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Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Deborah Sandler Kemper

December 6, 2022 | By Emery Kerekes

General Director and CEO
Lyric Opera of Kansas City

Since joining Lyric Opera of Kansas City (LOKC) as general director and CEO in 2012, Deborah Sandler Kemper has been nurturing the future of opera, one singer at a time. “There is a gap between graduate programs in the performing arts and the realities of a career,” says Sandler Kemper. “Resident artist programs should help young and emerging artists navigate this gap.” Sandler Kemper launched LOKC’s Resident Artist program in 2016; last year, the program added a compulsory arts administration module to help develop relevant nonmusical skills. At the end, the artists build a hypothetical opera company, including budget, board, and season repertoire.

Prior to joining LOKC, Sandler Kemper was general director of Kentucky Opera, where she cast a young Joyce Di Donato in the role of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the beginning of her career. Still one of the few women to helm an American company, she remembers from the start that “it was extraordinarily clear that women wanted a more active and visible role in the field.” In 2015, she served as founding chair for Opera America’s Women’s Opera Network. The group now includes grant programs for young female stage directors and conductors (in addition to the pre-existing one for composers); a mentorship program; and the Women in Opera database, a hundreds-strong directory of industry women.

Under Sandler Kemper’s watchful eye, LOKC has also brought opera into Kansas City’s schools and communities, part of a massive re-envisioning that happened during the pandemic. “We felt that it was important to begin engaging young people in the performing arts as early as possible, and to encourage the participation of their families as well,” says Sandler Kemper. This school year, they piloted Opera Unlocked, an in-school program for grades three through 12. Students will also attend a special performance of Menotti’s family-friendly Amahl and the Night Visitors this winter. “[We want] future generations [to] love the arts and understand their potential to teach empathy and bring people together,” says Sandler Kemper.

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