Executive Director / Artistic Director / CEO
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David O’Dell is a veteran non-profit arts executive with proven success at the helm of companies that have excelled at inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. His balanced approach to arts and education nurtures and fosters the creation of corporate cultures genuinely representative of the communities they serve by overcoming cultural biases, socio-economic challenges, and other obstacles that prevent people from freely expressing themselves through the arts.
He has held chief executive and artistic positions with leading opera companies in Cleveland, Charlottesville, Amarillo, San Antonio, Madison, Wisconsin, and the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. In addition to his vast experience producing opera and musical theater, he is among the sector’s leading experts in arts and education and has a reputation for growing earned and unearned income at the companies he has headed.
With The Cleveland Opera, he charted a clear path for the company to safely return to the stage in the aftermath of COVID-19 restrictions and proposed increased civic participation in the arts through imaginative educational initiatives and collaborations with organizations including Karamu House, the nation’s oldest, producing African American theatre.
At Charlottesville Opera, he mounted a successful summer festival following five months when the company was without a chief executive officer – expanding that season to include the company’s first small, intimate production in an alternative venue. Under his leadership, individual contributed income grew by 35%.
In Amarillo, he established scholarships for every young artist and student as young as seven years old. He worked with over 150 educational and social service organizations to strengthen the region’s cultural fabric by making arts participation and attendance free to thousands that would have otherwise not had access to a thriving arts community. The opera’s annual multi-cultural season grew from four to seven productions – and four to twenty-three performances. Contributed annual income grew 111% to more than $1,000,000. The company produced nine LatinX, six African-American, and two Native American-themed productions and an acclaimed production of Brundibar. He served as the company’s executive producer and on-air host of “Amarillo Opera presents,” a collaboration with Panhandle PBS that aired annual productions throughout the region. That body of work now resides in the permanent archive at PBS.org.
Previously he served as Director of Development at the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, where he helped plan and execute the Wisconsin Historical Society’s successful $77 million FORWARD! capital campaign and secured funding for the Society’s $20 million annual budget. He also served as CEO of Opera for the Young in Madison, Wisconsin, and Triangle Opera in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina and served on the faculty of Amarillo College from 2009-2018.
He has held memberships in OPERA America, the National Opera Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the NAACP, Actor’s Equity, and the American Guild of Musical Artists. A long-time Rotarian and club Past President, he was a voting delegate at the 2016 International Rotary Convention in Seoul, South Korea.
O’Dell holds a Bachelor of Arts, Business Management (summa cum laude) from Concordia University-Wisconsin and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.
Bachelor of Arts, Business Management, summa cum laude
Certificate, Nonprofit Management
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Special Student (voice) John Wustman, Vocal Performance
University of Maryland, College Park
The Cycle: Management of Successful Arts and Cultural Organizations Michael M. Kaiser, Brett Egan
Institute for Charitable Giving
Seize the Opportunity: Cultivating and Soliciting the Major Gift through a System Called Moves Management
Jerold Panas, William T. Sturtevant
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Center for Community and Nonprofit studies
Fundraising and Development for Nonprofits
Santa Fe Opera [AGMA] (Santa Fe, NM)
Lake George Opera Festival [AGMA] (Glens Falls, NY)
The Little Theatre on the Square [AEA] (Sullivan, IL)
Wisconsin Opera Theatre (Milwaukee, WI)
Opera Carolina (Charlotte, NC)
General and Artistic Director/CEO
09 / 2009 – 08 / 2018
General/Artistic Director and chief executive officer of a growing regional opera company – the only fully professional opera company between Santa Fe and Memphis and Dallas/Ft. Worth and Denver.
Amarillo Opera has grown to become a Level III OPERA America company (companies with budgets between $1-3 Million) in a remote region of the United States and one of the smallest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the US with a projected population of only 258,196.
During my tenure the annual season has grown from four to seven productions – and from eight to twenty-three performances. Contributed income has grown 111% to more than $1,000,000 annually.
Over the past nine years we have:
- Completely rebranded the company with new logo, and brand standards.
