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Article Published: 15 Oct 2021

Women Charge Forward

Gender parity in opera has seen promising change in recent years, with women now holding 47 percent of general director positions at North American opera companies of all budget sizes. However, in companies with budgets of more than $10 million, women hold only 17 percent of general director positions. The fight isn’t over, but OPERA America’s Mentorship Program for Women Administrators, now in its fourth year, is continuing the battle.

The Mentorship Program aims to support the advancement of women administrators by pairing three protégés with three leaders in the field. Each team identifies barriers and achievement gaps and then establishes and executes an action plan for professional growth.

The Mentorship Program is already seeing results, as some recent promotions can be linked directly to the program. “Participating in the Mentorship Program prepared me to take the next step in my career,” said Julia Noulin-Mérat, a 2019 protégé who co-led Guerilla Opera at the time and is now general director and CEO of Opera Columbus. Her transition conforms to the trend of women at smaller companies being hired into increasingly larger organizations, resulting in a steady increase in the number of women in general director roles at mid-sized companies.

The recently announced 2021 protégés are poised to become field leaders. San Francisco Opera’s Katherine Baltrush Little has been paired with Anh Le of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, with the aim of complementing Little’s operations expertise with Le’s marketing experience. Andrea Puente-Catán of San Diego Opera will coach Julliard faculty member Mary Birnbaum in fundraising skills. Alison F. Turner will work with Francesca Zambello to gain broader industry experience and prepare for a career in administration.

2021 Mentor-Protégés Teams

Katherine Baltrush Little (protégé)
Associate Operations Director, San Francisco Opera

Performer/musicologist Baltrush Little works as an opera producer, administrator, and educator.

Anh Le (mentor)
Director of Marketing and PR, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Le oversees all of OTSL’s marketing initiatives. She is a board member of OPERA America and sits on the steering committee of the Racial Justice Opera Network.

Mary Birnbaum (protégé)
Associate Director, Artist Diploma Program, The Juilliard School

In addition to her academic post, Birnbaum directs opera and theater in the U.S. and abroad.

Andrea Puente-Catán (mentor)
Director of Major Gifts and Hispanic Initiatives, San Diego Opera

Puente-Catán works with San Diego Opera’s donors and media partners. She also oversees the company’s Opera en Español initiative and produces its video series Opera en tu sofa.

Alison F. Turner (protégé)
Trustee and Treasurer, Opera Memphis

Memphisian who enjoys a multifaceted life as a chorister, musician, community leader, and entrepreneur.

Francesca Zambello (mentor)
Artistic and General Director, The Glimmerglass Festival; Artistic Director, Washington National Opera

Zambello is an administrator and an internationally recognized director of opera and theater.

The Mentorship Program for Women Administrators is supported by OPERA America’s Backstage Brunch.