The Opera Conference 2018 sessions tackle crucial themes from the many angles of our art form. These are conversations no one can afford to miss.

View a PDF of the conference program book.

View the Opera Conference 2018 schedule & directory.

This schedule is subject to change.


To learn more about the sessions within a particular theme, click on each topic.


Civic Action

Increasing the effectiveness of opera companies as active cultural citizens is central to improving our service to communities and building relationships with new audiences and funders. While many companies already have significant community partnerships that deliver reciprocal benefit, our field as a whole has only limited experience extending public service outside the opera house. Several sessions will examine successful strategies that recalibrate the balance between “product focus” and “community focus.”

Opera companies often plan short-term community engagement initiatives around current season programming without investing in long-term partnerships. Moving beyond makeshift collaborations to create authentic and lasting relationships is an essential next step. Opera company leaders will speak about ways they have worked with community partners over longer time spans and how these relationships have broadened their perspective.

Opera companies have a positive impact on the artistic, social, educational and economic health of communities throughout the year, but we are not effectively telling this story in a way that contributes to the positive perception of opera, reinforces company brands and builds constituent loyalty. Hear from colleagues about the benefit of investing in documentation, distillation and communication of everyday work.

Opera is a powerful art form with the capacity to tell stories that are deeply personal and resonate with the world around us. Yet, the long development cycle of new works makes it difficult for opera to generate dialogue on the issues that matter most in an environment where last month’s pivotal issue has already been superseded. A panel of composers, directors and performers will discuss paths for artist-activists to inspire change through opera.

Learn how opera companies are successfully partnering with humanitarian organizations serving victims of human trafficking, incarcerated youth and other marginalized communities. A moderated discussion will focus on a unique program-development approach that listens to individual participants to help them reach personal and professional goals.


Racism continues to be a polarizing issue in the United States, and opera companies are part of an established social structure that has kept many people from feeling welcome to participate in our art form as artists, staff and audience members. Several sessions will examine strategies for removing barriers and increasing equity on stage, in administrative offices and in board rooms.

Opera’s homogeneity is increasingly out of place in a country that is becoming ever-more diverse. Motivated by increased self-awareness and external expectations, companies are under pressure to improve equity in hiring, casting, community engagement and programming. New practices must be rooted in changed organizational cultures. Learn from leaders who have succeeded in changing their company cultures to achieve greater equity.

General and artistic directors share audience expectations to see diversity on stage across the repertoire and in specific roles. Hear from colleagues about their strategies for identifying, nurturing and casting singers who reflect the diversity of our communities.

Discussion about improving diversity seems inevitably to begin with ideas for new efforts, but many established company practices reinforce barriers that inhibit progress and counteract new initiatives. In this session, participants will be invited to reflect on the actions and activities that should be stopped in order to make newcomers feel more welcome.

Community choruses and local church choirs are common gateways to discovering talent as a singer. Recognizing talent is only the first step, but socioeconomic challenges prevent many aspiring singers from opportunities to train, network and forge paths to success. Learn about companies that are creating bridges for talented singers from all walks of life.

Audience and Patron Engagement

Many recent research reports document changes in public attitudes about culture and participation. Audiences of all ages have evolving expectations about the overall opera experience. Conference sessions will examine this research and explore ways companies are responding to the findings and creating more effective engagement strategies.

Staff devote tremendous time and resources to attract new audiences and retain current ones. With increased competition for time, attention and money, and with rising ticket prices, companies must create a signature experience that starts before the ticket purchase and continues well after the final curtain. This session will explore the many elements of customer service that can inspire repeat and frequent attendance and create brand advocates.

Asking for money is an art form of its own, one that any fundraiser must practice and master. But the actual “ask” is only part of the process. In this nuts-and-bolts session, learn the concrete steps that go into a successful donor meeting, from scheduling the meeting and preparing your approach, to conducting your visit and following up.

Tired of your annual gala? Ready to try something new? Turn to your colleagues in this round-robin presentation of innovative ideas that promise to reinvigorate your special events, inspire new approaches and help you realign your events with your fundraising and cultivation goals, as well as the overall company brand.

Smaller companies often lack the capacity to activate and lead community conversations around specific repertoire choices or larger civic issues. Speakers in this session will provide practical examples of good practices and tools that can help you achieve your goals for public practice.

Artist Careers

Composers, librettists, directors, designers and performers need an entrepreneurial approach to a modern “gig economy.” Discussion in several sessions will focus on personal development opportunities and tools for creating a sustainable career.

A panel of opera education leaders and representatives from other sectors will discuss best practices for training teaching artists and lead a hands-on workshop with exercises, lesson plans and group activities. New resources available for teaching artists in the opera field will be shared.

Hear from a panel of artists and artist managers about other lines of work that complement an early-career artist’s audition and performance schedule.

Informed by research made possible by the Howard Gilman Foundation, this session will feature advice from expert practitioners about charting a path beyond a singing career and how to build new skills for success.

Innovation in Production

Producing in public or found spaces creates new opportunities for programming and audience development, as well as a variety of technical and safety issues. Sessions will examine both sides of this new artistic strategy.

