positive and productive working relationships with Louisville’s Fund for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and major corporate, foundation, and individual funders.

The General Director is the visible representative of Kentucky Opera throughout the community and the region. S/he actively pursues opportunities for partnerships and collaborations with arts, educational, cultural, and other organizations in Louisville and the state of Kentucky. S/he serves as spokesperson for the Company with print, broadcast, and social media. The General Director strives to heighten awareness about Kentucky Opera throughout the community, the state, and the region.

The General Director leads, inspires, and motivates staff in a workplace that encourages collaboration and teamwork. S/he mentors and develops talent within the organization. S/he ensures strong communication among all the Company’s stakeholders. S/he supports the Board in its governance role and works closely with the Board President in recruiting talented volunteers to an active and energized Board.

Candidate Profile

The successful candidate will be a visionary, creative, and energetic leader with a proven collaborative approach to engaging with the Board, staff, and community stakeholders. S/he will be experienced and knowledgeable about all aspects of opera repertoire, artists, and production. S/he will have the strength of personality to unite both volunteer and professional members of the Company behind a shared vision for Kentucky Opera.

The successful candidate will have a passionate belief in the value and importance of opera as an art form and as a vital community asset. S/he will be cognizant of present-day challenges to the financial viability of professional opera companies and their ability to sustain and grow audiences. S/he will have the imagination, flexibility, and resilience to address challenges and find innovative ways to attract new audiences and new sources of financial support.

The successful candidate will be adept at fundraising. S/he will be willing to devote substantial time and effort to the identification, cultivation, and solicitation of donors, and to providing excellent stewardship of gifts.

The successful candidate will be a skilled manager who inspires and empowers artists, administrative staff, and Board members to do their best work. S/he will be able to develop and maintain an environment that allows the Company to achieve a consistently high standard of artistic excellence. The successful candidate will be a strategic thinker who leads the Company in developing short- and long-term operating plans to ensure that Kentucky Opera achieves its income and expense goals. S/he will have excellent budgeting and financial management skills.

The successful candidate will welcome the opportunity to make a home in Louisville and to take an active role in the greater Louisville community.


Compensation, including benefits, is commensurate with qualifications and experience.


Please send a cover letter outlining specific interest in Kentucky Opera and qualifications for the position. Include with resume, salary history or requirements, and contact information for at least three references. Electronic submissions are requested. All applications will be treated as confidential and references will not be called without the candidate’s prior knowledge and agreement.

This position will remain open until filled. The Committee will begin to review candidates’ credentials in early May.

Please send materials to:

Kentucky Opera – General Director Search
c/o Catherine French Group
2500 Q Street NW, Suite 623
Washington, DC 20007