Berges Success Story:
Highly-Acclaimed Opera Theatre of St. Louis
Shaping the Future of Opera
Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL), known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, is proud to be among the leading American opera companies, and we are grateful to you – our audience and all of our contributors, including the Berges Family Foundation – for fostering this special experience.
Opera Theatre’s mission is to shape the future of opera and to connect diverse audiences through its power and beauty. To accomplish our mission, we produce a world-class opera festival, we champion new works, we build new audiences, we engage and educate our community, and we nurture the finest opera artists, artisans, and administrators of each generation. By doing so, we strengthen the cultural and economic vitality of the St. Louis community.
Celebrated Around the World
Each season, OTSL’s audience includes visitors from as many as 45 states and 12 foreign countries, generating over $17 million annually in indirect revenue for our region. OTSL’s productions have even been celebrated around the world with press coverage in London’s Financial Times, Germany’s Opernwelt, the UK’s Opera magazine, Opera Nederland, and The Times of India, among others.
Our mission would not be possible without the generous support and commitment from our community and benefactors like Jim and Cathy Berges. Read more to learn how the Berges family has greatly impacted OTSL and the community.
Gerdine Young Artist Endowment
In 2015, a gift of $200,000 from the Berges Family Foundation endowed a Gerdine Young Artist (GYA) position at Opera Theatre. Each season, one of Opera Theatre’s GYA participants is selected as the Berges Family Foundation Endowed Artist, and this position will exist in perpetuity.
The GYA program enables Opera Theatre to engage outstanding young singers and places them under the direction of nationally-acclaimed conductors and directors. Most GYA members are graduate students or recent graduates of leading conservatories and universities.
Gerdine Young Artists perform in the chorus during the festival season, understudy a principal or supporting role, have the opportunity for extensive coaching sessions with OTSL’s music staff, participate in master classes, and perform in community settings.
Competition to be part of the program is intense. Opera Theatre receives nearly 1,000 applications each year and auditions over 400 singers for approximately 30 available positions. Auditions are held in St. Louis, New York, Boston, Oberlin, Cincinnati, and Bloomington. The GYA program is a proven career launching pad for young opera singers; in any given year, more than 60 artists on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera began their careers at Opera Theatre St. Louis.
Briana Hunter, who was named the 2018 Berges Family Foundation Endowed Artist, wrote this about her time at OTSL:
“I have seldom experienced the level of care and familial spirit at a company as I have at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. We, as artists, felt valued and cared for, and in turn, I believe gave our very best performances. In all of my years as an operatic nomad, I am used to growing accustomed to a place and then having to leave, however leaving St. Louis brought tears to my eyes. I truly felt so loved, so at home, and so extremely energized and inspired as an artist. I know it’s not goodbye, only until next time.”
The Berges-Neidorff Challenge
In 2017, Jim and Cathy Berges joined forces with Noémi and Michael Neidorff to contribute $250,000 to launch the Berges-Neidorff Challenge. The challenge required Opera Theatre to raise $250,000 in new and increased support for the 2018 Spring Gala, which was co-chaired by the Berges and Marsha and Bill Rusnack.
Gifts for the challenge helped create Opera Theatre’s Next Generation Fund, which was established to recognize Timothy O’Leary’s leadership of the company and provide the financial resources necessary to ensure a successful transition in leadership at Opera Theatre.
The Berges’ generous commitment motivated an outpouring of support from the community, enabling Opera Theatre to raise $440,820 in new and increased gala gifts and achieving 176% of the challenge goal.
Support for New Works
The Berges Family Foundation’s three-year commitment to new work has helped make possible the world premiere commission of Shalimar the Clown by Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph (2016), based on the acclaimed novel by Salman Rushdie, the new performing edition of The Grapes of Wrath by Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie (2017), based on the John Steinbeck classic novel, and the world premiere of an expanded version of An American Soldier by acclaimed Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo with libretto by Tony Award winning playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist David Henry Hwang (2018).
With the commission and production of these new works, Opera Theatre continues its commitment to repertory choices that are resonant and relevant. This concentration of new work has also attracted unprecedented levels of national and international media attention, shining a spotlight on St. Louis as a cultural destination.
With Your Help…
Thanks to the Berges family, our sponsors, your generous donations, and our volunteers, OTSL is able to nurture the careers of exciting young artists and offer a festival season that celebrates innovative productions of familiar operas and brings adventurous new work to the stage.
We are committed to making this art form accessible and engaging through operas presented in English in the intimate Loretto-Hilton Center. The gift of your time and donations is invaluable – please consider getting involved today.