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Video Published: 22 Jun 2022

An Oral History with Kevin Smith

On January 20th, 2022, arts administrator Kevin Smith sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and their life.

This interview was originally recorded on January 20th, 2022. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

Kevin Smith, arts administrator

Kevin Smith served as president and CEO of Minnesota Opera from 1986 to 2011 and held the same role at the Minnesota Orchestra from 2014 to 2018. In 2007, he helped form the Arts Partnership, which includes the Ordway Center and its resident companies. Smith’s additional accomplishments include the 1991 creation of the Minnesota Opera Center, and throughout his career Smith has been active in statewide arts advocacy, serving on the board of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. He was OPERA America’s board chair from 1997 to 2000.

Oral History Project

Discover the full collection of oral histories at the link below.


Marc A. Scorca: So Kevin, I start every interview with this question: who brought you to your first opera?

Kevin Smith: My mother brought me. She actually was performing in it. She was doing Frasquita in Carmen, in Pasadena, California in a semi-professional production. And I must have been 10 or 11 and I remember it vividly and it was fun and interesting, and I really didn't have another opera experience until college. And at that point I was a piano major in college, and I was singing in the chorus, getting performance credits for that. And I started working with the opera workshop and experiencing more and more opera and being around it. And the more and more I did, the more I enjoyed it and more fascinated I was with it.

Marc A. Scorca: I did not realize that your mother was a singer. So you did have some sounds of opera in your house as a kid?

Kevin Smith: Yeah, and my mother wasn't per se an opera singer. She sang in the William Hall Chorale in Los Angeles and she was a teacher. She was an elementary and then a high school teacher, but she always sang and she sang at church and she sang all over the place and she was sort of my introduction to music in general, and opera, in particular.

Marc A. Scorca: I knew you were a piano major and you shared that you started to enjoy opera more and more as you began to experience it more but, as far as I know, your first real foray into opera was as a stage manager. And that strikes me as some distance from being a pianist into stage management.

Kevin Smith: Well, I was interested in opera, but after graduating in 1973 from UC Santa Barbara, I went back to LA where I grew up and, with a friend and others, kicked around doing popular music and songwriting and trying to make it in that field for a couple years, and that really didn't go anywhere. And so I hitchhiked back up to UCSB 'cause I was broke and didn't know what I was gonna do next, and started accompanying, working my way - just trying to make a living. And among the things that I did, I started stage managing in the theater (the Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall) at UCSB for the opera workshop, then I started building sets. New York City Opera would come every year; Jacques d'Amboise would come and do a residency, and so there was just a lot going on. I would run the lights, I'd sort of make up a lighting thing, and it was interesting and there were a lot of different components to it. And then I finally got interested in opera stage direction and in order to pursue that, I quickly learned that assistant directors don't do anything but carry coffee and don't get paid. If you're a stage manager, you actually get all the same access, experiences, even more information and you get paid and come performance time you actually have something to do. And I thought, "Well, if I'm gonna get into opera, if I want to be a stage director or whatever"... I'd like to say that I was absolutely committed and clear about all these things, but I just wanted to get into the field. And so I started freelance stage managing and I did that for a couple of years, based in New York. I was the first paid stage manager at Glimmerglass Opera way back, when they were performing in a junior high school auditorium. And then I found myself hired as a production stage manager at Minnesota Opera - seasonal job in 1981.

Marc A. Scorca: And I remembered that your first real opera company experience was at Glimmerglass, and we all know the Alice Busch Opera Theater right now and love that location, which opened in 1987, but you remember back in the high school days. Was it really just kind of a basic high school experience at Glimmerglass?

