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Blog Post: Dec 13, 2023

Remembering Richard Gaddes, OTSL’s Founding General Director

A Letter from Andrew Jorgensen, General Director

Portrait of Richard Gaddes leaning against a yellow wall

Photo by Daniel Barsotti (2003)

On Tuesday, December 12, we lost our dear friend and founding General Director Richard Gaddes after a brief illness. I offer my condolences to the many members of our OTSL, St. Louis, and opera communities who worked alongside Richard throughout his illustrious career, and my heart is with his family, his friend Robert Wysocki, and the many artists, colleagues, and friends across the world who had the great pleasure of knowing this brilliant, witty, and compassionate leader.

Richard was a giant in the opera world and his career defies any quick summary, but one can read more about his life in the link below. After studying at Trinity College of Music in London, he began working as a young concert promoter, formed his own artist management company, and met John Crosby, who invited him to come to Santa Fe as the company’s artistic administrator. Brought to St. Louis initially to consult on the feasibility of establishing a new opera company, his consulting role quickly turned to visionary leader and founding general director. His desire to create an experience inspired by Glyndebourne, with innovative performances set in an intimate theater, rising young artists, and nightly picnics on the lawn, was unlike anything in the U.S. and very quickly caught fire in St. Louis. During his tenure with OTSL, the company celebrated milestone after milestone, including producing the first opera in America to be broadcast by the BBC (Albert Herring, 1977) and becoming the first American opera company to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. He stepped down from Opera Theatre in 1985 and went on to lead Grand Center. He returned to the Santa Fe Opera in 1994 as associate general director and succeeded John Crosby as the company’s second general director in 2000.

Throughout his life, Richard was in great demand as a board member, an advisor and counselor, and of course a great mentor to other leaders in the opera world. Richard was perhaps best known for his ability to spot talent, and his willingness to take a chance on young singers. The very shape of American opera is due in large part to his role in identifying, promoting, and guiding the careers of countless artists.

While Richard received so many meaningful accolades during his career, I’d like to think that his role in the founding of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis was one of the accomplishments of which he was most proud. Working in partnership with a group of intrepid St. Louisans to launch a grassroots effort to establish an opera company, he built an institution that set the bar for artistic excellence and innovation, and very quickly began to attract national and international acclaim.

Photo Gallery

NEA Opera Honors: Interview with Richard Gaddes

After admiring Richard for so many years as a legendary impresario, I had the great privilege of getting to know him personally when I took this job at OTSL. It was a joy to see his pride in the company’s continued strength, and to be the recipient of his mentorship and kindness. I have fantastic memories of spending time with him over meals, enjoying his wonderfully dry sense of humor and great stories from OTSL’s earlier days. While Richard never held back on offering advice, he was also lavish with his encouragement – reminding me to trust my instincts, to take calculated risks, and to stay true to the spirit of adventure and of family that have always been the hallmarks of this company. It is a tremendous privilege — albeit no small task — to follow in the incredible tradition of leadership that Richard established, which was further shaped by my predecessors Charles MacKay and Timothy O’Leary. We all enjoyed Richard’s friendship and support, and I know that, like me, they feel Richard’s loss deeply.

Opera Theatre's four general directors (left to right): Timothy O'Leary, Richard Gaddes, Charles MacKay, and Andrew Jorgensen (2018)

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Richard Gaddes for the principles he set forth in OTSL’s earliest years. He created a foundation that continues to guide our work — a dedication to young talent, an investment in new work, and a deep commitment to artistic excellence — all complemented by an experience at the theater that is warm, welcoming, and fun. May Richard’s great warmth and wit continue to inspire Opera Theatre’s artists and audiences as we enjoy the remarkable institution that he built.

Over the coming months, and especially as we begin to plan our 50th anniversary celebration in 2025, we will find many occasions to celebrate the memory of our dear friend and founder. His legacy will live on and continue to shape  all the work that we do. I hope that we can raise a glass together soon to celebrate Richard’s extraordinary life, and the great gifts he has shared with us.