Why don’t women get to run opera houses?

Why don’t women get to run opera houses?


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2019

There have been a few, very few, at the head of an opera house and some have not lasted very long.

Mary Allen at Covent Garden, Cressida Pollock at English National Opera, for instance.

Ulrike Hessler ran the Semperoper in Dresden for two years until her early death in 2012. Eva Kleinitz died after two years at Strasbourg.

Francesca Zambello, at Washington National Opera, is presently the only head of a major US company.

Birgitta Svendén has headed the Royal Opera Stockholm since 2010.

Two more have just started –  Laura Berman at Hannover and Sophie de Lint at Dutch National Opera.

There’s Katharina Wagner at the family business.

And that’s about it.

Christina Scheppelmann, who has just started as general director at Seattle Opera, is convinced there is a glass ceiling. She says: ‘I’m sure there has been, often, discrimination. But if I put this in my head, I will not change the discrimination. I can only change it by proving that I’m doing a good job.’

Read on here.

UPDATE: We’ve been reminded of Pamela Rosenberg who ran San Francisco Opera for five years and was joint chief at Stuttgart for seven. Simone Young was both music director and intendant at Hamburg State Opera. Karen Stone runs Theater Magdeburg and Lilli Paasikivi heads Finnish National Opera. Bregenz Festival is headed by Elisabeth Sobotka. Hanna Munitz lasted 30 years at the Israel Opera Tel Aviv.

UPDATE2: From conductor Francesco Cilluffo: I would like to point out that Rosetta Cucchi is the new General Director of Wexford Festival Opera, Cecilia Gasdia is General Director of Arena di Verona and Teatro Filarmonico, Anna Maria Meo is General Director of Teatro Regio di Parma, Barbara Minghetti is co-director of Macerata Opera Festival and Parma, and Cristina Ferrari runs Teatro Comunale di Piacenza. So not such a bad score, for Italy.


  • Tastensklave says:

    There’s Laura Berman just started at Hannover; Ute Lemm starts at Schleswig-Holstein in 11 months…

  • Chris says:

    Juliana Votteler in Augsburg was there during my eight year tenure there.

  • sam says:

    If people like Placido Domingo spent less time grooming women to be their dates rather than their bosses…

  • Louise Hynd says:

    Past and future:

    Elaine Padmore, Denmark and ROH, Eva Kleinitz Opera du Rhin
    Brigitte Fassbaender Graz, Laura Berman Bregenz and Basel, Caroline Sonrier Lille
    Isabelle Masset, Bordeaux
    Valerie Chevalier, Montpellier

  • Passremarkable says:

    Uh… Birgit Meyer in Köln, Elisabeth Sobotka in Bregenz, Christine Chibnall at Opera North? Lindy Hume has run a couple in Australia… there are not enough women running opera houses, for sure, but perhaps those that are, and are doing it well, shouldn’t be completely overlooked?

    • Lausitzer says:

      It is indeed surprising how many female artistic directors are being overlooked in such a lament that there are so few of them.

      Another one not mentioned here yet: Nora Schmid, Graz since 2015.

  • Algot says:

    Birgitta Svendén at the Royal Opera Stockholm since 2010.

  • John Rook says:

    Cathérine Miville has been Intendant of Stadttheater Giessen since 2002 and does a great job.

  • Mauritius68 says:

    There is a number of excellent women running opera houses in Germany, Austria, France, Sweden …. don’t forget

  • Edward says:

    Covent Garden also had Elaine Padmorr

  • Jonathan says:

    Dr. Birgit Meyer, Köln.

    One of Germany’s best opera houses.

  • Herman the German says:

    To your Information: there is a new female head of an opera house in Germany, in Hanover. The new head comes from the Basle theatre and is an American lady. She starts her initial season with La Juive.

  • Cassandra says:

    “But if I put this in my head…etc…”
    Well, Amen to that, sister!

    May I also remind you that Birgitta Svendén, since 2009/2010, is the General Director of the Royal Opera House in Stockholm.

  • R. Brite says:

    Let’s not forget Sarah Caldwell. Granted, she is a special case, as she founded the Opera Company of Boston rather than being hired to run a house. Many a woman has had to create her own opportunities.

