Ernest and Sarah Butler give $1 million to support Austin Opera artistic director

Not long after she took the reins as Austin Opera’s general director, Annie Burridge told a reporter 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 recalled. “I couldn’t believe the caliber of the musicianship.”

RELATED: Austin Opera general director turns to big data to engage audiences.

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Austin Lyric Opera Artistic Director Richard Buckley (left) coaches Wayne Tigges. American-Statesman

Soon after the article was published, major benefactors Sarah and Ernest Butler asked the general director over for tea. Burridge came away with a pledge from the Butlers — who have strategically given tens of millions of dollars to build Austin’s arts — to support Buckley’s position with $1 million.

“As long-time 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.”

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Sarah and Ernest Butler. American-Statesman.

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 2004-2005 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 2013-2014 season, along with a revival of his first Austin opera, “Tosca.”

RELATED: Austin Opera conductor Richard Buckley celebrates 10 years.

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Austin Opera General Director Annie Burridge. Contributed.

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 critic. “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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