Ward Holmquist, who had held the position since 1998, was gone.
“The Lyric Opera of Kansas City does not want my services after today,” Holmquist said in a statement Thursday. “I hope I will be able to conduct two operas next season, and I offered to work with the Lyric to reduce production expenses, but they are not interested. I love the Lyric and hope to return someday.”
The Lyric’s board chairman, Kenneth Hager, was not available for comment but released a statement explaining Holmquist’s departure.
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“Lyric Opera of Kansas City is reorganizing along the lines of standard industry structure for the purpose of improved effectiveness and efficiency in our operation and has eliminated the position of artistic director. Lyric Opera of Kansas City today announces the departure of Artistic Director Ward Holmquist. We thank him for his years of service.”
Holmquist’s salary was about $143,000, according to the Lyric’s most recent available tax return. The company’s current budget is $6.5 million.
Earlier this month the Mobile (Ala.) Opera board of directors, citing budget concerns, eliminated the job of artistic director, but such decisions don’t necessarily indicate a trend.
“I would definitely say it is not a trend,” said F. Paul Driscoll, editor in chief of Opera News, a national publication based in New York. “The trend is to meet the challenge of a very expensive art form.”
Driscoll pointed out that someone would have to assume the artistic director’s responsibilities — choosing the seasons, auditioning and hiring singers, deciding on arrangements and orchestra size.
“Whether or not the title is eliminated, someone still has those responsibilities,” Driscoll said.
The Lyric hasn’t indicated whether those duties would fall to Deborah Sandler, the Lyric’s general director and CEO, or someone else.
Holmquist is the second artistic director in the Lyric’s 57-year history. He succeeded founder Russell Patterson.
Holmquist conducted “Tosca” and had previously conducted “Turandot,” “Nixon in China,” “Hamlet,” “The End of the Affair” and the world premiere of “John Brown,” among others.
The Lyric’s 2015-16 season begins with “Don Giovanni,” Sept. 26-Oct. 4, followed by “Rusalka,” Nov. 7-15, at the Kauffman Center.