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Developing Future Leaders and Strengthening Opera Companies

July 26, 2016 (New York) — OPERA America, the national service organization for opera and the nation’s leading champion for American opera, is pleased to announce that 14 participants from the United States, Canada and Europe have been selected for its 2016 Leadership Intensive program. These future industry leaders were chosen through a competitive selection process focusing on candidates’ potential to make significant contributions to the opera field. This program is made possible by the generous support of American Express.

The Leadership Intensive exemplifies OPERA America’s long-standing commitment to identify and nurture leaders who will advance the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera for years to come. This program identifies the most promising professionals in the field of opera administration and provides them with a unique experience designed to bolster their leadership capacity and advance their careers.

The 2016 Leadership Intensive participants are Morgan Beckford, fellowship coach, Memphis Music Initiative; Michael Blais, director of administration, Manitoba Opera (Winnipeg, Canada); Vincent Connor, general director, Opera Orlando; Hannah Griffiths, head of participation and learning, GöteborgsOperan (Gothenburg, Sweden); David Lomeli, assistant artistic administrator and special projects, The Dallas Opera; Colleen Maybin, director, education and community engagement, Vancouver Opera (Canada); Chandra McKern, managing director, Pensacola Opera; Patrick Mühlen-Schulte, development officer, Houston Grand Opera; Michelle Myers, manager of constituent relations, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; Claire Padien-Havens, assistant to the executive offices and board of directors, San Francisco Opera; Ashley Parks, director of development, North Carolina Opera (Raleigh, NC); Jennifer Rivera, director of artistic development, Center for Contemporary Opera (New York, NY); Sarah Squire, director of operations, Opera Memphis; Lydia Zodda, operations manager, Ash Lawn Opera (Charlottesville, VA). This is the fourth class of Leadership Intensive participants to have been selected since the program’s inception in 2012.

OPERA America’s sister organizations, Opera.ca and Opera Europa, were responsible for selecting the Canadian and European participants, lending an international dimension to the program.

“American Express is proud to continue to support OPERA America’s Leadership Intensive as part of our commitment to providing world-class leadership training to the nonprofit sector’s rising stars,” stated Timothy J. McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation. “With the skills acquired in the program, we hope participants can continue to create a thriving national opera community for audiences and artists now and in the future.”

As part of the Leadership Intensive, participants will convene at the National Opera Center in New York City from Friday, August 26 through Thursday, September 1 for a week-long learning program that will address strategic issues, build essential skills and foster strong professional connections. Upon completion of the program, these developing leaders will be prepared to apply new skills, share their learning with colleagues and demonstrate leadership that contributes to their local companies and communities. Building upon that week-long foundation, Leadership Intensive participants — including those from the previous three classes — will take part in additional professional development programs throughout the year, including regular group coaching calls, webinars with field executives and roundtable discussions at the OPERA America’s annual conference, making this a comprehensive professional development experience.

“As we welcome our fourth Leadership Intensive class, it’s encouraging to see the achievements of past participants who’ve leveraged the skills and relationships they gained through the program to further their careers and take on greater responsibilities,” stated Marc. A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “The Leadership Intensive has proven to be a crucial training ground for a new generation of opera leaders who may not otherwise have access to such specialized learning opportunities or to an international network of peers. We are deeply grateful for American Express’ continued support of this program.”


Morgan Beckford | Fellowship Coach, Memphis Music Initiative

Morgan Beckford is a fellowship coach with the Memphis Music Initiative, where she leads a group of musicians in their work with Memphis-area music programs. She is also the children’s chorus director and Summer Conservatory director at Opera Memphis, having directed the children’s choruses for Hansel and Gretel in 2014 and Pagliacci in 2015. Beckford has been passionate about getting students involved with opera since high school, and she is a proud alumna of Opera Memphis’ Conservatory Program. In her free time, she enjoys singing with the Opera Memphis Chorus and in musical theater productions around Memphis. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, in May 2013 with a Master of Music in solo voice, and she received her B.A. in voice from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.

