Login failed. Please try again.

Press Published: 11 Aug 2021

OPERA America Announces 13 Participants for Its 2021 Leadership Intensive Program

OPERA America is pleased to announce the 13 participants selected for its 2021 Leadership Intensive program. The Leadership Intensive exemplifies OPERA America’s long-standing commitment to identify and encourage the field’s most promising administrators who will help move opera forward for years to come.

The 2021 Leadership Intensive participants are:

  • James Barbato, director of artistic administration, Palm Beach Opera;
  • Esther Blevins, marketing and communications manager, Knoxville Opera;
  • Eric Broker, marketing and communications director, Minnesota Opera;
  • Kelvin Chan, founding general director, Vital Opera, and general director, VOXCRAFT;
  • Matt Cook, executive and development director, Pacific Opera Project;
  • Julia Cooke, artistic and general director, Baltimore Concert Opera;
  • Alonso Escalante, artistic director, Ópera de Bellas Artes;
  • Kathryn Frady, founding executive artistic director, Marble City Opera;
  • Sara Litchfield, youth and family programs manager, Seattle Opera;
  • Jessica Phillips, clarinetist, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and co-founder, MET Orchestra Musicians;
  • Mitra Sadeghpour, education consultant;
  • Linda Schulte, director of development, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; and
  • Hannah Waldman, director of development, Long Beach Opera.

This eighth class of the Leadership Intensive was chosen from a pool of 35 candidates through a competitive selection process. Candidates were evaluated based on their potential to make significant contributions to the opera field. (Alonso Escalante was selected by Ópera Latinoamérica, OPERA America’s partner organization in Latin America, which also underwrote his participation in the program.)

“The Leadership Intensive has proven to be a catalyst for the development of a new generation of opera leaders who would not otherwise have access to such specialized learning opportunities or to an international network of peers,” stated Marc. A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Alumni from the program now hold more than 10 percent of executive leadership positions at member companies across the United States.”

The Leadership Intensive, which was supported by funding from American Express in 2020, offers participants an extended professional development experience that will bolster their leadership capacity and advance their careers. Participants will be immersed in the program from August 13 to 20, 2021, for a weeklong curriculum that will address strategic issues, build essential skills, and foster strong professional connections. Expert faculty include Astrid Baumgardner, J.D., certified professional coach; JiJi Lee, storyteller and writer; Jeremiah Marks, chief financial officer, Opera Philadelphia; Michelle Ramos, J.D., Ph.D., executive director, Alternate ROOTS; Jonathan Tessero, creative director and producer; Sarah Carter, director of learning and leadership, OPERA America; Laura Lee Everett, chief programs officer, OPERA America; and Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO, OPERA America.


James Barbato
Director of Artistic Administration, Palm Beach Opera

James Barbato is director of artistic administration at Palm Beach Opera, where this season he was instrumental in the creation of the company’s outdoor festival in February, making PBO one of the first companies to safely accomplish a full season of live opera for in-person audiences during the pandemic. At PBO, Barbato leads all artistic planning, including the direction of the company’s acclaimed resident artist programs. He joined PBO in 2015 as a department assistant and went on to assume greater responsibilities and new titles while concurrently spending four summers at the Santa Fe Opera as assistant director of the rehearsal department. Barbato began his career in opera as a singer, earning his B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Eastman School of Music and continuing his training at the Boston University Opera Institute. He progressed through several young artist programs, most notably at Florida Grand Opera and Central City Opera. He was also a fellow at Tanglewood Music Center and performed in residencies with Aldeburgh Festival’s Britten-Pears Programme, the Académie du Festival Aix-en-Provence, and Marlboro Music Festival. In addition to his musical training, Barbato is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Rochester, where he earned a B.A. summa cum laude in economics. 

Esther Blevins
Marketing and Communications Manager, Knoxville Opera

Esther Berland Blevins, a Cuban-American Miami native, is the marketing and communications manager at Knoxville Opera. Before joining Knoxville Opera, she provided consulting services to Knoxville-area nonprofits, interned at the Knoxville Museum of Art, and singlehandedly ran the Smoky Mountain Arts and Crafts Fair. Blevins completed her master's degree in arts administration at the Savannah College of Art and Design while on an honors scholarship and serving as vice president of the Student Arts Managers club. Prior to grad school, she was her high school newspaper's editor in chief, Quill and Scroll Honor Society president, and copy editor for a college newspaper. Her minor claims to fame are winning a photography award, having been a child actor on a Spanish-language Saturday morning television show, and being able to point herself out as an extra in the Hannah Montana movie.