  • wg says:

    Norman, Katharina is doing an excellent work.

  • Novagerio says:

    Nordic countries have had an avalanche of female opera general directors, Gjevang, Svendén, Paaskivi, Miskimmon. You think things get better in the name of gender equality?

  • norman lebrecht says:

    Some commenters are confusing director of an opera house, the CEO, with its artistic director.

  • sam says:

    Pamela Rosenberg was General Director of San Francisco Opera, then she became Intendant of the Berlin Philharmonic.

  • sam says:

    Ardis Krainik was General Director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, most famous for firing Pavarotti.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Carol Fox, Ardis Krainik, and Mary Garden, at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Beverly Sills at NYCO. Oh, and Cosima Wagner!

  • Natan says:

    Karen Stone – Magdeburg

  • Save the Met says:

    Keep in mind Deborah Borda was offered the Met GM job, before having the offer rescinded in favor of the inept Peter Gelb. One can only imagine what wonderful things would have happened over the years under Borda’s effective leadership. The Met chose hapless mediocrity over a seasoned and respected female arts administrator.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      One of the most unfortunate turn of events at Lincoln Center. I would hate to think that sexism and homophobia were elements in the decision, but it wasn’t done for consideration of ability and experience. Can you imagine if Ms. Borda was GM of the Met and Ms. Zambello was GM of City Opera? The Met would not have needlessly bled money and NYCO would be a thriving and creative entity. These ladies don’t fail.

    • Tevvy says:

      I am not sure about this. It’s nice to imagine that a great leader might have turned the place around, but I am skeptical it’s within anyone’s ability.

  • Larry T says:

    Lets not forget Carol Fox who put the Lyric Opera of Chicago on the map, and her great successor Ardis Kranik. We should live in a business where gender is a non issue, just talent.

  • Laura says:

    Ardis Krainek ran the Lyric Opera of Chicago for many years and did a fine job of it. Had the guts to fire Pavarotti when he kept cancelling his contracts. I was disappointed because I wanted to hear him, but feel it was necessary. Instead of fulfilling his contract, you would see him frolicking in some beach resort. He had a great voice, but she would not allow him to screw the Lyric subscribers anymore. Most of the biggest stars sang at Lyric, with a few exceptions for singers who preferred Europe. Krainek was one of the last of the old school impresarios, larger than life, literally, and a force in Chicago. Knew how to kick ass, as well as kiss it. She is missed.

  • Nivon says:

    Simon Young

  • Robert Chumbley says:

    Susan Danis at Florida Grand Opera

  • George says:

    Elisabeth Sobotka, Graz and Bregenz.
    Helga Schmidt, Valencia.

  • Paavo says:

    Gita Gadambi, General director of the Finnish National Opera, Lilli Paasikivi Artistic director.

  • Virginia Nikkilä says:

    Re. Female opera directors, please check Finnish National Opera!!

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    forgive if this point has been made earlier- Doesn’t it also depend on how many women have applied to become CEO?

  • Kal Gajraj says:

    Susan T. Danis is the General Director and CEO of Florida Grand Opera for 8 years now.

  • Larry says:

    Ms. Zambello is also director of the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown NY.

    There’s Steffanie Pearce at Gulfshore Opera (Naples Fl.)

  • Maggie says:

    There’s María Victoria Alcaraz at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

  • Gabriel Chmura says:

    You have forgotten Mrs Renata Borowska ,who since 7 years is leading successfully the Poznań Opera House (Oiland(

  • Roger says:

    Sillls@City Opera

  • Mixer says:

    Kim Gaynor, who spent ten seasons as Managing Director of Switzerland’s Verbier Festival before returning home to Canada, is entering her third season as General Director of Vancouver Opera.

  • Mario says:

    We are not a good example about what can do women, besides we have very clever and beautiful women here. Things like this happen when persons without cultural background are in charge as manager due their political contacts….. and the artistic director lacks skills and good manners. Example: Berlioz La Dammation de Faust is a difficult work that requires some rehearsals, at the Colón the frech conductor Marc Piollet refuses to continue after just three readings (including the performance)

    Our default is not only economic, it’s also cultural.


