Feature Stories

New Dallas Opera CEO Ian Derrer Plans for Outreach, Inclusion

Dallas Opera welcomes Ian Derrer (left).
Dallas Opera welcomes Ian Derrer (left). Karen Almond
After more than seven years at the helm, Keith Cerny resigned his position as CEO/general director of the Dallas Opera in December. Six months later, the Dallas Opera announced its choice to replace him.

Ian Derrer is the new CEO and general director of the Dallas Opera, the eighth in its history. He'll arrive in Dallas in July after he wraps things up at the Kentucky Opera, where he has served as general director since August 2016.

Derrer, 43, has a history with Dallas and the Dallas Opera. He studied voice performance at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts and interned at the Dallas Opera in the mid-'90s as an assistant to stage director John Copley. Later, he served as artistic administrator at the Dallas Opera from 2014-16 and was there when the company staged three world premieres.

Derrer’s love of opera dates to his childhood. Both of his parents sang in the opera in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Derrer has fond memories of a boyhood spent in the opera house while his parents rehearsed. He has a particular fondness for Tosca, the first opera he performed in as a member of the chorus.

The job of general director — a mix of producer, educator, diplomat and fundraiser — entails managing the details of scheduling and casting an opera season that includes five main-stage performances, supervising various departments and staff, and overseeing an annual budget of $18.3 million. The director takes responsibility for the overall management of the company in conjunction with the board of directors.

"You are the center point, the hinge, the tie that binds together members of the board with the staff of the various departments and the community," Derrer says.

Derrer, whose background is on the artistic and production side of opera, says he feels comfortable attending rehearsals and being highly involved in the daily preparations for performances. He cites degrees in opera production and performing arts management from Northwestern University and Brooklyn College as the foundation needed to tackle the marketing and development aspects of his new position.

"You are the center point, the hinge, the tie that binds together members of the board with the staff of the various departments and the community." – Ian Derrer

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During his time at Kentucky Opera, Derrer developed several projects with community organizations using opera as a model for collaboration.

"Opera is a great collaborative artform bringing together musicians and singers, an orchestra, even ballet, and it doesn’t have to stop there," he says. "It can expand to the community."

He began an opera lecture series in Louisville's public libraries and thinks that type of joint project would work well in Dallas and could be expanded to museums and schools.

Derrer emphasizes that the second step in outreach is follow-through.

"Those children that we go to visit at schools should have access to the opera house to experience it in its fullness, and we must work to eliminate the barriers to access," he says.

Derrer says he is committed to making diversity a priority. Derrer hired women directors for all three productions in Kentucky Opera’s upcoming season and says that going forward, "that will be a conscious choice as to who is brought into the mix," which extends to racial minorities as well.

Derrer has two categories for the potential opera-goer: "the catalog audience — an audience that waits for a piece of paper that describes the performance — and a group that responds more to social media."

"You have to respond to both," he says.
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