Palm Beach Opera announces a leadership transition to take place over the next four months. The company’s General Director Daniel Biaggi, who has been leading the company for the past 10 years, after having already served as director of artistic operations since 2005, has decided not to extend his contract and will step down in October. Biaggi will remain available to Palm Beach Opera as a strategic and artistic advisor, to work with the board and new General Director David Walker on projects where needed.
Current Managing Director David Walker will become general director as of Oct. 15, and will assume all leadership of the company. Walker joined Palm Beach Opera in 2015 as director of institutional advancement, overseeing all aspects of revenue generation, including ticket sales and both private and public funding. He was promoted to managing director in the spring of 2016, and has led the company’s activities alongside Biaggi for the past three years.
“The past 14 years with Palm Beach Opera’s board members, staff, artists, and audiences have been incredibly rewarding. I’m deeply grateful to the whole opera family and the cultural leaders and supporters of all of Palm Beach County for the inspiring collaborations and friendships,” said Biaggi. “I look forward to exploring new projects, allowing me to work more internationally, and also to participate in Palm Beach Opera’s exciting future, where needed, under David Walker’s leadership.”
Under Biaggi’s leadership, Palm Beach Opera undertook a financial and organizational turnaround despite the economic crisis in Biaggi’s initial years, and evolved into a financially-sustainable and artistically-thriving organization. To increasing critical acclaim, mainstage production programming at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, which continuously features international guest artists, was expanded to include the first world premiere of an American opera and several company premieres. The reintroduced gala recital series brought world-renowned singers like Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Sondra Radvanovsky, Ildar Abdrazakov, Michael Fabiano and Matthew Polenzani to Palm Beach. As part of audience expansion and civic impact initiatives, the company presented free annual opera concerts at the Meyer Amphitheater in downtown West Palm Beach, added programs in collaboration with The Society of the Four Arts and Lynn University Conservatory of Music among others, and is also presenting an upcoming production at Crest Theatre at Old School Square in Delray Beach. Palm Beach Opera significantly increased its community engagement and education programs to over 200 concerts and events per season. Biaggi’s commitment to artist training initiatives resulted in a three-tiered approach with two five-month training programs, the Benenson Young Artist Program and the Bailey Apprentice Artist Program, whose participants are chosen from highly competitive national auditions, as well as Palm Beach Opera Studio, a season-long after-school program for local high school students with an interest in operatic arts. During Biaggi’s tenure, the company established a production center with a rehearsal hall, vocal studios, and wardrobe and props departments, and moved into new office spaces to accommodate a full-time staff that doubled in size in 10 years.
While at Palm Beach Opera, Biaggi served on the OPERA America Board of Directors, and was chairman of the Cultural Executive Committee of the Cultural Council of the Palm Beaches. He’s a chartered advisor in philanthropy (CAP®), was selected to participate in the Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management course, and frequently serves as a panelist on international vocal competitions. Prior to his engagement at Palm Beach Opera, he was associate director at Guy Barzilay International Artist Management, worked extensively at the Metropolitan Opera Guild as a singer, lecturer, and teaching artist, and served on the faculties of Manhattan School of Music, Mannes College of Music, and Sarah Lawrence.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am most grateful to Daniel Biaggi for his leadership, which has significantly increased Palm Beach Opera’s presence and impact in our community. His dedication to artistic values has brought our audiences many unforgettable performances, and his personable demeanor made everyone feel welcome and a part of the opera family,” said Dennis Williams, chairman of Palm Beach Opera’s board of directors. “We are thrilled to build upon that momentum with David Walker as our new general director, and look forward to the next years of artistic growth, programmatic innovation and expansion, and increased national significance under David Walker’s leadership and vision.”
Walker joined Palm Beach Opera in 2015 as director of institutional advancement, a position which was created for him to oversee all areas of revenue generations based on his success managing fundraising and marketing campaigns at other arts organizations around the country, including the Glimmerglass Festival, Sarasota Opera, North Carolina Opera, Fort Worth Opera, and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2016, he was promoted to managing director, to better lead the company alongside Biaggi, and serve as executive in charge in his absence.
“It is a distinct honor to continue the important work that our board of directors, Daniel Biaggi, and staff have accomplished, and it has been a sincere pleasure to have been a part of these efforts for the past four seasons,” said David Walker. “Through these extraordinary efforts, and Daniel Biaggi’s incomparable leadership, Palm Beach Opera is poised to continue growing its opera family, providing transformative performances, training the next generation of opera stars, offering much-needed arts education programs over three counties, and impacting the lives of so many in our community. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead, along with our growing board, this important performing arts institution.”
Walker has worked closely with Biaggi and the board of directors on overall company strategic planning and leadership, as well as board cultivation and growth. Under his leadership, Palm Beach Opera continuously implemented best marketing and audience engagement practices resulting in a significant audience increase in both subscribers and single ticket buyers. His fundraising expertise led to the successful implementation of the Co-Producer Society, which is responsible for underwriting the company’s mainstage productions. Along with the board of directors and Biaggi, the Co-Producer Society has continuously grown contributed income in the past three years. Walker has been instrumental in securing all underwriting for both education and community engagement programs, as well as artist training programs. His keen sense of event fundraising alongside the respective gala chairs has turned the company’s galas into significant sources of contributed revenue, and resulted in continuously growing record attendance.
Walker is regularly a guest lecturer on the business of opera, and often serves on vocal competition adjudicating panels, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions – a competition he himself won in 1998. Prior to his arts administration career, Walker had an 18-year international singing career, performing throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Russia, with some of the most prestigious opera houses and orchestras, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, the Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich), and the National Symphony. Walker is a certified fundraising executive (CFRE), and holds a Bachelor of Arts in industrial engineering, a Master of Music in vocal performance, a Master of Arts in arts administration, and a Master of Business Administration, both with an arts administration focus.
Palm Beach Opera is dedicated to producing live opera at an international standard of excellence, to enriching the life of the communities it serves with a diverse offering of educational programs, and to training the next generation of opera stars. Founded in 1961, the fully professional Palm Beach Opera presents main stage performances at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach and is a proud member of OPERA America and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.