  • Ethan Schmeisser says:

    Hanna Munitz, The Israeli Opera Tel Aviv, for 30(!!) years of tenure (till 2016).

  • Marc says:

    Francesca Zambello is artistic director of Washington National Opera. Timothy O’Leary runs the company. Francesca is general and artistic at The Glimmerglass Festival.

  • Arlene says:

    And Beverly Sills at New York City Opera.

  • 32VA says:

    [[ Cressida Pollock ]]

    Mis-run, in her case.

  • FS60103 says:

    Someone needs to tell Wasfi Kani, Lizzie Graham and Jean Nicholson.

  • Luke says:

    Patricia Beggs – CEO of Cincinnati Opera since 1997.

  • Sam says:

    Dagmar Schlingmann is the Intendant of the Staatstheater Braunschweig since 2017 and before that was for many years Intendant in Saarbrücken.

  • Hmus says:

    Sarah Caldwell – way back in the 1970’s…


  • Ursula says:

    Brigitte Fassbaender was the Opera director at the Staatstheater Braunschweig for two years from 1995 to 1997. In 1999, she became intendant (managing director) of the Tiroler Landestheater (Tyrolean State Theatre) in Innsbruck, a position she held until 2012.

  • Minnesota says:

    Elise Brunelle is the Managing Director of the Cape Town Opera in South Africa. BTW, she is from Minneapolis.

  • Reader says:

    Brigitte Fassbaender was the Intendant in Innsbruck for 12 years! And Artistic Director of the Richard Strauss Festival in Bavaria for several more.

  • Antonio says:

    Typical Norman Lebrecht. He publishes a provocation with erroneous information. He gets dozens of people pointing out how wrong he is. He ends up publishing not one but two updates with corrections, and moves on to the next provocation.

    Then again, his work isn’t really to do real journalism. It’s just to generate traffic on his website.

    Yet he believes he has the authority to question the work of proper journalists, most recently the Associated Press. The truth is a hack like him, with a track record of getting it wrong and getting his publisher sued for libel, would have been fired from AP ages ago.

  • Fernando says:

    In Rio de Janeiro, both the ballerine Dalal Achcar (twice) and actress Carla Camurati (2007-2014) were CEO of Theatro Municipal. The first was also active as a coreographer, and the second directed many Opera productions before and during her tenure.

  • Pat Tatum says:

    I can not think of her name now but at one time a woman ran Kentucky Opera. She did a real good job.

    • Luke says:

      And now again a woman is running Kentucky Opera. Barbara Lynne Jamison is their general director as of just about a year ago.

  • Michaela says:

    And what about the tandem Truze Lodder &Pierre Audi at the Dutch National Opera. They both joined management and artistic forces putting DNO on the international scene.

  • Michaela says:

    Gundula Janowitz Theater Graz

  • Alan Goldstein says:

    You left out Ardis Krainik who ran Lyric Opera of Chicago for decades. Lyric has a rich history, Maria Callas’ only live Butterfly followed by being served,a subpoena. And I met my wife there at Gotterdammerung

  • “Why don’t women get to run opera houses?”
    Because they don’t have penises, obviously. Whoever heard of running an opera house without a penis?
    (Really, it’s an extra-musical concern that is in the process of sorting itself out, and it will overreach, and we shall soon see a plethora of unqualified women in these positions just because they are women.)

  • Eytan Pessen says:

    Many of the following have been in their post for quite a long time. I am sure a well-researched list would yield considerably more:

    Rosanna Purchia, San Carlo Napoli
    Nora Schmid, Oper Graz
    Dagmar Schlingmann, Braunschweig
    Elisabeth Sobotka, Bregenz
    Birgit Meyer, Köln
    Karen Stone, Magdeburg
    Renata Borowskiej-Juszczyńskiej, Posnan (Poland)
    Valerie Chevalier, Montpelier
    Christina Björklund, Götheburg

    Ina Karr (Luzern in 2021)

    recent past:
    Barbara Mundel, Freiburg, Juliane Votteler, Augsburg

    Etc. etc.

  • Mario says:

    Two women running just now Norman:




  • ernesto legendovogler says:

    Louise Herron of the Sydney Opera House…