Kevin Smith: Oh, absolutely, and everything was volunteered: the sets, the costumes, the staff. All the people who were backstage helping stage management were high school kids. And the big industry in Cooperstown is the teaching hospital. And most of the chorus (all volunteer) were physicians. And there was one night where some sort of disaster happened and several of them in the middle of the show...you know, their buzzers beeped, and they went running off in the middle of HMS Pinafore. What you do? I mean it was all volunteer, and it was just starting to make the transition. Paul Kellogg had taken over the company maybe two years before, and it was just a small fledgling company. One of the great lessons I learned there that served me the rest of my time - still probably serves me in a lot of different ways - was an experience I had when we were doing The Impresario, Der Schauspieldirektor. And I was stage managing, and the two sopranos who famously vie over role and top billing and all of that (believe it or not, this is absolutely true)...there was some confusion after the first performance with the curtain call. And the two of them got into a very awkward moment, but both of them had husbands there who were both singers and came raging into the dressing room afterwards. And everybody was screaming and yelling. It was just a continuation of the opera, which was in its own way, hilarious and ironic. And I went in. I didn't know what to do, so I immediately took responsibility. I said, "Oh, I didn't post the call for your bows, the curtain calls" and having then immediately figured out that it's no one's fault, I took the blame; diffused a situation. And that was really a moment where I realized this is all about working with people. And secondly, it's all about 'it' rather than 'you', right? Don't try to come out on top all the time. Try to get done what you need to get done. And that was really a lifelong lesson. It was hilarious that it happened in that way.

Marc A. Scorca: It is really hilarious. I can see that in a Marx Brothers movie somehow. So you went off to a full-time paying job in Minnesota, 1981.

Kevin Smith: It was not full time. It was paying. It was a seasonal job. It started in September and ended in May, when the season ended, but come April, we were insolvent. We managed to end the season, but then we were bankrupt and everyone got laid off. And the board decided they were going to reconstitute the company and pay off the debts. In the meantime, they suggested that I stay on, along with the person who ran the education program (the education program was a separate legal affiliate; they were doing fine). I was asked to stay on 'cause I was the production guy, and so at that point I was offered my first year round paying job with benefits. I was 31, I think. And it was like the greatest moment of my professional life. It was; it is the greatest moment. A real job in opera; a real job. It was awesome.

Marc A. Scorca: Was Ed Korn the general director at that time?

Kevin Smith: Ed was not yet hired. They did a search. This was in the spring of '82. And Ed came in in the fall of '82. And then Ed Korn, who had come from the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Metropolitan Opera...

Marc A. Scorca: He'd been at the NEA, I think between Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Kevin Smith: Right. And Ed was a wonderful guy, but kind of a volatile personality. He came in, but actually, I really didn't have a lot of understanding perspective of the national opera scene and he did really two wonderful things. First of all, he had me attend OPERA America conferences. And so somewhere around '83/'84, I attended my first conference. And he also then in about '85 or so suggested to Patrick Smith, (who ran the opera program at the National Endowment for the Arts - opera music theater program) that I be considered as a panelist. And so I was chosen as a panelist for the program and went out and did the panel. This was probably 1986, and an interesting thing happened. When it came time for OPERA America's proposal to be reviewed, whoever was associated with it, in this case Plato Karayanis (who was on the board) had to leave the room. And then the rest of us deliberated about the OPERA America proposal. And I really was quite outspoken in some criticisms of it. And that's when you, Marc Scorca were brought in. I remember I was asked to attend a meeting with Ardis in Chicago, backstage and she and David Gockley were there. David was the past chair, and the point was to talk about the recruiting process to get the next executive director, president of OPERA America, and I was kind of amazed and kind of flattered that I was even there, but Ardis Krainik says, "We've got our person. It's Marc Scorca. He's going to be perfect." And wow, "I know Marc." I don't know: if it's good enough for Ardis, it's good enough for me. And it turns out, many years later, as always, she was right.

Marc A. Scorca: Thank you for that. I've tried to get people who knew Ardis to share with us just some of the extraordinary qualities of her. And of course, when you were on the board in those early years, (there was) Martin Feinstein, Plato, of course; Peter Hemmings, Ardis Krainik, Bob Heuer, David DiChiera: some of the folks who really shaped American opera in the '70's and '80's. So, what was Ardis like?

