The Fort Worth Opera has selected a Texas native to lead the company into its 75th Anniversary season in 2021.
After a six-month international search, the board of the opera has named Afton Battle to become only the company’s eighth general director effective immediately. The appointment of Battle, a native of Amarillo, marks a return to her home state of Texas, where she graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in voice performance, before attending Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and receiving a master of music in voice performance and pedagogy.
She replaces Tuomas Hiltunen, who resigned in January. His hiring was announced July 14, 2017.
In an email to many in the arts community, Hiltunen said he was stepping down “because of different visions of the direction and goals of the company.”
“We are thrilled to announce that Afton will be our new general director. Her warmth, energy, focus, and fresh perspectives on our beloved art form make her ideally suited to lead us into Fort Worth Opera’s 75th anniversary and beyond,” Fort Worth Opera Board Chair Nelson E. Claytor, Ph.D., said.
“Opera, and all the performing arts, face great challenges in this time when we cannot gather in the theater, but with Afton’s leadership I am confident that we will meet those challenges, become even more closely connected to our community, and come out of this difficult time stronger than ever,” Claytor said.
Battle said in the announcement that her long-term vision for Fort Worth Opera includes a commitment to forging new alliances with local arts organizations, bolstering current partnerships, expanding civic engagement through the company’s educational programs and initiatives, and building a world-class Resident and Studio Artist Program to encourage and foster the growth of the next generation of emerging young opera singers.
“Afton Battle is a force of nature who will catapult Fort Worth Opera into the national spotlight,” says FWO Artistic Director, conductor and composer Joe Illick.
“She has a brilliant mind, boundless energy, a genuine connection with the Fort Worth community, a deep love and understanding of opera, and above all, a real compassion for humanity that will be a guiding light for all that Fort Worth Opera does in the years to come.”
“Fort Worth Opera is in an incredibly unique position – one of rebirth, evolution, and change,” Battle said. “I am excited to work in collaboration with Maestro Illick, the board of trustees, and our talented staff to take the company to the next level as FWO celebrates its diamond anniversary in 2021.”
After carving out a successful career as a young operatic singer, she became a highly regarded arts administrator, development director and consultant in the art, ballet, and theater worlds of Chicago and New York City.
Battle comes to Fort Worth Opera following development and strategic consulting work with Red Clay Dance Company, the National Black Theatre, the African American Policy Forum, and Brooklyn arts and culture firm Red Olive Consulting.
She was previously the director of development for the New York Theatre Workshop, director of the annual campaign for America’s premiere ballet company, The Joffrey Ballet, and the corporate and foundation relations and individual giving manager for the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. Prior to that, she served as the program and grants manager for bank street college of education in New York.
Battle said her core values will guide her as she leads the opera in “eradicating inequities, celebrating our differences in diversity and promoting racial justice by offering thought-provoking opera that transcends the boundaries of language and cultural backgrounds.”
“I have been chosen to steer this amazing company, and together we will focus on expanding our reach and engagement into communities that have been historically marginalized (Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQIA) by forging relationships with community leaders and stakeholders,” she said.
Upcoming seasons will expand upon the company’s successful Noches de Òpera programming and feature an even greater variety of fascinating stories, celebrating Fort Worth’s rich cultural mosaic, the opera announcement said.
Battle hopes to gradually move away from the festival season back to a year-round format, she said.
Board chair Claytor served as acting general manager during the search.
– Paul K. Harral