Women conductors ready to wow crowds

By Suzanne Calvin

Conductor Sarah Penicka-Smith said, “Getting into the Hart Institute will be a game-changer for me.”
Photo courtesy of The Dallas Opera

The Dallas Opera announced the names of the six conductors selected to participate in the fourth annual residency of the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors at The Dallas Opera taking place Oct. 28 – Nov. 10 in Dallas.

• Sonia Ben-Santamaria (France)

• Priscila Bomfim (Brazil)

• Sarah Penicka-Smith (Australia)

• Audrey Saint-Gil (France/USA)

• Maria Sensi Sellner (USA)

• Emily Senturia (USA)

Working to address a long-standing issue at the podium, The Dallas Opera in 2015 launched a unique, new residential program — one of only three in the world — designed to provide training and career support for distinctively talented women conductors on the cusp of major international careers. Female conductors, as well as accomplished women singers, opera coaches, accompanists and instrumentalists with established careers seeking to develop new skills at the podium were encouraged to apply.

“At this point in my career,” conductor Priscila Bomfim said, “I could not receive better news than the opportunity to participate in the Hart Institute for Women Conductors at The Dallas Opera, supporting the women who have accepted the challenges of conducting in the opera world.”

“For me, the Hart Institute embodies the American Dream,” Audrey Saint-Gil said. “Work hard, dream big and grab your opportunity tight with both hands when it comes.”

Ian Derrer, The Dallas Opera’s Kern Wildenthal general director and CEO notes: “This proven program — by recognizing the contributions of exceptionally talented women in classical music — helps focus vision for conductors, music directors and administrators by showcasing their rich array of skills. Because recognition and vision lead directly to opportunity.

“I was deeply committed to providing leadership roles for women during my tenure as general director of Kentucky Opera,” Derrer added, “and that continues in Dallas. The extraordinary generosity of our underwriters and the enthusiasm of The Dallas Opera Board show that we are on the right track to improve gender parity on the podium.”

A total of 51 women conductors and professional musicians heeded the call in 2018, despite even more stringent admissions requirements this year. Applicants from 19 countries included music directors, principal and assistant conductors, concertmasters and music staff from top-ranked symphonies, opera companies and conservatories.

“Getting into the Hart Institute will be a game-changer for me,” conductor Sarah Penicka-Smith (pictured above) said. “I value the existence of a program which addresses the whole conductor, not just her technique, and I hope this will allow us to develop as many unique models of what it means to be a conductor as there are women to fill those positions.” Maria Sensi Sellner agreed: “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the team of exceptional mentors and advisors assembled by The Dallas Opera, and to broaden my community of female colleagues, as we work towards equity on the podium.” Added conductor Emily Senturia, “I look forward to learning from industry leaders and the other talented women who have been chosen to participate in this groundbreaking program.”