Kevin Smith: It's interesting. When I think of that group, if you didn't know them and you just saw them publicly, (and I include that as being in an OPERA America board meeting) there was a regal sense and there was a sense of power and authority and kind of old school power politics, and a little rough on the edges sometimes. Martin would (say), "I care about butts in seats," and you'd complain about the unions and the singer contracts and everything, but you didn't really get into all the nuances of the art and all of that sort of stuff. It was good, old-fashioned stuff. But in each of those cases, I had the opportunity to sit down more privately with them and talk to them and get to know them a little bit, and they were such warm, wonderful, caring people. And that really, to me is the driver. Ardis Krainik was just a fabulous person. She came off as just this great power of leadership and right below that surface, she was so vulnerable. She talked about how she prayed every morning before she went to work to get her through the day. And you would never think that she seemed absolutely invincible. And that was true. The vulnerability of everybody and they're talking about their families and it was really a terrific group of people.

Marc A. Scorca: They were such characters. And we don't need to go into the details of it here, but you know, years and years ago, I did a good impression of Ardis, and you once asked me to do it in front of her, and I will never forgive you for that, just so you remember.

Kevin Smith: That's right. I won't ask you to do it again. I know you could, but you did a perfect impression and she thought it was absolutely hilarious. She just laughed and laughed.

Marc A. Scorca: Exactly. You're absolutely right. Because Peter Hemmings and his five children and Martin and his children and grandchildren...there were these incredible human beings underneath all the bluster of being general directors of OPERA America. You mentioned it and I wanted to pursue it a little bit. When you became chair of the board, one of the real priorities that you set was to help the Europeans, and yes, it seems counter logical that the Americans are helping the Europeans organize around opera, but every country had its own little kind of service organization. And it was a goal to create something that was European, a kind of European parallel to OPERA America. And this was a real priority of yours. And I'm curious, on reflection now, your observations about how similar, how different the Europeans were, some of the unexpected barriers to helping create Opera Europa, as we know it today?

Kevin Smith: Well, the term for the board chair is two years, and I ended up serving two terms, which was fairly standard. And I wanted to set some sort of goal, and there was a strategic plan for my first two year term, and you and I discussed it, and I thought about it with the board. At this point there was a real energy in Europe and among us from OPERA America to really try to build something like a sister organization in Europe, something comparable to OPERA America. The European Union was coming into play now; the idea of Europe-wide collaboration, interaction was becoming a sensibility that they were interested in. There was funding to be had for this sort of thing, which is a key issue here. We may wanna go back to that later, because I think that ended up being a key issue for the development of OPERA America in a variety of ways too. But, it was a great opportunity too, as you and I both know, 'cause we spent a lot of time on the road in Europe talking to people, having meetings and of course everybody wanted to party and have a good time and host well and talk. But when it really came down to what was the functional relationship and the collaboration, it was really hard to do 'cause they just weren't really used to thinking in that way and working in that way. And there was a key moment: what we arranged was that OPERA America would provide services for this new fledgling Opera Europa organization and pay OPERA America a certain amount of money. And you and the staff of OPERA America would service them as you service OPERA America. And, they were a little uncomfortable with the arrangement and the biggest reason - it was just like early OPERA America - they really didn't want to delegate so much to a paid staff and paid executive. Their sensibility was to really be able to do it all themselves and just have somebody kind of organize things. And I remember at a meeting in Copenhagen, and I think we asked you to leave the room, and I just had a conversation with them and said, "Look, this is the way it works in the United States. This is the way OPERA America's organized. If you don't like that, then you don't have to do it. But there's a culture clash here. And if you just wanna be a group and just have a secretary doing something for you: great. But otherwise, if you want to become a full fledged service organization, do all these things, you have to have a full fledge staff and they have to behave accordingly." And they kind of sit around and said, "Okay, yeah." So they decided they would roll with it and keep going, and then that blossomed, but ultimately they got leadership and they have done nicely by themselves.

Marc A. Scorca: Really well.

