Oprea, ballet vet succeeds Wilker

WASHINGTON — Michael M. Kaiser, director of London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, will become the president of the John F. Kennedy Center here next year.

He succeeds Lawrence J. Wilker, who ankles at year-end to launch an arts-based Internet venture. Kaiser, 47, was the unanimous choice of a selection committee launched soon after Wilker announced his departure plans in April.

Kaiser is credited with the financial turnaround of the arts org, which had an accumulated deficit of £19 million ($28 million) when he arrived in 1998. The facility has since completed a $320 million redevelopment program, created a $30 million endowment fund and boosted support from public and private sources.

Before joining the Royal Opera House, Kaiser was executive director of the American Ballet Theater where he is credited with erasing that org’s deficit, creating a second company and launching new activities.

Kaiser has “impressed the world with his capacity to lead arts organizations,” said Kennedy Center chairman James A. Johnson in presenting the new honcho at a press conference here.

At the Center, Kaiser takes over day-to-day operations of a facility that is on much firmer financial footing than he is accustomed to. Just last month, chairman Johnson announced the creation of a $100 million endowment drive, of which $70 million has already been raised.

The assignment is seen as one of the plum jobs in arts management: day-to-day operation of the prestigious facility that is the national center for the performing arts. Its challenges are mostly artistic, such as feeding the voracious appetite of its main stages while reducing dependence on road material.

Kaiser told the press conference that it’s too soon to discuss priorities, but that they would be consistent with the goals he has set in each new assignment: to create the best art possible, to provide a comfortable environment for artists and to build large, diverse and educated audiences.

When he arrives next year, one of Kaiser’s first moves will be to appoint an artistic director for the Center, as recommended by a recently commissioned management study.

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