Lyric Opera founder is no more

Lyric Opera founder is no more


norman lebrecht

October 03, 2013

Russell Patterson, the horn player who co-founded Lyric Opera of Kansas City and was its director for 40 years, has died aged 85.

russell patterson


Here’s how it all began:

In the fall of 1957, a young conductor, Russell Patterson proposed to transplant the European opera-theater pattern to a more or less typical American setting. A number of local opera buffs welcomed the idea, but there were many qualms including: Would Kansas City accept opera so unorthodox by the prevailing national standards without stars or spectacular stage investitures? Friends told them it could not be done. The company has been proving the friends wrong ever since….

Today, the Company has a budget over $5,000,000 and in 2007 purchased three buildings in Kansas City’s East Crossroads neighborhood, to become new production, office and rehearsal space.  The Company moved it’s performances to the state-of-the-art Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts during the Lyric’s 2011-2012 season.


  • The population of Kansas city is 456 million. Any European city that size has a major opera house. Kansas City ranks 356th in the world for opera performances per year, and 34th in the USA. It’s 5 million dollar budget is about 3.3% of the average 150 million dollar budget of major European houses. It is only 1.6% of the Met’s 300 million dollar budget.

    Russell Patterson was a noble idealist who worked courageously in a country whose neglect of the arts is appalling.

    • jthill says:

      No, the population of Kansas City, MO is approx. 456,000, the population of the Kansas City metropolitan area is approx. 2,343,000.

      Your comment does noway approach the esteem that Russell Patterson is held in the KC musical arts community.

  • Andrew Collins says:

    Russell Patterson was a great man who patiently built his audience. We need more like him.

  • sdReader says:

    He left complete recordings of these American operas:

    Giannini’s “The Taming of the Shrew” (1969 on CRI)

    Beeson’s “The Sweet Bye and Bye” (1974 on Desto)

    Beeson’s “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines” (1975 on RCA)

    Moore’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1995 on Newport)

    As noted above, the audience building quality of the man was of great value.

  • John Richmond says:

    My first live opera, ever, was “Orpheus in the Underworld” ( sung in English–everything in KC was in English, and maybe still is), with Jeanette Scovotti, circa 1965. I was 13. I was hooked. When I lived in suburban KC in the ’80s, I remember a lovely performance of “Martha.” It is easy for some to scorn “Martha,” for various reasons, but KC treated Flotow with respect. Mr. Patterson accomplished much that was admirable and honorable in a long career. R.I.P., and bravo.