Kevin Smith: My point about OPERA America, and collaborations in general is that early on in OPERA America in the '80's, one of the biggest changes and most controversial changes in OPERA America was creating a regranting program. There was a lot of controversy within the organization, within the board about this, in part because the idea of OPERA America giving out grants to member organizations could potentially create a political rats' nest, a nightmare. And how could that be done fairly so that all of the members, whether they applied or not would feel that this was a valuable function for OPERA America to serve. And of course, with opera in the '80's, beyond developing new works and encouraging these sorts of things, OPERA America obtaining funding that really wasn't being taken away or redirected from individual opera companies, all of that transformed OPERA America and its relationship with its members into a real interactive business relationship, whereby the members not only were paying dues and getting information and services, they were actually getting, in many cases, they were getting more money from OPERA America than they were giving, or there was a back and forth. That's like, "Well I pay my federal taxes, but then the federal government provides all this funding for this and that and the other thing.” And that ended up being the basis of building the OPERA America we know today. And the other thing was of course, that it used to be early on that it was a top down sensibility, within the culture of OPERA America. So the board members, the general directors would be communicated with, and it was their responsibility to tell their staffs what they knew, what they heard, what OPERA America could provide: statistics, information, whatever. Well, under your leadership and around that time in the '80's into the '90's, OPERA America was transformed so that it began to directly serve staff members of the various disciplines. From the beginning, there was an education staff member, an education component, but now we started doing production and marketing and fundraising and management in general and OPERA America became a full service organization for all of the services an opera company provides, and on a professional basis. And then of course, it expanded from there to not just be an organization of professionals, but of volunteers, of philanthropists. And so there really has been this growth in the definition of what a service organization was, and right along that path Opera Europa came into being. And I think in a lot of ways - I haven't tracked it closely these last years - they absolutely benefited from this process that we, the Americans (annoyingly to them) had initiated and cultivated within their ranks.

Marc A. Scorca: And Opera Europa is doing so well these days. It really is a pleasure to have such a robust partner organization. And I may connect two dots here because you said earlier, when you were solving the curtain call problem back at Glimmerglass, that it wasn't about you. It was about just solving the problem. And isn't that a key to collaboration, because I know in your time as general director of Minnesota Opera, you started The Arts Partnership at the Ordway Center where all of the users of the Ordway got together to really optimize the fundraising, the design and functionality of the performing arts center. So partnerships have meant a lot to you: Opera Europa, The Arts Partnership and clearly you see values...

Kevin Smith: A lot of co-production work.

Marc A. Scorca: That's true. You see the reward at the other end of the challenges of partnership.

Kevin Smith: Well, first of all, they don't always work. And the difference between them working - mostly and not working - is whether or not there really is a shared value in it. Is there, in this sense, a business interest? We had tried for 15 years at The Ordway to create various types of relationship structures; of partnerships. Nothing ever fell into place. And at one point, one of the board members of The Ordway, a guy named Carl Drake who ran Travelers (it was St. Paul Companies). (He) said, "You will never have a viable collaboration unless we have mutual business interests." So what happened with The Arts Partnership is where you have a performing arts center and you have resident organizations like St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Schubert Club, Minnesota Opera, ...using them, and all sorts of conflicts having to do with logistics and money, marketing and fundraising overlaps. These are absolutely common in this world. And what we did is found a way that we could mutually understand and agree and create strategies around not just efficiencies of working together, but actually growing our organizations on a collective basis. So what happened in this case is this organization came into being. It has raised probably $85-90M since it was founded in the late '90's and expanded the campus of the Ordway into not just a multiuse opera house with 1800 seats, but also took a smaller space and rebuild or redesigned it as an 1100 seat concert hall with Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. That's now having a specific music space and a specific opera space, and an endowment to support all these things, sharing the cost of maintaining these things, working out all the details and it has been a terrific success. I've been involved with a number of different situations that are very comparable to that that have never panned out, where there hasn't been a collaboration achieved, because usually it's just too much territorialism; there aren't the tangible benefits that everyone needs to really see it and make it work. And most recently, I was involved in one in Wyoming, just tangentially as a consultant in Jackson Hole performing arts center. And they had all kinds of issues around the same (stuff), so it's issues we had. They can't resolve anything, because it's just people stuff, and they haven't really found the common ground to do that. So once again, OPERA America has been able to thrive on the basis of finding value in relationships and collaborations among opera companies, between opera companies facilitating this between OPERA America and not only the companies, but the broader world and community and Opera Europa has been able to do the same thing. And it hasn't been just a matter of getting European Union money. They really have been able to individually, as companies, entities, they've been able to benefit and see the benefit of the collaboration. But if that benefit isn't perceived by all the participants, it's either not gonna happen or it's not gonna hold up.

