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Opera Theatre Closes Its Books On A Record-Setting Season

Paintings portrayed by, from left, Daniel Brevik, Tobias Greenhalgh, and Theo Lebow; at center is Stephanie Blythe as Gertrude Stein and Elizabeth Futral as Alice B. Toklas
Ken Howard | OTSL

In a year when opera companies nationwide still struggle with the effects of the Great Recession, and sadly the venerable once-innovative New York City Opera closed, St. Louis continues to support three professional opera companies.

This morning the region's premiere, 39-year-old opera company Opera Theatre of St. Louis announced that it had raised a record $5.3 million as it closed its books on the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. That was 4 percent above what company optimists had predicted in its fiscal year 2014 budget.  The number of corporate donors boomed with a 42 percent rise over the previous fiscal year. New donor households jumped 203 percent in the fiscal year. In all 1,026 households contributed to OTSL, the highest number in five years.

The big boost in annual fund raising is chiefly due to donors’ response to a $1 million challenge grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The foundation required Opera Theatre to raise $1.5 million in new and increased gifts before the end of fiscal 2015 to secure the grant.

Major grants and gifts to support the commission, development, and production of Opera Theatre’s world premiere opera “27” about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were also significant factors in the increase.

Coinciding with this increase in annual fundraising, OTSL’s endowment reached a new record high, with $27.3 million in invested funds as of Sept. 30. Stewardship of the fund as well as new endowment fundraising have enabled the endowment portfolio to increase by 65 percent since the start of fiscal 2009, when general director Timothy O’Leary and board chairman Spencer Burke began their tenures. Opera Theatre has never accumulated a deficit and is now working to secure additional support to ensure the success of its 40th season.

The company saw a 5.4 percent rise in box office income, and subscription attendance was up 8.4 percent. Its Young Friends program for those 45 and younger was up 95 percent over the past two years.

OTSL’s Engagement and Inclusion Task Force continued to build an inclusive audience for opera that better reflects the rich diversity of the St. Louis community, the company said The task force worked with others to support a range of events in 2014 including the musical afternoon #with Normandy with Jazz St. Louis and St. Louis Public Radio at Normandy High School. Other efforts to build new and diverse opera audiences included community and school tours by director/designer Isaac Mizrahi, composer Ricky Ian Gordan, and librettist Royce Vavrek and OTSL’s first ever Spring Sing! community chorus downtown. 

"I am grateful beyond words to the Opera Theatre community -- staff, board, artists, volunteers, subscribers and our whole wonderful audience -- for producing these results,” said OTSL general director Timothy O’Leary. “As we look forward to our 40th season and the future beyond, we are energized by the possibilities and the challenges of today's landscape for the arts -- which is one of constant change and an increasing need to make meaningful civic impact."

Subscriptions sales for Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ 2015 season, which begins May 13, are also breaking early buy records. The company will present Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”, Puccini’s “La Rondine,” the American premiere of Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart” and Tobias Picker's “Emmeline.” For the first time in the spring festival, the company will put the company’s Gerdine Young Artists in the limelight for a concert.

Subscription prices start at $82 for a two-opera Wednesday or Saturday matinee series and $165 for a four-opera evening or matinee series. Single tickets will go on sale in February 2015, and will start at $25. Subscriptions can be purchased by visiting ExperienceOpera.org or 314-961-0644.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.