Michael Blais | Director of Administration, Manitoba Opera (Canada)

Michael Blais has been with the Manitoba Opera team for six years, and he currently serves as the company’s director of administration. A former professional dancer, he graduated from the School of Contemporary Dancers with a B.A. (hons.) from the University of Winnipeg. Blais has performed professionally with Le Groupe Dance Lab and Ruth Cansfield Dance. After retiring from dance, Blais transitioned to administration, starting at the Manitoba Conservatory of Music & Arts in the position of student and faculty services coordinator. In 2010, he joined Manitoba Opera as part of the company’s transition away from third-party box office services. After three years, Blais was promoted to his current position, in which he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office, working with the board of trustees, organizational governance, box office management, development, and assisting the general director and chief financial officer.

Vincent Connor | General Director, Opera Orlando

As general director of Opera Orlando, Vincent Connor works with the board of directors to continually increase the company’s visibility and social impact in the community. Connor is an active stage director and is known for his work with WGN’s hit television series Manhattan. He has been praised by the website Living at the Opera for his “remarkable directorial touches” and for his productions containing “dynamic energy” and “nuance and balance.” Connor has directed for companies such as Opera North, Marble City Opera, Opera in the Ozarks and Brevard Music Festival’s Janiec Opera, among others. He is also the co-founder of the online publication Sexi Soprano. Previously, Connor served as director of the Opera Workshop at the University of Delaware, and he worked in administration at the University of Pennsylvania, UMKC Conservatory and the University of Arizona. He has performed leading baritone roles and recitals throughout the U.S. and Italy.

Hannah Griffiths | Head of Participation and Learning, GöteborgsOperan (Sweden)

After graduating from Oxford University with a B.A. in Italian and from University College London with an M.A. in European culture and thought, Hannah Griffiths started her career with English National Opera (ENO) as senior producer for its ENO Baylis program. In 2011, she became learning and participation manager at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where she produced a range of creative work with, by and for a broad spectrum of participant groups. During this period, Griffiths was also a member of Opera Europa’s Young Delegates Think Tank. Her passion for Sweden led her to accept the position of head of participation and learning at GöteborgsOperan in 2014. In her current role, Griffiths is part of the artistic department, working on productions and creative projects with the artists of GöteborgsOperan and with diverse communities in the Västra Götaland region of Sweden.

David Lomeli | Assistant Artistic Administrator and Special Projects, The Dallas Opera

David Lomeli joined The Dallas Opera in 2014 as artistic coordinator. The following year, he was promoted to assistant artistic administrator and special projects, also becoming the first program manager for TDO’s Institute for Women Conductors. Before joining TDO, Lomeli performed as a tenor with many of the world’s leading companies worldwide, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, La Scala and San Francisco Opera. He earned an engineering degree in computer science from the ITESM in Mexico and a post-graduate joint degree in international marketing from the Politècnica de Catalunya and Università di Milano. Since 2014, he has been a consultant for the agency TCM, which handles the career of tenor Javier Camarena. He is a recipient of the National Youth Prize in Arts from the Mexican Government and the First Prize in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia. He has been featured in TED Talks in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Milan, Italy. Lomeli is fluent in Spanish, Italian, French and English.

Colleen Maybin | Director, Education and Community Engagement, Vancouver Opera

Colleen Maybin is the director of education and community engagement at Vancouver Opera. She started her career as a teacher in Vancouver and was instrumental in the establishment of the Sarah McLachlan School of Music. After many years mentoring teacher candidates at the University of British Columbia, Maybin moved into nonprofit arts education. In 2009, she became manager of the Arts College at Regent High School in London, England. There, she worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Shakespeare Company and Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. After returning to Vancouver, she became the district manager for Arts Umbrella in Surrey. An avid musician, Maybin has been a member of the Band of the 15th Field Artillery Regiment, the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Vancouver Bach Choir and the award-winning Kew Wind Ensemble in London, England. She sits on the boards of Music on Main and the Coalition for Music Education in British Columbia and is working on a Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University.