Eric Broker
Marketing and Communications Director, Minnesota Opera

Eric Broker is an arts producer, writer, and performer working to define and pursue justice through art and media. He currently serves as the marketing and communications director at Minnesota Opera, where he develops and executes strategic, multi-channel marketing and public relations plans that integrate marketing, fundraising, and artistic goals. Broker also serves on the planning team of Picnic Operetta, an organization that brings together classical music, horticulture, food, and storytelling into a celebration of the urban ecosystem, and is an artistic advisor for Opera-Oriented Projects Sponsorships in Minnesota. In addition to his work with arts institutions, Broker is an arts and culture journalist, as well as a baritone who has appeared with Minnesota Opera, Mill City Summer Opera, Lakes Area Music Festival, Arbeit Opera Theatre, Metamorphosis Opera Theater, Skylark Opera, the Schubert Club, and more. Broker was a 2019 fellow with the Twin Cities chapter of the New Leaders Council, a hub for progressive Millennial thought leadership, and has been a featured speaker at St. Olaf College, the University of Minnesota School of Music, and OPERA America. A native of St. Cloud, Minnesota, he graduated summa cum laude from St. Olaf College, where he received his Bachelor of Music in vocal performance.

Kelvin Chan
Founding General Director, Vital Opera, and General Director, VOXCRAFT

Netherlands-based Chinese American artist and administrator Kelvin Chan pursues his core commitment to cultivating human connection through the arts as a singer-actor, stage director, theater-maker, and arts leader. He is a former member and music director of the award-winning physical theater company Song of the Goat Theatre (Teatr Pieśń Kozła). Other credits in opera and new music theater include New Amsterdam, concert:nova (Cincinnati, OH), the Tri-Centric Foundation, Pittsburgh Festival Opera, the Little Globe Foundation, Bard SummerScape, Schlüterwerke (Vienna), Ostrava Days, S.E.M. Ensemble, New York City Opera’s VOX Festival, Opera Moderne, Cincinnati Opera, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, American Repertory Theatre, Nautilus Music-Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and HGOco. Kelvin pursues myriad avenues of actor training and theater-making, participating in workshops with New Dramatists, the SITI Company, the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, Meredith Monk and Ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company, and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. He is the founding general director of the New York-based social impact arts organization Vital Opera and the general director of a new vocal arts organization in the Netherlands, VOXCRAFT.

Matt Cook
Executive and Development Director, Pacific Opera Project

Matt Cook is an artist and arts leader in Los Angeles, California, who has successfully managed small to mid-sized performing arts organizations and connected them with the communities they serve. He currently serves as executive and development director of Pacific Opera Project, leading all financial, partnership, fundraising, and administrative operations for the organization. Cook has also held positions in development and production with the new music ensemble Wild Up. He produced performances at the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Fluxus Festival and the Ecstatic Music Festival in New York City, and led partnerships with organizations such as the Martha Graham Dance Company. Previously, he worked with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet in various roles, including managing director, and led the organization to international recognition in its field. Cook is also a Grammy Award-winning performer whose work has been heard on studio and film recordings such as Aquaman and various Netflix series, and he has been seen live in performance with ensembles across the world. As an educator, he has been a featured clinician at institutions including Stanford, Colburn, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is on faculty at Fullerton College (Fullerton, CA). A native of Atlanta, Cook holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the California Institute of the Arts.

Julia Cooke
Artistic and General Director, Baltimore Concert Opera

Julia Cooke was named artistic and general director of Baltimore Concert Opera in 2019 after serving as a founding board member and executive director of the company. In her current role, Cooke leads artistic programming and casting, fundraising, business management, and long-term and strategic planning. Under her direction, BCO attendance has reached 96 percent of annual capacity, total annual contributed revenue increased 50 percent from 2012 to 2019, and the company established an endowment fund in 2018. Cooke also oversaw the development of BCO’s successful audience-building programming, free concert series for community members, and children’s education program. She has navigated the company through the challenges of the pandemic and is leading the organization through a major expansion in the 2021–2022 season. Before her career as an arts executive, Julia maintained a dual career in performing and teaching. She served as professor of classical voice at Morgan State University, Towson University, and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy; conductor for the Chicago Children’s Choir and Maryland State Boychoir; and private voice teacher to dozens of rising singers. Cooke holds a Master of Music in opera performance from Indiana University and a B.A. in music and psychology from the University of Rochester.

Alonso Escalante
Artistic Director, Ópera de Bellas Artes

Alonso Escalante, artistic director of the Ópera de Bellas Artes, began his music studies at nine years old in the Coro de Infantes de la Basílica de Guadalupe in Mexico City. Later, he entered the Centro de Investigación y Estudios de la Música (CIEM), where he studied composition with a major in opera singing. He went on to receive a master’s degree in cultural management from the University of Girona and the University of Catalonia and subsequently interned at the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kennedy Center. After pursuing a career as a professional singer, he entered the field of cultural promotion, serving as general director of the Teatro del Bicentenario in León, national music and opera coordinator at the National Institute of Bellas Artes, deputy director of artistic programming at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and deputy director of artistic development support at the National Fund for Culture and the Arts. Escalante has also worked as a theater consultant, artist manager, promoter, independent producer, lecturer, and cultural commentator for radio, TV, and written media. He has served as a jury member for several singing competitions, including the Competizione dell'Opera (Germany), Neue Stimmen (Germany), and International Opera Competition Laguna Mágica (Chile).