Marc A. Scorca: Does that same concept of perceived benefit, the business interest as you describe it, does that pertain to co-production among companies as well?

Kevin Smith: Oh, absolutely. In Minnesota, we did a lot of co-production in part, because we had a scene shop, we had a costume shop and we didn't have a lot of money and we needed to do things. We needed partnerships. We needed people to invest in new productions. And a lot of opera companies, regional companies don't have shops. And those that do, of course they have the same interests and desires. So in order to make all of that work, I changed the rules a little bit to what was typically done and just said, "Look, if you were going to spend $50,000 or $30,000, you - opera company A to rent a production, you can buy a share in our production, which is gonna cost $300,000. You can put 50,000 in. You'll be a percentage ownership of that. Once we pay off the initial costs, you will share in the rental revenue of that. And if it goes over budget, we'll take responsibility 'cause we're the lead producer. If it goes under budget, then we all share in that.” So we took on the risk. We took on the reward and a classic example of success in that was the Turandot that we did in 2001, I think. And I think there were eight companies which had $50,000 in and I think we all made a goodly amount of money 'cause that production was used and reused by the companies and rented. And so once again, it was a matter of finding the mutual benefit that will work for different partners in different situations. So it doesn't mean that everybody has to be absolutely equal, but everyone has to have a strategic and usually a financial advantage to make these things work. In this case, it's business.

Marc A. Scorca: Wonderfully expressed. So I wanna explore a couple of chapters in your various retirements, because you're the man who just couldn't retire. So you retired from The Minnesota Opera and after a short interval, you became president of the Minnesota Orchestra and you did that after a 16 month labor dispute. It was very prolonged and very bitter. And you were seen as someone who could come in and bring the parties together again. So, I want to hear a little bit about that experience, and then just your observations about how different or similar an orchestra is from an opera company.

Kevin Smith: Well, first of all, I think everyone who's been around various performing disciplines realizes there's sort of a specific culture associated with each discipline. The dancers, ballet companies have a culture and theaters do and opera companies do and orchestras do. And so there's that, and it's true. Now opera companies have orchestras, and so you are familiar with an orchestra, but when you have 70-80 musicians that basically are there year-round and with you, along with 70-80 board members and, you know, 70-80 staff members, there are two things going on here. After you've run a regional opera company, which really has, in our case had about 30 or 40 full-time year-round employees and everyone else production, artistic, everything was jobbed in, on a per service weekly basis or whatever. All of a sudden, the entire structure and everyone artistically, administratively is one big family and families are as wonderful and dysfunctional, as we all know them to be. Really the interesting thing for me between Minnesota Opera and Minnesota Orchestra, was I went from a $10M organization to a $30M organization, quite a bit bigger one. There was a lot more volume of activity. I mean, we're doing concerts just coming at you every week and it was very challenging and it was a very dysfunctional situation. So it was a turnaround. I love turnarounds. And this was a turnaround situation. And just like with any organization, when I was consulting with OPERA America, whatever problems and issues, there are, really it generally comes down to the relationship between people. If you have a functional community: a board, a staff, a community, audience, artists, whatever that is really functional and they work together, then you're basically a success. If you don't bad things happen. When I joined Minnesota Opera, the company was just completely outta sync. They didn't like each other. They didn't agree artistically. And ultimately what tends to happen is you can quantify the dysfunction financially. And there are financial problems. We have financial problems; we were insolvent. Okay, start over again. The problem with the Minnesota Orchestra and with many of these organizations is that they don't communicate. They don't talk. Sometimes in this case at the Minnesota Orchestra, it was by design. So how do you put that back together? Well, it's the same thing as an opera company, but the thing about running an orchestra to me was two things. First of all, you had so many more voices to accommodate - a large organization and more people there and involved. And the other thing was that (and this is just a personal thing) I've been doing opera for decades, and you do a lot of the same rep over and over again. And all of a sudden - it's not like I didn't know any orchestra rep - every concert there was stuff that I was discovering and the nuances among the musicians and how those relationships work. They might hate each other, but the way they work together day in and day out was just a profound experience from an artistic point of view. So bottom line is that I think that it would've been a fairly straightforward transition if I were running a Chicago or a San Francisco (orchestra); running a big company with an established year-round orchestra, chorus, all those sorts of things, but the way a regional opera company is designed, it was really a huge learning curve for me to step into that situation.

