Sydney Opera House Names 39-Year-Old Chief Executive

Classic Arts News   Sydney Opera House Names 39-Year-Old Chief Executive
Richard Evans, a 39-year-old arts administrator who has spent five years as chief executive of the Australian Ballet, has been appointed chief executive of the Sydney Opera House, effective at the beginning of next year. The arts minister of New South Wales state, Frank Sartor, announced Evans's selection last Friday (September 14).

Evans succeeds Norman Gillespie, who stepped down as CEO at the beginning of last month, reportedly due to poor relations with Opera House staff and continuing controversy over his romance with Claire Swaffield, an accountant who was appointed to an executive position during his tenure.

"Richard has a strong entrepreneurial outlook with a good sense of humor," said Kim Williams, chairman of the Sydney Opera House Trust, in a statement, "both qualities which are essential to managing an enterprise like the Sydney Opera House ... Richard's five years with the Bell Shakespeare Company and five years with the Australian Ballet — both of which present substantial seasons every year at Sydney Opera House — means he understands the House and its people really well. He realizes that the Sydney Opera House faces unique challenges as a high-profile, [UNESCO] World Heritage-listed performing arts center with seven venues, as well as major event, tourism and restaurant businesses."

Veteran arts administrator and consultant Sue Nattrass will remain as the Opera House's interim chief executive through the end of 2007.

A native of New Zealand, where he began his career as a stage manager, Evans moved to Australia in 1992, working first at the Deckchair Theatre Company in metropolitan Perth and then at the State Theatre Company of South Australia in Adelaide. He began his first chief executive job in 1997 (at age 29), as general manager of the Bell Shakespeare Company, which is based in Sydney but tours nationally, and in 2002 he became general manager of the Melbourne-based Australian Ballet.

Chief among the challenges Evans will face, the Sydney Morning Herald points out, is raising funds for and overseeing the ongoing renovation of the Sydney Opera House complex to bring it in line with architect Jørn Utzon's original design. Utzon quit the project in 1966, about halfway through construction, after clashing repeatedly with state and federal authorities over the feasibility and cost of his plans. Australian architects provided a radically scaled-down design for the theaters inside the famous sail-like structure, which opened in 1973; since then a consensus has developed that neither the acoustics nor the orchestra pit and wing space nor the backstage facilities are adequate for so prominent a venue. Utzon, now 89 and unable to travel, is providing designs for reconstruction, with his son and partner Jan supervising work in Sydney. Work on many of the Opera House complex's public spaces has been completed, with the more ambitious and expensive rebuilding of the auditoriums yet to come. The Herald currently estimates the amount Evans will have to raise for the project at A$600 million.

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