Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the Minnesota Opera is actually the offspring of the Walker Art Center. Since its early days as “The Center Opera” in the mid-60s, the company has flourished, growing from an edgy modern ensemble into the 15th largest opera company in the nation. And President and CEO Kevin Smith has been at the helm for much of that growth.
I think the thing that has been the challenge for us is to create a balance of repertoire, where we do standard rep, we’re still adventurous and do modern and interesting things, and we do it at a level of artistic consistency, and that is the thing I’m most proud of.
Smith announced today that he’s decided to retire from the company, inspired by the onset of both his 60th birthday and his 30th season with the Minnesota Opera. He’s got a lot to be proud of; since he joined the opera in 1981 (first as production stage manager – he rose to the position of president five years later), the opera’s budget has grown six-fold, and its net assets have risen from a deficit of 36 thousand dollars to a surplus of 28.75 million. Even though the opera’s 50th anniversary season is just two years away, Smith says now is the time to leave.
This really has been a great decade for the opera and I really see a bright future for the Minnesota Opera moving forward. I think it will continue to enhance its position here in the community and on a national/international basis it really has carved out a unique artistic profile which I think it can build on.
Smith oversaw the opera’s creation of the Minensota Opera Center, its artistic partnership with the SPCO, the Schubert Club and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Smith takes particular pride in the opera’s commitment to developing new works.
In a down economy, when there’s a retrenchment happening: people cutting back on productions, number of performances, becoming more conservative in what they do in terms of repertoire we’ve been in a position where we could actually assert ourselves and as a result we have attracted significant national funding that we would have never gotten otherwise.
Smith says he’ll stay on as president until a replacement is found, something he expects to be accomplished by the first of the year.
Listen to the complete interview with Kevin Smith in which he talks about the challenges operas face across the country.