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Rory Jeffes has been appointed as Opera Australia’s new CEO, taking over from Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini who has managed both positions since the departure of Craig Hassall earlier in the year. Jeffes, who is currently Executive Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, is a popular figure on the Australian music scene and a well-respected manager who brings decades of experience to one of the top jobs in Australian arts.
“It is highly impressive how Opera Australia, under the artistic direction of Lyndon Terracini, has developed as an innovative performing arts company of international renown,” Jeffes said of the challenge of working with Australia’s largest arts company. “I greatly look forward to working closely with Lyndon and the many highly talented people at OA to build on these achievements into the future.”
A British import, Jeffes joined the SSO in 2005, first as Director of External Relations and then as Managing Director from 2008. “Singing was always a key part of my upbringing,” he told Limelight back in 2015, referring to his time as a choral scholar at Christ Church, Oxford. “Outside my formal education I was exposed to a broad range of music. An early memory is sitting on the knee of Madeleine Duruflé to ‘have a go’ at playing the Festival Hall organ.”
His first professional job was as a pilot, and he cites flying a helicopter over the Malvern Hills at sunset listening to The Dream of Gerontius as a profound moment along with hearing Fischer-Dieskau perform Winterreise live, Parsifal for the first time at Teatro di San Carlo and Monteverdi’s Vespers in San Marco, Venice. “These moments of music, and others too numerous to mention, act as the solid posts along the fence line of my life,” he said.
His professional background is rooted in business and the not-for-profit sector. He was CEO of the CREATE Foundation, the leading advocacy group for the out of home care sector in Australia, as well as filling senior Development roles at the Outward Bound Trust (an organisation active in both the UK and Australia) and the Prince's Youth Business Trust. He was a Director of Shandwick Communications in London from 1982–87.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Rory to Opera Australia. He was an outstanding candidate in a very high quality field and brings a diverse set of skills and a wealth of experience that will be highly valued at the Company,” said OA’s Chairman David Mortimer. “Rory’s passion for music and his strong background in the not-for-profit sector, along with his exceptional analytical and administrative capabilities are exactly what the company needs to take us forward in these exciting and challenging times.”
Jeffes described the decision to leave the SSO as "difficult" but relished the new challenge. “There is a wonderful sense of unity of purpose in the SSO and a restless ambition for the future. I will miss greatly working with the musicians of the SSO – their artistry and dedication to the artform has always inspired me to pursue the very best for the orchestra – as well as the dedicated staff and Board who work so tirelessly behind the scenes,” he said.
SSO Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson also expressed sadness at Jeffes' departure: “Rory is one of the finest arts administrators I have known, and I will miss working with him. Nevertheless, the Orchestra’s artistic vibrancy is deeply rooted and I’m confident will continue under a new chief executive.”
Jeffes, who will take up his new post in August, joins Opera Australia at a time of significant change within the industry, but with a degree of stability after the Board of Opera Australia recently decided to extend Lyndon Terracini’s contract as Artistic Director until 2021. With hot issues such as whether or not the Government will respond to the recommendations of the Opera Review, the perennial topic of the employment of international singers, and the challenge of box office targets versus programming risks in Australia’s largest and best-funded opera house, it is to be hoped that Jeffes will be rather more visible than his predecessor, who was sometimes criticised within the sector for maintaining too low a profile.