At the Winspear, a Warm Welcome for New Dallas Opera Man Keith Cerny -- And Tough Questions from His Kids

Seems like it was just yesterday that the Dallas Opera announced they'd picked a new general director, Keith Cerny -- and then, there we were at the Winspear Opera House later in the day to meet the man himself.

The intervening hours were about enough time to tackle Cerny's biography -- music and physics degrees from Berkeley, a Harvard M.B.A. -- so we knew what Dallas Opera President Kern Wildenthal meant when he lauded Cerny's "varied and interesting background" and called him an "ideal" pick to lead the opera.

Cerny said he's "known as one of the most optimistic individuals about the future of opera," and was clearly stoked to be take the reins of a major opera company (he'd previously served as Executive Director and COO of the San Francisco Opera) with a venue like the Winspear at its disposal--"a world-class facility with wonderful acoustics," he said.

Unfair Park spoke with Cerny after the presser, and he was clearly ready for our questions about his first orders of business after his official May 24 start date. Before he left the podium though, he was a little less prepared for some tough questions from his kids.

Among the crowd of around 30 opera fans and reporters this afternoon were Cerny's wife Jennifer and their four boys, two of whom piled on to grill their dad while he was at the podium, asking how many floors were in the Winspear (five, Cerny said) and what it cost to clean the windows (nobody seemed to know).

Speaking with us later, Cerny named three big priorities he'd tackle soon as he's on the clock, first to dig up contributions to the opera's endowment while their $10 million matching grant challenge is still alive (they have until Halloween 2011 to make good on the anonymous donation).

​The Dallas Opera sets its shows and talent three years out, but Cerny says he'll throw himself into programming decisions right away, to start the "gradual evolution" we'll see before his picks take the stage.

Last, after leaving behind his job helming online retailer Sheet Music Plus, Cerny says he'll put his E-commerce know-how to work with fund-raising for the opera -- "not spam," he said, but targeted appeals for cash, more like online social networking.

"More community participation" is the goal, he said, so he'll work to bring the opera out to the rest of Dallas, setting up simulcasts at places like the American Airlines Center or on mobile screens around the city.

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