Kathryn Frady
Founding Executive Artistic Director, Marble City Opera

Kathryn Frady is the founding executive artistic director of Marble City Opera. The company’s mission is to cultivate a new following for opera by producing authentic and innovative performances of contemporary and traditional works in non-traditional venues, with the aim of creating a more accessible atmosphere for audiences. A passionate and prolific performer, director, and producer of modern operatic repertoire, Frady has worked on the development and premiere of 12 new operas over the last 10 years, as well as directed workshops for Cleveland Opera Theater’s NOW Festival and served as a panelist for MassOpera’s New Opera Workshop. With Marble City Opera, Frady has envisioned and brought to life 32 fully staged productions, including nine premieres, with three new premieres in development. In 2016, Frady was named one of “10 Women Who Make a Difference” by The Knoxville Mercury, and in 2019, she was recognized as a “Trailblazer in Her Field” by the Step Ahead Foundation of East Tennessee. Frady has a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of North Texas and a certificate in executive women in leadership from Cornell University, and she is currently working on a fundraising management certificate from Boston University.

Sara Litchfield
Youth and Family Programs Manager, Seattle Opera

For the past decade, Sara Litchfield has been dedicated to opera education and youth development. She began this journey touring throughout the Midwest with Opera for the Young. Litchfield then shifted her focus to teaching and from 2011 to 2018 served as a teaching artist for both Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Opera Theater. During this time, she created and led upwards of 20 in-school residency programs with Chicago Public Schools and facilitated and directed each subsequent youth performance. In 2018, Litchfield joined the team at Seattle Opera as youth and family programs manager. In this new position, she is responsible for implementing and overseeing all afterschool youth programs, which include Youth Opera Project, Teen Vocal Studio, both spring and summer camps, and all Family Opera Day activities. This past year, she successfully adapted all of the youth programs into a digital format, which resulted in two virtual youth opera productions, a live Zoom recital, multiple virtual masterclasses, and virtual opera scenes concert. Litchfield is committed to making opera and arts education equitable and accessible for all. She holds a Bachelor of Music from Loyola University New Orleans and a Master of Music from Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University.

Jessica Phillips
Clarinetist, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Co-Founder, MET Orchestra Musicians 

A musician in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 20 years, Jessica Phillips co-founded MET Orchestra Musicians, a nonprofit organization through which the MET Orchestra gives back to underserved communities in and around New York City. Under her collaborative leadership, it developed into a groundbreaking online presence through innovative storytelling, relevant arts programming, and community-based collaborations. She served as chair of the MET Orchestra Committee, leading two negotiations. In 2020, Phillips co-founded K+P Strategy, a consulting business helping clients all over the country build their brand, strengthen their online presence, and connect further with their audiences through strategic and innovative content creation. She serves on the faculty of the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at the Manhattan School of Music. Phillips has been a guest speaker and participated on panels at the International Conference of Symphonic and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), The Juilliard School, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Center for Innovative Leadership, discussing topics such as nonprofits, labor negotiations, unions, musician advocacy, and the future of the arts. She holds a certificate in nonprofit arts management from NYU and a certificate in labor relations from Cornell. Phillips sits on the board of The Field, a nonprofit organization striving to help artists thrive financially.

Mitra Sadeghpour
Education Consultant

Mitra Sadeghpour is currently an education consultant for opera companies and university opera programs. She holds a doctorate from Indiana University and served as education director for Minnesota Opera for two seasons. She has also had a 19-year career in higher education, teaching voice and opera at University of Northern Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Luther College. Sadeghpour is a frequent adjudicator and is an active member of NATS and OPERA America.  She loves dogs, kayaking, gardening, and coffee.

Linda Schulte
Director of Development, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Linda Schulte joined Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2019 as director of development. Her prior fundraising and management experience includes roles at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and the Civic Federation, a public policy research organization in Chicago. Schulte holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Truman State University.

Hannah Waldman
Director of Development, Long Beach Opera

Hannah Waldman is an artist, fundraiser, and administrator with over 20 years of organizational know-how across a broad sector of nonprofits, from universities to healthcare to cultural institutions. With a commitment to a radically inclusive workplace culture, Waldman has a background in strengths-based counseling and career coaching, a passion for community-centric fundraising, and grounding in practices of equity, diversity, inclusion. Waldman earned degrees in voice performance from Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Southern California and sang professionally for several years before transitioning to the administrative realm. She is currently the director of development at Long Beach Opera, where she has been on staff since 2018, and was a founding board member of Pacific Opera Project. With a subspecialty in event planning, she has executed million-dollar fundraisers for a high-budget healthcare organization and increased special events revenue 25 percent year-over-year in her time with Long Beach Opera, maintaining an expense ratio of under 25 percent. Musical America named LBO’s 2020 Songbook, an initiative Waldman spearheaded for the company, was one of its “Top 10 Pandemic Pivots” in 2020. She was a keynote speaker for OPERA America’s Development Forum in 2020 and is currently the chair of its Development Network.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

For press inquiries, contact Press@operaamerica.org or 212.796.8628.