The Lyric Opera of Chicago named Houston Grand Opera CEO Anthony Freud as its new general director Thursday, making him the first Lyric head appointed from outside the company ranks.
Freud was chosen after an eight-month international search, Lyric officials said, and he agreed to a five-year contract starting Oct. 1, the opening night of Lyric's 57th season. Salary terms were not publicly disclosed.
"He has an outstanding record of fiscal responsibility and fundraising success," Lyric president and CEO Richard Kiphart said in a statement. "He has also been enormously successful at reaching out to, and engaging, audiences who are not part of an opera company's traditional family. I think he is exactly the right person for Chicago at this time."
Freud, 53, will work with music director Sir Andrew Davis and famed soprano Renee Fleming, who joined the Lyric in December as its first creative consultant. The Lyric Opera, one of the nation's most prominent after New York's Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera., has a nearly $53 million operating budget and 26,000 season ticket holders.
Freud said he believes that the Lyric should reflect and be for Chicagoans, first and foremost.
"The work of our company must be relevant and must be made accessible to a large wide public," he told reporters Thursday in Chicago. "To achieve that we must bring more people into our opera house and ... take up our form to a broader audience both inside the theater and in the community at large."
Freud didn't detail specifically how he would do that, saying he has much to learn about the city. But he cited a performance in Houston called "Cruzar la Cara de la Luna," which is Spanish for "To Cross the Face of the Moon." It was sung in both English and Spanish and featured mariachi music.
He said similar shows could reflect and be appealing to Chicago's large Mexican diaspora. Freud said he looked forward to collaborating with Davis and Fleming and called them "towering artistic forces."
Freud becomes the fourth person to head the Lyric Opera and succeeds retiring director William Mason.
Freud began working in Houston in March 2006 and helped create and implement the opera's first comprehensive business plan. Fundraising increased under his leadership and the opera brought in $72 million in donations in three years. Capacity sold has also increased significantly under Freud and is expected to surpass 90 percent this year _ up from 76 percent when he took over in 2006. Freud's tenure has also seen 14 new productions and co-productions.
He came to Houston after heading the Welsh National Opera for more than a decade, and is also credited with overseeing an award-winning program aimed at bringing opera to communities throughout Houston. Freud, a London native, graduated in 1978 with a law degree from the University of London's King's College.
"We are enormously proud of the company's achievements under Anthony's leadership these past six seasons. His extraordinary vision and commitment to excellence have made a lasting impact on the company and our community," Glen Rosenbaum, the chairman of the Houston Grand Opera's board of directors, said in a statement. "While we are disappointed that Anthony has chosen to move on to Chicago, we wish him well in his new position."
Currently, the Houston board is working on a management succession plan, Rosenbaum said. In the meantime, Anthony will continue to work with the opera "to ensure that our future projects proceed smoothly with the artistic excellence that is internationally renowned."
Plushnick-Masti reported from Houston.