Site-specific and alternative-venue performances are at the forefront of company strategies to connect to new communities and attract new audiences. Productions in these spaces frequently involve unusual or experimental programming. Learn about recent successes (and failures, too) of non-traditional production experiences.

Codified emergency preparedness plans are in place for performances in traditional opera houses. As more and more events move to outdoor and alternative venues, new plans are needed. Gain tactical knowledge about good practices and resources to help protect your staff, artists and audiences.

Governance and Operations

Strong organizations depend on effective trustees who understand the complex dynamics of opera companies, regardless of size. A number of sessions that address governance issues and sound management practices will be of equal interest to board members and staff.

New FASB regulations will soon require a restructuring of financial statements that will reveal an organization’s liquidity. Learn how colleagues are managing changes in financial operations, not just the change in reporting. Solutions to be discussed include revolving lines of credit, short-term investment strategies and OPERA America’s new Co-Production Lending Bank.

Reviews are not limited to what occurs on stage. Thoughtful evaluation should be an organizational priority. A panel of consultants and company leaders will share their expertise in defining performance expectations, establishing measurable outcomes and communicating with the general director.

Experts confirm that most thriving companies in corporate America view staff as the most important contributor to their success. Many nonprofit organizations, however, struggle to allocate resources to compensate employees appropriately, provide benefits and invest in professional development. This session will explore ways companies can improve staff recruitment, retention and development as a key strategic objective.

Production staff often do not have the vocabulary or experience to engage trustees in meaningful discussion about the production process and interrelated financial, technical and artistic issues. This session will feature insight from production personnel and board members who have been successful in connecting the work that is central to their mission to trustees and the governance process.

Block Schedule

This conference schedule is offered to help you plan your conference experience and arrange travel.

June 19
June 20
June 21
June 22
June 23
Opening Keynote:
John Adams
New Works Forum* Conference
Women's Opera
Network Dinners Host Company
Center Stage 2018 Regina Orfeo and Euridice An American Soldier La traviata
Under 35 Mixer

*The New Works Forum is included in full conference registration packages. It is open to all attendees and will include breakout sessions offering a variety of content areas for administrators, trustees and artists.

Opera Volunteers International (OVI)

A special OVI Pass is available for abbreviated activity on June 21 and 22. Included on this schedule are the keynote session, two general sessions, two volunteer-focused sessions and the OVI board meeting. OVI members seeking the full conference experience are eligible for full registration at the discounted member pricing.


OPERA America’s Ambassador Circle supporters are dedicated opera lovers, patrons, artists, administrators and trustees whose generous gifts of $500 or more provide the foundation for OPERA America’s core service to the opera field.

In addition to the annual conference sessions in St. Louis, OPERA America Ambassadors will enjoy special dinners and festival performances in the Gateway City. Evenings at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis feature Verdi’s La traviata and Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice alongside Marc Blitzstein’s rarely performed Regina and the closing performance of Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang’s world premiere, An American Soldier.

To participate, current OPERA America Ambassadors should contact Dan Cooperman, director of development, at

Attendees at Opera Conference 2018 will also enjoy a range of special events in St. Louis, including:

Sponsor Reception

Thursday, June 21

All conference attendees — including general directors, trustees, company staff and artists — are invited to join conference sponsors for a casual reception and the chance to visit the exhibits of companies and consultants who provide invaluable services to the field. Included in registration.

Network Dinners

Thursday, June 21

Enjoy a night out while dining with colleagues in your professional specialty in an informal setting. Additional purchase ($45, cash bar).

Host Company Reception

Friday, June 22

Meet new colleagues and strengthen old friendships during this most popular conference event, hosted by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Included in registration; bring a guest for $15.

Under 35 Mixer

Friday, June 22

Young opera professionals under the age of 35 are invited to socialize over drinks and hors d’oeuvres and build the professional contacts that will sustain their careers. Additional purchase ($35).

Attendees have multiple opportunities to experience Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2018 season. Performances include the Center Stage concert with rising opera stars; Verdi’s La traviata featuring the directing debut of Patricia Racette; Marc Blitzstein’s rarely performed Regina; Gluck’s sublime Orfeo and Euridice; and the closing performance of Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang’s world-premiere opera, An American Soldier.

Conference attendees can purchase single tickets and ticket packages from the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis website. Receive a 10% discount when purchasing packages of three performances and a 15% discount for tickets to four or more performances.

Note: OPERA America’s Ambassador attendees may arrange to purchase their performance tickets by contacting Dan Cooperman, director of development, at

Center Stage 2018

Tuesday, June 19 at 8:00 p.m.*

La traviata

Wednesday, June 20 at 1:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 23 at 8:00 p.m.


Wednesday, June 20 at 8:00 p.m.*

Orfeo and Euridice

Thursday, June 21 at 8:00 p.m.*
Saturday, June 23 at 1:00 p.m.

An American Soldier

Friday, June 22 at 8:00 p.m.*

Buy Tickets

*Transportation between the Hyatt Regency at the Arch and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis will be provided for these performances.