Ernest and Sarah Butler give $1 million to Austin Opera

3:27 p.m Thursday, March 23, 2017 Local
Austin Opera artistic director Richard Buckley (left) coaches Wayne Tigges.

Major benefactors Ernest and Sarah Butler — who have strategically given tens of millions of dollars to build up Austin’s arts and are the namesakes for the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas — are donating $1 million to support the position of Austin Opera’s artistic director.

Earlier this year, not long after Annie Burridge took the reins as Austin Opera’s general director, she told the American-Statesman how she felt about the quality of company’s sound under artistic director Richard Buckley.

“The second the performance started, I bolted forward in my seat,” Burridge said. “I couldn’t believe the caliber of the musicianship.”

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Soon after that story was published, the Butlers asked the general director over for tea. That afternoon, Burridge came away with the $1 million pledge.

“As longtime opera fans, Sarah and I are so pleased with the artistic achievements of Maestro Buckley and quite proud of the caliber of musicianship he has brought to Austin,” Ernest Butler said. “We are also very optimistic about the future of Austin Opera under the leadership of general director Annie Burridge. We hope that our gift will enable the company to flourish for years to come.”

Son of a distinguished maestro, Buckley has conducted operas and symphonies far and wide. He has been part of 38 Austin Opera productions — 37 percent of them new to the company’s repertoire — going back to the 2004-5 season with “Tosca” and “Electra.”

Along with setting high standards with familiar operatic fare, Buckley has won praise from Austin observers for daring ventures such as “Waiting for the Barbarians,” “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” “The Bat,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Dialogue of the Carmelites,” “Flight” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” To celebrate his 10th year as artistic director, the company staged Verdi’s formidable masterpiece “Don Carlo” during the 2013-14 season, along with a revival of his first Austin opera, “Tosca.”

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When Buckley conducts around the world as a guest, he tends to win over even the toughest critics.

“He lifts the orchestra with incontestable spirit, rhythm and presence,” reported Le Figaro newspaper in Paris. “We have here a real artist.”

“Richard Buckley, who has matured into an exquisitely sensitive yet fiery conductor, characterizes every measure of the score,” judged the Miami Herald. “But Buckley does it in a natural way that never seems self-conscious, and his reading crackles with theatrical excitement. It is fluent, spontaneous, superbly proportioned and, when necessary, wonderfully hushed with suspense.”

In other Austin Opera news, Burridge recently announced the appointment of three new members to her leadership team: Jennifer Dubin will serve as the group’s chief development officer; Nathan DePoint is the company’s director of operations; and Melysa Rogen is the company’s new director of marketing and communications.

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