Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) is an American summer opera festival held in St. Louis, Missouri. Typically four operas, all sung in English, are presented each season, which runs from late May to late June. Performances are accompanied by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, which is divided into two ensembles, each covering two of the operas, for the season. The company's performances are presented in the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Webster University.

First seasons and achievements

In 1976, Leigh Gerdine, Laurance L. Browning, Jr. and James Van Sant co-founded OTSL. They hired Richard Gaddes, who at the time was working at The Santa Fe Opera, as the company's first Artistic Director. They signed him as full-time General Director in 1978 at the suggestion of Ed Korn, who was brought in as a consultant from the Metropolitan Opera. Gaddes acknowledged that the model for OTSL was The Santa Fe Opera:

: That was not a coincidence. I always say that John Crosby sired the Opera Theater of St. Louis. The whole concept was modeled on Santa Fe, and part of the idea was that the apprentices here would feed into St. Louis. Which they did.

The first season in 1976 presented eleven performances of Britten's Albert Herring, Mozart's The Impresario, Menotti's The Medium, and Donizetti's Don Pasquale. This mixture of some standard works, and some new and unconventional operas, was to continue in future seasons and characterize the company's approach. This was achieved on a budget of $135,000. The young singers included Sheri Greenawald and Vinson Cole. During the early seasons, the company had a major influence with such achievements as first joint BBC/WNET telecast of Albert Herring and in 1983 the first appearance by any U.S. opera company at the Edinburgh International Festival. The first production of a Japanese opera in Japan by any American company was followed by a return to Tokyo in September 2001 to present the Japanese premiere of the classic Genji Monogatari, adapted as an opera by Minoru Miki as The Tale of Genji.

Well-known directors Graham Vick, Jonathan Miller, and Mark Lamos have made U.S. operatic debuts with OTSL, as did conductors Leonard Slatkin and Christopher Hogwood. Colin Graham served as OTSL's Director of Productions from 1978-1985. John Nelson was OTSL's Music Director from 1985 to 1988, and Principal Conductor from 1988 to 1991.

Other notable U.S. singers, including Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Dwayne Croft, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Patricia Racette, Sylvia McNair, and Stephanie Blythe have made appearances in St. Louis productions. OTSL has presented 14 world premieres, including Stephen Paulus' The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1982, The Loss of Eden by Cary John Franklin in 2002; David Carlson's Anna Karenina, with a libretto by Colin Graham; Terence Blanchard's Champion (2013), with a libretto by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Cristofer; and Ricky Ian Gordon's Twenty-Seven, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek. The last two operas have been part of the most recent OTSL series of commissioning new operas, under the "New Works, Bold Voices" initiative. The third opera in this cycle is planned to be Shalimar the Clown, with music by Jack Perla and libretto by Rajiv Joseph, scheduled for presentation in the 2016 OTSL season. In addition, OTSL has given 14 American premieres, including Michael Berkeley's Jane Eyre; Benjamin Britten's Paul Bunyan; Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Reims); and Judith Weir's The Vanishing Bridegroom.

The company trains young artists in the Gerdine Young Artists program, named for Opera Theatre's founding board chairman, Leigh Gerdine. The Gerdine Young Artists serve as the annual chorus for the company, as the company does not retain a resident chorus. OTSL chorus directors have included Donald Palumbo, Cary John Franklin, Sandra Horst, and Robert Ainsley.


Succeeding Gaddes as OTSL General Director was Charles MacKay, who held the post from 1985 to 2008. MacKay had previously served as OTSL Executive Director, beginning in 1984. MacKay led the campaign to construct and fund the new Sally S. Levy Opera Center, a new and permanent administrative home and year-round rehearsal facility for the organisation. In addition, in 2005, OTSL adopted projected English-language supertitles in the theatre. From 1985 until his death in April 2007, the OTSL Artistic Director was Colin Graham. From 1991 to 2017, OTSL's Music Director was Stephen Lord. Lord now has the title of OTSL music director emeritus. In June 2017, OTSL announced the appointment of Roberto Kalb as its resident conductor, effective with the 2018 season.

In September 2007, OTSL named James Robinson as the company's next Artistic Director, and Timothy O'Leary to the position of Executive Director. MacKay concluded his OTSL tenure as General Director on September 30, 2008. In June 2008, OTSL named O'Leary as its third General Director, effective October 1, 2008. O'Leary concluded his OTSL general directorship on June 30, 2018. In April 2018, OTSL announced the appointment of Andrew Jorgensen as its next general director, effective July 2, 2018. Robinson is currently contracted as OTSL artistic director through 2021.

General directors

  • Richard Gaddes (1976-1985)
  • Charles MacKay (1985-2008)
  • Timothy O'Leary (2008-2018)
  • Andrew Jorgensen (2018–present)

    Music directors

  • John Nelson (1985-1988; principal conductor, 1988-1991)
  • Stephen Lord (1991-2017)

    Artistic directors

  • Colin Graham (1985-2007)
  • James Robinson (2008–present)