- Doubled our budget, becoming one of the fastest growing OPERA America companies in North America.
- Established Amarillo Opera as a fully professional opera company – all performers are paid.
- Strengthened relationships with major opera companies around the country.
- Codified training and education programming to produce a clear, logical path for developing young artists.
- Co-produced our first shared production, Joshua’s Boots – with Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
- Distributed more than 250 scholarships to 125 students.
- Presented educational programming free of charge to thousands of school kids from the Texas Panhandle.
- Distributed more than $125,000 worth of free tickets to children and social services annually.
- Produced a series of annual Amarillo Opera broadcasts on Panhandle PBS – now in the PBS.org archive.
- Secured a dozen new funding sources that make annual five and six figure gifts.
- Supported local visual artists by commissioning art for our annual brochures and programs.
- Organized and launched an annual Ball. Fol de Rol nets over $70,000 annually.
- Strengthened our relationships with Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University.
- Strengthened relationships with other major arts institutions throughout the Texas Panhandle.
Adjunct Faculty/Opera Workshop
09 / 2009 – 08 / 2018
Instructor of Opera Workshop at Amarillo College.
David O’Dell Arts Consulting
Freelance Arts / Arts Education Consultant
02 / 2009 – Present
Freelance consultant in the arts.
San Antonio Opera
06 / 2008 – 01 / 2009
Successfully negotiated, with a Federal Mediator, a new and equitable three-year collective bargaining agreement with AFM Local 23.
Highlights include the implementation of a new moves management system for the company, a commitment to donor stewardship, which improved relations with donors and with the Opera Guild of San Antonio and the expansion of educational programming with a major grant from AT&T.
Wisconsin Historical Foundation
Director of Development
01 / 2006 – 04 / 2008
Managed a portfolio of Major Gift Donors for the state’s Historical Society.
Broadened my non-profit perspective by working in an environment where I cultivated and secured six figure gifts from a nationwide constituency.
Assisted in the planning and implementation of a $52 million capital campaign and provided fundraising support for a $20 million annual budget.
Opera for the Young
07 / 2002 – 11 / 2005
Helped to establish Opera for the Young as a leader in opera for young audiences in America. During my tenure, the company received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts on three separate occasions. Income from Corporations and Foundations quadrupled and total contributed income grew by 250%.
The company launched a publishing project, making our copyrighted materials available to other opera companies for the first time. A multi-year collaboration with Tulsa Opera began with The Magic Flute and continued with productions of Rusalka and Hansel and Gretel. Opera for the Young consistently introduces opera to more children than any other opera company in the United States. At the time of my departure, more than a dozen other opera companies around the world were considering inclusion of OFY adaptations in their seasons.
- Served as lead ambassador and spokesperson
- Presented opera to over 90,000 children in five states annually.
- Developed and articulated the vision of the company.
- Expanded the season to include a third annual production.
- Launched OPERA America’s Music!Words!Opera! curriculum based program in local schools.
- Directed the cultivation and stewardship of donors and potential donors.
- Implemented new donor database system.
- Established publishing project of OFY copyrighted materials.
- Collaboration with Tulsa Opera brought OFY programming to three additional states.
- Managed financial and administrative functions, led all contract negotiations.
- Created all Marketing and Development campaigns and established new brand identity.
- Led efforts in Board development.
- Implemented new organizational manual, policies and procedures.
08 / 1997 – 06 / 2002
Resumed production following a three-year absence from the stage. Within six months of my appointment, we built and produced an entirely new critically acclaimed Rigoletto.
- Engaged in a comprehensive planning process.
- Following guidelines from the National Center for Non-profits, we strengthened the Board of Directors and entered a strategic planning period, which included the development of a new five-year plan and a comprehensive development and fundraising plan.
- Increased revenues by 600% with individual contributions rivaling companies with budgets of $2,000,000 or more.
- Major gifts grew dramatically, and special projects like Figaro’s Festival of Fabulous Feasts significantly increased the company’s earned revenue.
