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Deborah Sandler Takes The Helm At Lyric Opera

Deborah Sandler has been appointed the new general director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as of July 1, 2012.
Deborah Sandler has been appointed the new general director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as of July 1, 2012.

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City today announced the appointment of Deborah Sandler as the new general director as of July 1, 2012.

Sandler will succeed Evan Luskin, who retires on June 30 after 26 years with the company, including 14 years as general director.

Listening to Music from An Early Age

Deborah Sandler grew up in Philadelphia, Pa., a city she describes as "a fabulous music city to grow up in."

Experiences starting in early childhood encouraged and nourished her love of music. "I'm a poster child for what music education can do in the schools," she says.

Introduction to Opera

Sandler stayed in Philadelphia through her years as an undergraduate; she earned a B.A. in music from Temple University. A student production of Douglas Moore's folk opera, The Devil and Daniel Webster marked her first experience with opera.

"I was pretty overwhelmed," Sandler recalls. But she didn't consider herself a fan of opera until attending a professional production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

It wasn't until she started working for an opera company that Sandler says she really became involved with opera. She now has more than three decades of experience in arts management and development, including serving nearly two decades as general director of opera organizations (Kentucky Opera and Opera Festival of New Jersey).

"Sometimes it feels like it's a great puddle to cross, to jump to get involved in opera," Sandler says. "I think, as opera producers, we need to remember that."

Math and Music

Sandler could have taken a different career path. She studied math at Temple University for three years before she switched to music; she then went on to earn an M.A. in musicology (and complete doctoral course work) at New York University. Sandler describes herself as ambidextrous.

"I'm very detail-oriented. I like order, and goals, and strategies. And I like to see the big picture," says Sandler. "At the same time, I like to think that the other side of my brain says, 'How can we do this differently?' Mathematics is just a way of making order, but there's so much order about music as well."

Keeping the Momentum Going

This marks the inaugural season at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the two other resident companies (Kansas City Ballet and Kansas City Symphony). Construction is also nearing completion on the Opera Center, a two-building complex for production and administration in the East Crossroads. 

Sandler says she's looking forward to building on that momentum. "It's easy to build camaraderie and partnership when you're working towards the same goal and you share a love of something."

But she knows that there are challenges ahead. "The challenge to me will be to continue to invigorate, and engage more and more people," she says. "My philosophy is to inspire, and to innovate, and to involve. And that's what I see going forward for the company. It's a great new canvas waiting for us to paint on it."

Sandler is currently the director of development and external affairs at the Kentucky School of Art at Spaulding University in Louisville, Ky. and will relocate to Kansas City. She and her husband, Wayne Perkey, have two children, Shira, 28, and Benjamin, 31.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City announced the appointment of Deborah Sandler as the new general director of Thursday in a press release:

“Deborah was the standout choice,” notes Joyce G. Holland, chair of the search committee. “She has a deep understanding of how opera companies operate, and immediately will be able to guide the Company forward as it continues to produce work of the highest artistic caliber. Her strengths in strategic planning, organizational alignment, and fundraising made her the unanimous choice of the committee.”
“I believe the Board has made an excellent choice in selecting Deborah as the new General Director,” said (artistic director) Ward Holmquist. “I have had the great pleasure of working for her at two of her prior opera companies, and I highly respect her knowledge, insight and passion for the art form. It will be an exciting collaboration.”
“In Deborah Sandler, the Board has found a leader with the vision and the energy to accomplish that vision,” notes (general director) Evan Luskin. “I am happy to turn the reins of the Company over to her, after working 26 years to advance the accomplishments of the Company. “

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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