KERA Arts Story Search

Looking for events? Click here for the Go See DFW events calendar.

Dallas Opera Hires New General Director

by Jerome Weeks 7 Apr 2010 8:48 AM

The Dallas Opera has hired Keith Cerny, the 47-year-old head of Sheet Music Plus, as its new general director.  He starts May 24 as the DO’s seventh general director. He takes over from  John T. Cody, Jr., who has served as interim general director the past year. Before that, George Steel rather infamously came to […]


The Dallas Opera has hired Keith Cerny, the 47-year-old head of Sheet Music Plus, as its new general director.  He starts May 24 as the DO’s seventh general director. He takes over from  John T. Cody, Jr., who has served as interim general director the past year. Before that, George Steel rather infamously came to Dallas — and quickly departed to try to earn acclaim reviving the near-moribund New York City Opera. He left the DO in the lurch after raising a lot of hopes.

In the opera world, Cerny is better known as the former executive director of the San Francisco Opera. He has also been a consultant for the English National Opera.

The full release is below the fold.

DALLAS, APRIL 7, 2010 – The Dallas Opera is proud to announce the appointment of 47-year-old Keith Cerny (pronounced SUR-nee), the CEO of Sheet Music Plus, to be the next general director of the Dallas Opera. Effective Monday, May 24, 2010, Mr. Cerny will become the seventh general director in the 53-year-history of the company.

The appointment was announced earlier today to the Dallas Opera Board of Directors and members of the company, after having been approved by Dallas Opera President Dr. Kern Wildenthal and a blue-ribbon search committee chaired by former board member Harvey Mitchell. A public announcement is scheduled for this afternoon at 3:30 PM in the main lobby of the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House.

Mr. Cerny will have comments and will also open the floor to questions from patrons and members of the local media, who are encouraged to attend.

Mr. Cerny will assume the position from Interim General Director John T. Cody, Jr., who has served for the past year.

“The search committee was privileged to work with an exceptional group of candidates vying for this position,” says Mr. Mitchell. “The men and women considered for this job, as a group, may have comprised the strongest field of contenders this company has ever attracted.”

Added Mitchell, “It made for a difficult—yet rewarding—decision.”

“Keith has an outstanding track record of success in a number of areas,” explains Dr. Wildenthal. “His background demonstrates that he fully understands, appreciates, and embraces both the business and artistic demands of a top-notch American opera company.

“His tremendous accomplishments as Executive Director (COO) and CFO of the San Francisco Opera were exceptional, and proved his ability to lead a major opera company. His experience also has included highly successful periods in executive positions with McKinsey & Company and Accenture, and as the CEO of the world’s largest internet-based sheet music company, while simultaneously serving as a pro bono consultant to many of America’s leading opera companies.

“It was clear from his student days that Keith’s career would pivot around the arts although he was earning equally impressive credentials in the business world. At UC-Berkeley, he earned degrees with highest honors in both music and physics. Following graduation, he spent four years in London where he coached and conducted operas and studied piano. Later, Keith applied those same exceptional skills in order to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard.

“The rare combination of artistic and administrative talent that Keith possesses makes him one of the opera world’s most respected strategic thinkers and leaders, and confirms his status as an ideal new general director for the Dallas Opera.”

Mr. Cerny currently serves as CEO of Sheet Music Plus; managing the day-to-day operations of an award-winning, 25 million dollar revenue company with sales to over 170 countries worldwide.

Previously, he served as an Executive Director at Russell Reynolds Associates, recruiting CEOs and senior executives for universities, conservatories, museums and foundations.

From 2004 through 2007, Mr. Cerny served as Executive Director (COO) and CFO of the San Francisco Opera; managing all marketing, fund-raising, box-office, endowment, communications, finance and staff functions for one of the nation’s leading opera companies (a $58 million annual budget, $120 million endowment). As one of SFO’s two principal officers reporting to the San Francisco Opera Association, Mr. Cerny managed the organization to three consecutive years of balanced budgets. He launched new marketing and fund-raising initiatives resulting in a significant increase in subscription revenue and, at the same time, worked closely with SFO’s largest foundation donors.

Mr. Cerny is currently serving on the Strategy Committee of Opera America (the national service organization for opera).

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining the Dallas Opera as its General Director at this momentous time in its history,” says General Director Designate Keith Cerny. “I have been extremely impressed with the company’s wonderful new opera house and its ambitious plans for the future. I am proud to lead a company with such an outstanding artistic legacy, and have been gratified to see the strong support the organization enjoys from its board, its patrons, and the broader community.”

Mr. Cerny earned B.A. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley in Music and Physics with highest honors, an M.B.A. with distinction from Harvard Business School, and a Ph.D. in Economic Development Studies/Econometrics from The Open University in the U.K. He also completed the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders-Arts offered by National Arts Strategies and the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Mr. Cerny’s business experience includes six years with McKinsey & Company (rising to the position of Senior Engagement Manager) focused around telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods in the United States, Europe and Latin America, and seven years with the San Francisco office of Accenture (promoted from Senior Manager to Partner after two and a half years with the company), where he specialized in strategy and business architecture consulting for Communications and High Technology companies.

Mr. Cerny has been recognized and honored for his community service and considerable business acumen with the Pacific Telesis Award (1993) for an article in California Management Review that “made the most important contribution to improving the practice of management,” and as Volunteer of the Year by the Harvard Business School Community Partners (2000) for leading the development of the Silicon Valley Strategy for San Francisco Opera.

On the artistic side, the Dallas Opera’s new general director studied opera accompanying on the English National Opera Repetiteur’s Training Course (1985-1986) and pursued part-time post-graduate studies in conducting, accompanying and voice at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1984-1987). At the University of California at Berkeley, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, Mr. Cerny was Chairman of the Dean’s Consulting Group in Letters and Science, four-time winner of the Alumni Association Award and recipient of the Eisner Prize in music (1982) for “creative achievement of the highest order.”

Additional leadership, academic and musical awards included the President’s Fellowship to assist “unusually talented undergraduates in pursuing original or creative work,” a Fulbright Scholarship to study physics in the United Kingdom, and the Alfred Hertz Memorial Fellowship—a one-year scholarship award from UC-Berkeley to study piano in London.

Mr. Cerny is a regular panel participant and speaker at Opera America conferences and special events, including the National Performing Arts Convention.

His past pro bono consulting activities include work for English National Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opera America, Washington National Opera, Atlanta Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, Los Angeles Opera, and – most recently – Houston Grand Opera where he led a multifaceted pro bono initiative on key marketing areas. His pro bono work with San Francisco Opera, prior to his appointment as the company’s Executive Director (COO) and CFO, was written up as a case study by Harvard Business School, and has been taught at a number of leading business schools.

Mr. Cerny and his wife Jennifer have four children, all of whom have been encouraged to study musical instruments (two on violin, three on piano, one on cello, one on clarinet, one on trombone!). In his rare free time, the new general director enjoys running, hiking, and traveling with his family.