Marc A. Scorca: And in another sequential parallel retirement for you, you're consulting with a lot of opera companies: half a dozen, eight opera companies. And I think almost every one of them was a turnaround situation, where there was either a leadership transition or financial upheaval, and frequently the two go together. Someone leaves; the financial problems become apparent and you've gotta solve it. You said you enjoy turnaround situations. Why? What about them?

Kevin Smith: First of all, it's exciting. Minnesota Opera: I ran it for 25 years. And for at least the first 10 or 15, I considered it a turnaround; a slow turnaround. And that really was my first experience with that sort of thing. It's very dynamic, very dramatic as with the Minnesota Orchestra in particular. All of a sudden you can take risk and do things and say things that nobody would ever dream of allowing you to do. So there is a license to be dynamic that you can't do if everything is kind of tried and true and running. And I like that. There's a lot of pressure in its own way, but you love it or you don't. And I do. When I was consulting with OPERA America, which was great, it was three years of just wonderful work and experience...

Marc A. Scorca: Of the most difficult assignments we could throw you.

Kevin Smith: But also then being able to share them with the field, which I did, and that was part of our deal. This was something that came out of an OPERA America strategic plan to have field consultants out there working so that you could spend extended periods of time working on difficult situations. And typically when you go into these situations, if I had to say that there was one specific thing, a weakness of an organization that was in trouble, it was the board. And boards don't have to do a lot to be functional. They have to do their fiscal, custodial responsibilities; hire good staff and support the organization and do these things. But if they don't hire the right staff; if they don't have the right leadership, these are volunteer boards and the dynamics of those, the culture, the history of them is such that it's really difficult for them to make change and maneuver, and when they get into a hole, it's really often very hard for a board to get out of it. And that's really what was one of the rewarding things that, in this case we, OPERA America could provide to these organizations. The staff leadership in most, every case was either gone or going, and that's what you get for having a failed organization. They don't bring in a consultant unless they're in really bad shape. And at that point, then you are largely working with the board. And I love that. Board members are community members that do this because they love it and they really care. And I just have profound respect for that, even when they're at their most dysfunctional. And sometimes I got into some real battles with some of these board members, not personal, but just about the organization and why we do what we do. We did a lot of governance work, which I think was absolutely and remains absolutely key. So it was really a wonderfully rewarding experience for me. And I think in at least a couple of these cases, we got some opera companies out of very hot water and they're still up and running.

Marc A. Scorca: I think you saved several that would've closed without your intervention. And I wish we had someone else like you because a number of retired general directors would like some assignments, "But can they be assignments where there isn't a crisis; where we don't have to worry about raising money for payroll; where the staff is strong and stable." It's like "Those companies don't hire consultants!"

Kevin Smith: Those are the ones that don't need, or want a consultant.

Marc A. Scorca: It's very funny how that plays out. You are one of the people and I watched it where you had a successful career, long tenure at The Minnesota Opera and concurrently you raised two beautiful daughters and you supported the wonderful career of a marvelous wife. You had a balance, Kevin and a lot of people don't. There are a whole lot of folks in our industry who don't have families; whose family really is the opera company. And when they say "I do," they say "I do" to a company, not to another individual. What are some of your insights about having a responsible family life and being a responsible general director?

Kevin Smith: Was it Beverly Sills that said that running an opera company's for orphans and widows - or something like that?

