For as long as she can remember, Lesley Koenig has loved the opera. It was at the young age of eight that she decided to pursue a career as an opera director. At ten, she had her first interview with San Francisco Opera’s General Director, the renowned Kurt Herbert Adler Clearly, Lesley made an impression. Just out of high school,she was hired by Adler to work as a Stage Manager for the San Francisco Opera. She was just 17.
At the end of the summer, Lesley returned to the east coast to attend college. Lesley earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts, with honors, from Harvard University. All the while, she kept her focus on realizing her dream of working in the opera. Immediately after college, she began a career as an assistant director and quickly moved up the ranks to producer and director. Lesley staged her first production at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. Patrons of the arts realize the rare nature of such a feat. For 18 years, Lesley Koenig held a Stage Director position with this prestigious opera house. Her production credits include a phenomenal rendition of Così fan tutte (1996) and Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1992). She was also granted privileges to guest direct productions for a number of other prestigious opera houses and festivals worldwide. Additional works she lent her talents to during these years include:
- San Francisco Opera
- San Diego Opera
- Lyric Opera of Chicago
- Opera Company of Philadelphia
- Lake George Opera Festival, New York
- Wolf Trap, Virginia
- Salzburg Festival, Austria
- Vereingte Bühnen, Graz
- Stadttheater Aachen, Germany
- Orchestre de Paris, France
- Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
- Stadttheater St. Gallen, Switzerland
After twenty years as an opera director, Lesley chose to return to academic studies. A well-rounded professional, she was accepted to Stanford University where she concurrently earned two Master’s degrees. Lesley holds both a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Education. Her focus area for this latter degree was Administration and Policy Analysis. Upon earning her graduate degrees, Lesley worked briefly as an educational and a management consultant. For Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, she also served as a teaching assistant in business strategy courses for nonprofit organizations and authored two case studies that continue to be widely taught at Stanford, Harvard, and Yale.
Lesley also accepted the opportunity to serve as the Interim Executive Director at the Quest Scholars Program in Palo Alto, California. This program strives to bridge the gap between high school and college that many disadvantaged students face. In a slight twist of irony, Lesley Koenig also managed the long-range planning initiative of dSan Francisco Ballet. As a young girl, the ballet was always an afterthought to the opera. Accordingly, Lesley had never before considered working in this area of the arts. Her opera background gave her a unique viewpoint with which to experience, and ultimately come to love, the ballet. Within a few months, Lesley was offered and accepted the General Manager position with the organization. For San Francisco Ballet, she was essentially responsible for managing a budget ranging from $38 to $45 million. In addition, she oversaw the production, information technology, facilities, company management, and medical departments. Lesley put her business expertise to use in managing the financial aspects of the company. Her work allowed the organization to experience budget surpluses in each year. A few of her incredible accomplishments included:
- Successfully negotiated 14 collective bargaining agreements with seven unions.
- Authored a strategic five-year plan that ushered the company through its 75th anniversary celebration.
- Oversaw a $15 million renovation of the Ballet’s 79,000 square foot facility.
- Managed the purchase and design of a 48,000 square foot warehouse and a 7,000 square foot student residence.
- Spearheaded the design and realization of a temporary, fully-equipped theatre in the gardens of the National Archives in Paris.
- Realized the successful openings of 63 new productions and acquisitions over six years, including 10 world premieres that opened over three nights in honor of the company’s 75th anniversary.
In addition to managing the worldwide annual tours of the ballet company, Lesley’s responsibilities at the Ballet included contracting all creative personnel and dancers. Furthermore, she commissioned music and produced several orchestra recordings. Lesley worked in close collaboration with the development and marketing departments to realize successful results for the overall company.
Lesley Koenig: Back in the Opera
Of course, Lesley Koenig was unable to stay away from the opera for long. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera to serve as Assistant Manager of the Company and Director of Production. In that position, she was “they eyes of the Met,” responsible for the aesthetics and logistics of mounting eight new productions and twenty revivals per year. Managing a staff numbering in the hundreds, Lesley was also the point person for all creative teams – director and designers – enabling them to realize their concepts inside a highly complex repertory theater. She speaks German, Italian, and French, which helped non-English speaking directors and designers be comfortable creating works for the Met. In her role, she also created new means of transparent budgeting and tracking of production-related costs. But Lesley dreamed of running her own company.
When the opportunity arose, she first accepted a Fellowship at Stanford University to study philanthropy, and then became General Director of Opera Boston, a highly innovative company that produced only rarely-heard or newly commissioned operas. In this role, Lesley employed many of the same skills as she had to make the San Francisco Ballet a success. She negotiated a new union contract for the orchestra. In addition, she spearheaded innovative online marketing initiatives complete with customized media buys. This served to raise the profile of Opera Boston in international markets. Furthermore, she strove to create collaborative partnerships with other educational and arts organizations in the greater Boston area. An equally impressive accomplishment was Lesley’s ability develop programming and casting to lead it into the 2015 and 2016 calendar years.
Today, Lesley Koenig is a Stage Director for the San Diego Opera, which is presently featuring Samson et Dalila. She is set to direct two additional productions for the company, one each in 2014 and 2015. Anyone interested in taking in a beautiful opera performance would do well to take in a Lesley Koenig production.