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The Keith Cerny Interview

COMMANDOpera was granted a 1/2 hour face to face interview with the General Director of the Dallas Opera, Mr. Keith Cerny. Although the interview was not formally arranged in advance, the Dallas Opera was long aware of the possibility, and COMMANDOpera was well prepared for the scenario. Here is a pertinent excerpt from Mr. Cerny’s official biography:

From 2004 through 2007, Mr. Cerny served as Executive Director (COO) and CFO of the San Francisco Opera; managing all marketing, fund-raising, box-office, endowment, communications, finance and staff functions for one of the nation’s leading opera companies (a $58 million annual budget, $120 million endowment). As one of SFO’s two principal officers reporting to the San Francisco Opera Association, Mr. Cerny managed the organization to three consecutive years of balanced budgets. He launched new marketing and fund-raising initiatives resulting in a significant increase in subscription revenue and, at the same time, worked closely with SFO’s largest foundation donors. He is also a member of the Strategy Committee of Opera America (the national service organization for opera).”

If there was ever a requirement for a General Director to own such fiscal credentials, today’s strained economic climate would make Mr. Cerny perhaps the most sought after man in his class. The Dallas Opera is most fortunate to have Mr. Cerny locked in for a number of years, and COMMANDOpera made a point of speaking directly with him on matters fiscal. It is to be understood, theatres across the globe of all rank have been obliged to cut costs at every turn to maintain viability. No department has been spared, from the back of the house to  the number of productions offered over the upcoming seasons.

COMMANDOpera noted the reduction of one work this season from others which was in keeping with the trend of other houses. Notably however, the production (Katya Kabanova) was replaced with a 1980 chamber work entitled ‘The Lighthouse’ in collaboration with the Dallas Theatre Centre. COMMANDOpera was most impressed with the inventiveness of company to offer a rarity to subscribers rather than an abridged season. Mr. Cerny advised this would be the route fashioned for the Dallas Opera over the next few seasons: three main stage productions combined with other offerings of rarities in collaborative efforts. Dallas Opera patrons will assuredly be finding significant critical works such as ‘the Lighthouse’ more than a restorative for the main stage offerings which will be temporarily removed. COMMANDOpera would be hopeful the success of these collaborations would be sufficient for the company to continue in this vein beyond ramping up to the six mounted productions projected for the future.

Mr. Cerny noted major donors to the Dallas Opera have been involved in a significant number of major building Arts projects of the past several years, which impacted the company over the past few years. The majority of these projects will find completion over the next year, thus enabling donors to turn their sights more clearly back to the resident Arts organisations themselves. The General Director is most aware of the fundamental requirement of any organisation which looks to donors is fiscal responsibility for the dollars offered. Mr. Cerny, from what COMMANDOpera gleaned from surveying the offices of the Dallas Opera, has done rather well on this front. Difficult decisions were enacted since his arrival without interference on the quality of the product itself. Those philanthropists who significantly contribute to the Dallas Opera now sign on for multi year endowments: something not done before with the company (such advance commitments are the life blood of any ranking theatre, allowing for more surety when approaching lending institutions for projected seasons).

COMMANDOpera was most pleased to have made the acquaintance of the affable, yet focused Mr. Cerny. The General Director is quite comfortable with his move to Dallas and is now quite at home. Those who attend the Dallas Opera, unquestionably will find vibrant seasons over taking them in the future of the highest calibre. Mr. Cerny is a man resolved to ensure the Dallas Opera ranks at the top when one considers Opera in the U.S. A.

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