Marc A. Scorca: "You have to be single and an orphan"

Kevin Smith: Something along those lines. I have spoken, even at OPERA America training situations, about work/life balance. And I think that so much of your life is work. You spend so much time there that it helps a lot if work is fulfilling, and I've actually never even said this before, if you have a bad job, it's really hard to have a work/life balance. If you have a good job, I think it's much easier because you're happier; you're better adjusted. When you're actually in charge of something, then yes, you have the responsibility and the pressure and all of that, but you also have the flexibility. So my wife and I were both working full time. We had two kids, we had no family within 2000 miles of us, and we sort of supported each other. When one kid was sick, we kind of arranged that one of us would cover, and they couldn't get into daycare, and do all those sorts of things. And so we made it work. Watching my older daughter - she has a three and a five year old and a husband. She and her husband both work and have very challenging jobs. Boy, if they didn't have us around, I don't know what they would do. Well, I do know what they would do. They would do what we did. You just make it work. And I have said, and I really truly believe it to be the case that if I were more dedicated; if I spent more time at the opera, we could have gotten a little bit more out of the opera company than I did. I didn't. I think the opera company did well, and I think that having that kind of relationship: that I could have a satisfactory private life and a personal life, and it took the longevity of my ability to stay longer there than just sort of burn out or do something. I don't know how you do it. I do have two absolutely wonderful daughters and a wonderful wife, and a happy private life and a happy professional life... I'm vaccinated...

Marc A. Scorca: It gets back to your ability to solve the problem with two sopranos and their curtain calls. I've quoted you, pretty accurately, about the fact that if you had chosen differently, maybe The Minnesota Opera endowment would be bigger by a few million dollars, but that that few million dollars wasn't worth neglecting your children or your wife, and that if you had to make hard choices for the most part your hard choices were in favor of your family.

Kevin Smith: That's true. That's true.

Marc A. Scorca: A great lesson.

Kevin Smith: My wife, Lynn is this wonderful person and we covered for each other. If I was really hunkered down and she would cover. When we were doing the Opera Europa work, I happened on a three month sabbatical in Italy, in Florence to study opera. We couldn't figure out how the Italians function, because we couldn't get them to collaborate. They were just wonderful to be around, but we just couldn't (collaborate). So how do they actually produce? How do they think about opera? And so during most of that time, I was by myself in Florence. My wife was raising two kids and working full time and doing all that stuff herself. And she just took that on. And in some cases, maybe that wouldn't have been possible, but I had a lot of support.

Marc A. Scorca: Yeah, that's fabulous. Now I'm sure that young people seek you out for advice about a career as an arts administrator, as an arts leader. Are there a couple of key points of advice that everyone hears from you?

Kevin Smith: Well, first of all, they used to seek me out. I'm kind of past tense now, which is fine. If somebody wanted to seek me out and ask me a question, I probably don't have a lot new to say, but at this point, I have had a lot of time to think about it and I haven't come up with anything new. And what I would basically say to people who do an informational interview, wanna get involved in the arts, is "Just get your foot in the door. Do it. If you need to be - they don't even have them any more - the receptionists or an administrative assistant...whatever you wanna do: if you are good and smart and caring, and you've got the qualities in a non-profit situation, you have talent and drive, you're going to get noticed and you're gonna learn, and people around you will notice, and you can and will move up.” A lot of people are saying, "Well, should I go and get an MBA?" It's the Charlie tuna thing. I mean, they want tuna that tastes good, not that has good taste. In other words, if you look good on paper, it's great, but really you have to prove yourself professionally. And so I always just say, "Get out there, take some risks, put yourself in professional situations and see how it goes." Once again, if you know; if you got it, you're gonna get noticed.

Marc A. Scorca: Kevin, it's so great to talk to you and the memories of our work together just flood into my brain, and there's so many more stories we could laugh about. I'm really grateful for you taking this time today to document a little bit of your experience and your wisdom. So thank you for being a part of our 50th anniversary and a part of our lives for all of these years. And I'll just look forward to being in touch with you and to seeing you and Lynn very soon.

Kevin Smith: Well, thank you, Marc. And congratulations to you. What I really felt was probably the weakest of the various service organizations among disciplines in the United States into, by far, the most successful dynamic organization. I think that without OPERA America, I think the opera field in America would be much less. You guys have really become just a leading light and not only inspiration, but provided resources and inspiration to really get through extraordinarily tough times as an industry. So congratulations to you.