- Expanded and launched new children’s education programs, as well as adult education courses with the University of North Carolina and Duke University.
- The company initiated new collaborative projects with over a dozen major regional arts and education partners, infusing the genre with ideas from outside our art form in an effort to build a new “vocabulary” for opera in our region.
- We gave Tony Award nominee Terrence Mann and San Francisco stage director Jonathan Moscone their first opportunities to direct opera, and British theatrical designer Narell Sissons her first chance to design for the operatic stage.
- I assumed stage director duties myself with a new production of Seymour Barab’s Little Red Riding Hood.
- Established a reputation for diverse and interesting programming, including commissioning a new dance/opera featuring Chuck Jones’ African American Dance Ensemble based on African American themes and producing a rare look at Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio.
- The company developed a regional perspective of operatic work by producing original productions and identifying and developing young regional talent.
The Magnolia Opera Festival
05 / 1993 – 08 / 1997
Founded and incorporated a new 501 (c) (3) organization that merged with Triangle Opera in 1997. Initial founding board included former Director of Princeton University Press Herbert S. Bailey, Jr., and Pulitzer Prize winning American composer Robert Ward.
- Initiated and administered every phase of operation for a new OPERA America Affiliate.
- Developed artistic and mission statements.
- Developed fundraising policies and grant proposals for company.
- Maintained all communication systems, including World Wide Web site for the festival.
Various Professional Opera and Theatre Companies
Actor/Singer AEA actor/AGMA artist/Lyric Tenor
06 / 1980 – 08 / 1993
PRINCIPAL ROLES: San Francisco Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, The Santa Fe Opera, Florentine Opera, Opera Carolina, Piedmont Opera, Triangle Opera, Four Corners Opera, Oakland Opera, West Bay Opera, Pocket Opera, Marin Opera, St. Louis Symphony/Bach Society of St. Louis, Charlotte Choral Society/Charlotte Symphony, Hidden Valley Music Seminars.
AEA CONTRACTS: North Carolina Theatre (Raleigh, NC) Connecticut’s Broadway Theatre (Darien, CT) St. Louis Municipal (MUNY) Opera (St. Louis, MO)
Honors / Awards
Gold ADDY© Award, Amarillo Opera Season Brochure, 2015-2016 / Sales Promotion Catalog
Silver ADDY© Award, Little Red Riding Hood Campaign / Sales Promotion Campaign, 2016
Gold ADDY© Award, Amarillo Opera Season Brochure, 2014-2015 / Sales Promotion Catalog
Gold ADDY© Award, Amarillo Opera Season Brochure, 2011
Silver ADDY© Award, Amarillo Opera Program, 2011
Concordia University-Wisconsin BA, Business Management, Summa cum laude. GPA: 3.94
Theatre, Music, Opera, Travel, Woodworking, History, Education, Wine, Cooking, College basketball, St. Louis Cardinals Baseball, Business Management.
Publications / Broadcasts
Amarillo Opera presents the marriage of figaro by wolfgang amadeus mozart
10 / 2016
Amarillo Opera | Panhandle PBS · Producer: David O’Dell
Amarillo Opera stages Mozart’s classic opera in a live performance recorded in October 2016 in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. Directed by Dean Anthony and conducted by Michael Ching this production features the professional operatic debut of Madison Leonard as Susanna.
Amarillo Opera presents Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti
10 / 2013
Amarillo Opera | Panhandle PBS · Producer: David O’Dell
This lavish production by Amarillo Opera is directed by Marc Astafan with Conductor Michael Ching. Trapped in a feud between two Scottish families, Lucia is forced by her brother to abandon her true love and enter into a political marriage. The tormented Lucia slowly slips into insanity. Based on Sir Walter Scott’s Gothic masterpiece, Lucia di Lammermoor is an enduring tale filled with mystery.
Amarillo Opera presents Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
10 / 2012
Amarillo Opera / KACV-TV · Producer: David O’Dell
Program: KACV Presents Episode: Amarillo Opera presents Madama Butterfly
Amarillo Opera presents “Madama Butterfly” the story of a Japanese maiden catches the imagination of an impudent American Naval officer, crosses cultural boundaries to become his wife, and faithfully awaits his return while battling with a serious dilemma. Puccini’s story of tradition, romance, desire, and sacrifice has been one of the world’s most beloved operas for over a century.