Chandra McKern | Managing Director, Pensacola Opera

Chandra McKern joined Pensacola Opera in 2015 and now serves as its managing director. Previously, she served as director of education and outreach at Nashville Opera, where she was responsible for all aspects of the education and outreach programs, including the Mary Ragland Young Artist Program. Prior to Nashville Opera, McKern was the education director at Pensacola Opera from 2009 to 2012, and she spent four years working for Goldman Sachs and two years at Rockefeller University in New York. Before transitioning to arts administration, McKern had an extensive performing career working with several opera companies, including Tulsa Opera, Opera Birmingham, Nevada Opera, Chicago Opera Theater and Central City Opera. Chandra holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Music from Indiana University.

Patrick Mühlen-Schulte | Development Officer, Houston Grand Opera

Patrick Mühlen-Schulte is part of Houston Grand Opera’s development team, which has a responsibility to raise more than $16 million annually. His focus is on major gifts and individual giving. Mühlen-Schulte has worked as an arts administrator and consultant to major performing arts companies and venues in the U.S. and Australia. Prior to joining Houston Grand Opera, he worked in New York as a corporate business development manager and external affairs executive with Marsh & McLennan, a global financial services and consulting firm. He has an extensive background as a senior policy advisor and chief of staff in the Australian government sector, leading teams in the finance, trade and cultural portfolios. Mühlen-Schulte holds a Juris Doctor with honors from the University of Technology, Sydney, and a Bachelor of Arts with honors from the University of Sydney, where he majored in vocal studies.

Michelle Myers | Manager of Constituent Relations, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Michelle Myers is a passionate young arts administrator who has loved music and theater from an early age, supporting the arts throughout her life in many capacities, from actor to stage manager to administrator. She currently holds the position of manager of constituent relations at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where she has implemented many innovative and successful new projects and strategies to support the success of the company’s mission. She works with the company’s board of directors and oversees the company’s more than 300-member volunteer guild, in addition to coordinating strategic planning and the stewardship of endowment and planned giving donors. Myers received her B.A. in music business from Southern Illinois University and is a member of the 2016 class of Emerging Leaders at FOCUS St. Louis.

Claire Padien-Havens | Assistant to the Executive Offices and Board of Directors, San Francisco Opera

Claire Padien-Havens currently works in the office of the general director of San Francisco Opera, where she oversees special projects and serves as liaison to the board of directors. She has led initiatives at the company, including the leadership transition process, and she oversaw the management of the David Gockley farewell gala concert. Padien-Havens played an active role as a team member for the company’s recent collective bargaining sessions and was an integral participant of the formation of San Francisco Opera’s new experimental programming arm, SF Opera Lab. She is a graduate of New York University and was born and raised in Massachusetts.

Ashley Parks, Director of Development, North Carolina Opera

Ashley Parks has served as the director of development at North Carolina Opera since March 2016. As the sole development officer, she is responsible for managing the company’s $1.3 million overall fundraising initiatives. Prior to NCO, Parks was the deputy director, patron and individual giving, at the Metropolitan Opera. She was responsible for a team that raised $20 million annually through gifts of $2,500 to $25,000. In addition to managing the renewals of over 4,000 patrons, she also staffed two board members and her own portfolio of more than 100 donors. Parks previously held positions with Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, the Peace Center and Brevard Music Center. She was a panelist on a session promoting positive relationships between opera companies and volunteer guilds at Opera Conference 2012: Creative Resurgence. A trained pianist, Parks has a B.M. in music theory from Furman University and an M.A in arts management from American University.

