Get to Know Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ New General Director Andrew Jorgensen

 In Culture, Interviews

Andrew Jorgensen, current director of artistic planning and operations at The Kennedy Center’s Washington National Opera in D.C., is currently transitioning into the role of General Director at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, taking the place of current general director Timothy O’Leary.

Jorgensen, who at age 34 has already become one of the opera world’s acclaimed talents, will become the fourth general director in the company’s 43-year history. He has just made an offer on a home here in St. Louis and plans to be completely transitioned over by July. We discussed his life in arts management, the power of opera and leading young people towards the art form.

You first came to OTSL in 2013. Did you ever think you’d be involved with the organization in this capacity?
Certainly not! Though OTSL had loomed large in my landscape of the American operatic work for a long time. My first job after college was in New York City, at Columbia Artists Management, and my first boss was actually a St. Louisan. He talked all the time about his formative experiences attending shows at OTSL, so it was already on my mind. I came for the first time in 2013 and saw the show “Champion,” which I loved. My enthusiasm for the show was in part why we brought it to the Kennedy Center last year. I fell in love with OTSL but never could have imagined that I’d lead the organization.

How did you originally fall in love with opera?
I’ve loved music ever since I was a little kid. Growing up, I did every musical activity one could do: I played the piano, sang in the choir, played in the band, etc. Then, I must have been about 10 or 11, we were learning about “Aida” in school, and for Christmas my parents surprised me with tickets to see it in New York. I grew up in New Jersey, so we drove to New York City, and I was immediately captivated. That’s how I’ve felt about opera ever since. At the time, I didn’t know it was possible to have a career in arts management, of course. I didn’t figure that out until college, where I sang in the choir and helped manage it. An alum who was involved in arts administration said, “You should think about doing this for a career.” Since then, I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

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Photo courtesy of Eric Woolsey Photography.

How have you developed your leadership style as you’ve taken on these more comprehensive arts-management roles?
Running an arts organization, but especially an opera company, involves an enormous number of people who specialize in so many different things. We have artisans, musicians, singers, costume and set designers … on and on. Literally, hundreds of people come together to make opera happen. Opera really is the ultimate team sport. Most of the people I work with—all of the people I work with, really—know more about their specific corner of it than I do, and they tend to be creative personalities.

I want to have a leadership style that helps us set goals and meet them, but it’s also a lot about empowering the members of our team to fulfill their parts of the puzzle. In many ways, I see my job as helping build the sandbox and with the right tools and the right people with the best-quality sand. That’s why we have brilliant artistic directors and singers and directors and designers who can turn it into the stunning sandcastle that the audience sees. This is turning into a terrible metaphor—well, maybe not now that I think about it—because just like a sandcastle gets washed away, an opera performance happens and disappears. Like the proverbial waves of time, if you will. You want to empower every member of your team to maximize their potential and capacity.

If you could put it into words, what do you believe has captivated you about the opera for all of these years?
First, it’s really the spectacle of opera. The combination of the set, orchestra, dancers and singers culminate in an operatic performance, and the contrast of all of that spectacle with the unbelievable beauty of the unamplified human voice. Even in the womb, we respond to the human singing voice. It’s something that’s intrinsic to who we are. This year’s main season performances—”La Traviata,” “Regina,” “Orfeo & Euridice” and “An American Soldier”—are great, relevant stories. They’re not just museum stories of the deep, dark past. Opera is one of the best ways to tell stories of the human experience. When you get rid of all the trappings, it’s sharing the stories of the human experience through music and drama.

You’ve achieved so much success, and you’re only 34 years old! 
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have wonderful mentors who gave me opportunities at crucial points along the way. I was lucky to land that job at Columbia Artists Management, and The Metropolitan Opera, and the Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center. There have been many of those moments where people invested in me and gave me the opportunity to take the next step forward. Nobody really knows how capable we are until someone takes a chance and puts us in that moment where we can seize the opportunity.

Top photo courtesy of Cassidy DuHon.

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