Amarillo Opera presents La bohème by Giacomo Puccini
10 / 2011
Amarillo Opera / KACV-TV · Producer: David O’Dell
Program: KACV Presents Episode: Amarillo Opera presents La boheme
One of the most popular operas ever written, this timeless masterpiece, sung in Italian with English subtitles, is a glorious testimony to high-spirited friendship, youth, hope, love, and passion. The performance features Metropolitan Opera soprano Emily Newton as Mimi and Texas Panhandle native Eric Barry as Rodolfo.
Opera from the rim
Blog · Author: David O’Dell
General Director’s blog for Amarillo Opera
Amarillo Opera’s 2012 25th Season Annual Season Brochure (And subsequent company marketing)
08 / 2012
Amarillo Opera · Authors: David O’Dell, Stefanie Carruth
Ticket and donor information for Amarillo Opera’s 25th Annual Season.
Amarillo Opera presents
July 2011 – Present
Amarillo Opera Executive Producer and on air host for “Amarillo Opera presents”, the annual December broadcast of Amarillo Opera’s mainstage season opening production in collaboration with the Texas Panhandle’s Public Television Station, Pamhandle PBS.
Amarillo Opera Rebranding Project
June 2010 – September 2011
Rebranded Amarillo Opera with new logo, and complete brand standards.
David O’Dell, General and Artistic Director/CEO at Amarillo Opera/Project manager
Stefanie Carruth, Graphic Designer/Creative Services
Opera for the Young Publishing Project
July 2002 – November 2005
Successfully launched the Opera for the Young Publishing Project, which continues to develop repertoire and materials to help bring opera to children around the country. Through the publishing project Opera for the Young’s age-appropriate operas became available to other professional opera companies, as well as university programs.
Judge, Shreveport Opera Singer of the Year Competition
Shreveport Opera, 2014 & 2013
Judge, Annual Vocal Competition
Opera Birmingham, 2012 & 2001
Panelist, Strategies for Casting in an Increasingly Visual Era
National Opera Association Annual Conference, San Antonio 2011
George Shirley, moderator
Caucus/Town Hall Meeting facilitator
National Performing Arts Convention, Denver 2008
Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission 2007
Presenter, Turning Annual Gifts into Major Gifts
Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Madison 2007
Presenter, The Music of the Pilgrims:
The History of Psalmody and Hymnody in America
WI Society of Mayflower Descendants Milwaukee 2006
Panelist, Development: A Hometown Approach
OPERA America Conference Detroit 2005
Panelist, You never forget your first time: Ensuring Quality in Educational Performances
OPERA America Conference Detroit 2005
Rotary Club of Amarillo, Past President
September 2009 – Present
Voting Delegate, International Rotary Convention 2016, Seoul, South Korea
Member, Board of Directors 2012-2017
Paul Harris Fellow
[Former Rotarian in Durham, NC and Madison, WI]
OPERA America, Ambassador level Member
January 1994 – Present
National Opera Association, Member
January 2011 – Present
Association of Fundraising Professionals, Member
December 2004 – Present
Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, Member
March 2013 – Present
NAACP (Amarillo Branch), Member
2009 – 2011
Orange County Arts Commission, Commissioner | Chapel Hill, NC
November 2000 – December 2002
Amarillo Club, Member | Amarillo, TX
December 2012 – 2018
Carolina Club, Member | Chapel Hill, NC
January 2001 – March 2013
Madison Club, Member | Madison, WI
2006 – 2008
Actor’s Equity Association, Actor/Member | New York, NY
American Guild of Musical Artists, Artist | New York, NY
- Board development, branding, Community Engagement, Fiscal Management, Fundraising, mergers., Nonprofit start-up, Organizational Leadership, Programming and Casting, Strategic planning, union negotiation
- Native English Speaker