Jennifer Rivera | Director of Artistic Development, Center for Contemporary Opera

Two-time Grammy nominee Jennifer Rivera has sung leading roles for opera companies on five continents, including in Germany, Italy, China, Japan, Australia and South America, as well as all over the United States. She recently won the Helpmann Award, Australia’s equivalent to the Tony Award, and was named Debut Artist of the Year in 2001 at New York City Opera, where she began her career and performed over 70 performances during eight seasons. Career highlights include creating roles in three world premieres: Becoming Santa Claus with The Dallas Opera, The Golden Ticket with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Elmer Gantry with Nashville Opera. Rivera is a popular contributor to the Arts and Culture section of The Huffington Post, where she advocates for opera. She currently holds the position of director of artistic development at the Center for Contemporary Opera, where she has worked in fundraising, including donor cultivation and grant writing; artistic administration; casting and hiring singers, conductors and directors; working directly with composers; and ushering the company into a festival format.

Sarah Squire | Director of Operations, Opera Memphis

Sarah Squire, director of operations at Opera Memphis, has been with the company since 2006. In her current position, she has helped develop and produce Opera Memphis’ annual 30 Days of Opera and the Midtown Opera Festival. She has held various positions at Opera Memphis, including director of education and outreach, artistic administrator, company manager, chorus manager and rental coordinator. Squire has created and written the librettos for five operettas performed by young people, two children’s operas (The Playground King and The Christmas List) and two musical reviews. She has directed numerous educational touring shows, operettas and scenes at Opera Memphis, as well as musical reviews for AIC Choir Camp. Squire is a staff singer and the assistant director of the Boys and Girls Choir at Calvary Episcopal Church. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees from Rhodes College and the University of Central Arkansas, and she has a Master of Music in voice performance from Louisiana State University.

Lydia Zodda | Operations Manager, Ash Lawn Opera

Lydia Zodda is an arts administrator and performer based in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is currently the operations manager at Ash Lawn Opera, and she was previously with the artistic administration at San Francisco Opera. Zodda holds a Bachelor of Music with honors and Master of Arts in music, science and technology from Stanford University, as well as a Master of Music in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She was the recipient of the Sudler Prize for the Arts at Stanford, and she was elected commencement speaker for SFCM’s 2014 ceremony, where she spoke about the importance of leadership and outreach in the arts. Her work at Ash Lawn Opera has focused on community engagement, in-depth patron analysis and innovative marketing initiatives.


For more information about OPERA America, its many programs and the National Opera Center, visit operaamerica.org.



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About OPERA America

OPERA America (operaamerica.org) leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera.

  • Artistic services help opera companies and creative and performing artists to improve the quality of productions and increase the creation and presentation of North American works.
  • Information, technical and administrative services to opera companies reflect the need for strengthened leadership among staff, trustees and volunteers.
  • Education, audience development and community services are designed to enhance all forms of opera appreciation.


Founded in 1970, OPERA America’s worldwide membership network includes nearly 200 Company Members, 300 Associate and Business Members, 1,000 Individual Members and more than 15,000 subscribers to the association’s electronic news service. In response to the critical need for suitable audition, rehearsal and recording facilities, OPERA America opened the first-ever NATIONAL OPERA CENTER (operaamerica.org/OperaCenter) in September 2012 in New York City. With a wide range of artistic and administrative services in a purpose-built facility, OPERA America is dedicated to increasing the level of excellence, creativity and effectiveness across the field.



About American Express: Developing New Leaders for Tomorrow

One of American Express’ three philanthropic platforms is Developing New Leaders for Tomorrow. Under this giving initiative, which recognizes the significance of strong leadership in the nonprofit and social purpose sectors, American Express makes grants focused on training high-potential emerging leaders to tackle important issues in the 21st century. More than 16,000 emerging nonprofit and social sector leaders worldwide have benefitted from American Express leadership programs, including the American Express Leadership Academy, among others. Launched in 2008, the American Express Leadership Academy addresses the growing deficit of leadership talent in the nonprofit sector by bringing together emerging leaders from a diverse set of nonprofit, social sector and non-governmental organizations. For leadership journey stories and additional resources, visit leaderstories.org.

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