(Above: Mark Beudert has led Eugene Opera as general director for 10 years; photo by Paul Carter)
By Randi Bjornstad
After 10 years heading programming and production at Eugene Opera, general director Mark Beudert will leave his position when his contract expires on June 30.
His departure comes at the end of a financially tumultuous year that has seen the 40-year-old opera company cancel the last half of its four-production 2016-17 season in the face of a $165,000 debt, most of it owed to singers and local businesses.
Since then, the opera’s board of directors has been conducting a fundraising campaign that its president, Barbara Wheatley, said Tuesday has raised nearly half the amount needed in donations and pledges “to end this season entirely debt-free.”
“We’re continuing to make progress in fundraising,” Wheatley said. “We are very grateful to Mark (Beudert) for his 10 years of devoted service, during which he brought us to new artistic heights, and we wish him every success in his future endeavors.”
This isn’t the first time the Eugene Opera has faced potentially company-ending money problems, and Wheatley credits Beudert with “bringing Eugene Opera back to life after its previous financial crisis,” in 2006.
“In the 10 years since then, he has led the company to produce noteworthy performances of many operas, both traditional and non-traditional, both ‘grand opera’ and chamber works,” she said. “He has recruited Andrew Bisantz as music director and brought in outstanding performers, including rising Pacific Northwest stars. His artistic vision has had a tremendous impact on Eugene Opera, and we will miss it, and him.”
The 2016-17 season opened in October with Hector Berlioz’ chamber opera, “Béatrice and Bénédict,” based on William Shakespeare’s play, “Much Ado About Nothing.” The traditional New Year’s production included three acts from separate operas, including “Aida,” “Dialogues of the Carmelites” and “Die Fledermaus.”
Two more operas, “West Side Story” and a chamber work, “La Tragédie de Carmen,” also were on the schedule but were scrapped in January when the extent of the company’s debt became known.
This is the third time the company has had to shorten a season for financial reasons in its four decades of operation. Eugene Opera’s annual budget now is about $750,000.
In pursuing a “more sustainable” approach for the future, the opera received advice from several organizational experts “to recruit a full-time executive director to be resident in the Eugene area,” Wheatley said, a move that Beudert supports.
In an open letter to the Eugene Opera community, he wrote that “our conclusion is that our artistic excellence deserves a resident executive. Unfortunately — but realistically — my personal and professional obligations elsewhere make it impossible for me to fill that role. I have, therefore, informed the board with regret and affection that I will not seek a renewal of my contract.”
Beudert has been a longtime member of the music faculty at Notre Dame University in Indiana but also is phasing out of that position. His wife, Jennifer Knapp, is manager of the Robinson County Learning Center, a community outreach program at Notre Dame.