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  • Terri Van Valkinburgh

A Strong Woman in the Land of Men

During one of Lyric Opera’s low periods, the early 1980s, with a bleak financial outlook and pushing back against the unending chatter that opera and classical music were musical dinosaurs melting into the permafrost, the board of directors looked within and asked Ardis Krainik to take over as General Director. Within months Ardis worked her magic, generating funding and putting the opera company on course to not only stage grand opera but also add works through commissions of 20th century composers. Beyond Carol Fox, Ardis’ predecessor, there weren’t many women leading the way at large symphonic and opera houses in America. Or leading any other large organizations. In fact, according to Pew Research, the percentage of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in the year of Ms. Krainik’s death was 0.4%, up from 0.0% in 1995. Our field is somewhat different than the business world, however. By 1998, 45 percent of the largest 200 American symphony orchestras had a woman in the executive position; nearly 3 in 4 of the smallest-budget orchestras were led by female managers, with an average of 60 percent female staff.* These numbers continue to grow. It is interesting to consider what a woman in leadership brings to an organization when the field is dominated by men in positions of power. But the arts are ideally suited to have led the way for females in these roles, and especially opera. Opera would be nothing without strong women – even if the vocal roles are sometimes enough to make a feminist shudder, it is undeniable that singers are strong, driven, highly educated, and fiercely committed. Women are represented equally in any professional opera chorus. And as far as the orchestra is concerned, the system of blind auditions has gone a long way toward eliminating sexism in hiring. So it makes sense that our company was in the forefront of women executives when it was very, very rare. And Ms. Krainik was perfect for the times. She showed the world that a woman is sometimes the best man for the job. *Harmony: Forum of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, April 1998

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