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Los Angeles Opera names Christopher Koelsch president and CEO

April 25, 2012|By David Ng
  • Christopher Koelsch, at the Music Center in downtown L.A. He has been named president and CEO of L.A. Opera.
Christopher Koelsch, at the Music Center in downtown L.A. He has been named… (Christina House / For The…)

For the first time in five years, Los Angeles Opera will have one person overseeing both the company's artistic efforts and finances on a daily basis. The company's board of directors on Wednesday afternoon elected Christopher Koelsch to the position of president and chief executive officer. His appointment takes effect Sept. 15, at the start of the 2012-13 season.

He will report to Plácido Domingo, who serves as L.A. Opera's general director.

Koelsch will replace Stephen Rountree, who has pulled double duty in recent years as CEO of L.A. Opera and head of the Music Center. Rountree will continue his job at the Music Center while stepping down from his post at the opera company.

Since 2010, Koelsch has served as L.A. Opera's chief operating officer and senior vice president, overseeing the company's artistic planning, marketing and other responsibilities. He joined the company in 1997.

Koelsch, 41, said in an interview that he will maintain his current responsibilities while taking on the added task of managing the company's finances. He said the company won't be hiring a separate COO.

"I think it's important that I remain connected to the administrative offices and to what's happening on stage," he said.

Prior to coming to L.A. Opera, he worked briefly at Opera Pacific as company manager. He also worked at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.

Board Chairman Marc Stern said in an interview that the company did not launch a search for the CEO position and has been considering Koelsch for awhile. "He grew into the position. I look at it as a fundamentally logical transition to exactly what we want," said Stern.

Koelsch's appointment represents the first time since Edgar Baitzel's tenure that L.A. Opera has had a solely dedicated chief to oversee all aspects of the company. Baitzel joined the company in 2001 and served in top leadership roles, including as COO, until he died in 2007. He was succeeded by Stern, who served on an interim basis.

Rountree took on the COO role on a part-time basis in 2008. He was named chief executive officer in 2010 while still serving as president of the Music Center.

Koelsch will continue to work closely with conductor James Conlon, the company's music director.

L.A. Opera has experienced financial difficulties in recent years and received a $14-million emergency loan from the county in 2009. Since then, the company has repaid half of the loan and expects to pay the remainder in December, according to Stern.

"We have dug ourselves out of the hole and we're moving forward," Stern said. "Certainly in the last four or five years, we're in the strongest financial position that we've been in."

The company isn't debt-free yet and is working on paying back loans from donors, said Koelsch.

L.A. Opera's operating budget for the current season is approximately $37 million, according to a spokesman.

The last time the company presented a new opera on its mainstage was "Il Postino," by Daniel Catán, in 2010. Koelsch said the company is considering "many" new works and productions, but he declined to provide details.

In recent seasons, L.A. Opera has offered a reduced production schedule of six operas per season. Koelsch said he would like to see seven operas by the 2013-14 season.

"It is all connected to our financial results, but I feel confident we can do that," he said.

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