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Louisville Arts Community Remembers Kentucky Opera Director David Roth

Colleagues of David Roth say the Kentucky Opera has lost a bold leader who saw the company through the 2008 financial crisis and other challenges.

Roth, the opera's general director since 2006, died this weekend while returning from a trip to Des Moines. He was found in his car, which had run off the road outside of Champaign, Illinois. The exact cause of death has not been determined, the company said.

He was 56.

Roth also contended with the Louisville Orchestra’s labor dispute of 2011-12, which canceled much of the orchestra’s season and complicated the opera’s season, too.

He also made bold moves for the organization. Roth's decision to move all of the Kentucky Opera mainstage productions to the Brown Theatre, while controversial, ultimately led to the company's financial stability. His vision to produce lesser-known works under the guise of a "repertoire re-imagined" was a continuation of an unconventional strategy to make Kentucky Opera a unique company in the region.

Singer Emily Albrink was hired by Roth to perform in productions of “L’Elisir d’Amore” and “La Boheme.”

“He was an incredible force artistically and energetically, just a visionary,” Albrink said on Monday.

“He really turned the company around, put it on the map.”

Albrink, a Louisville native, was particularly grateful for the chance to sing here.

“He gave me the ability to sing and make music in my hometown, which makes it easier to juggle a family and a career, and for that I will be forever grateful,” Albrink said.

One of Roth’s priorities for the company was the development and production of new operas. Composer Daron Hagen saw Kentucky Opera produce two of his original operas, “New York Stories,” and “A Woman in Morocco,” and had a strong relationship with the company and with Roth.

“The last conversation I had with David a couple of days ago, we were talking about what are we going to do next,” Hagen said. “I’ll miss him. I’ve lost one of my chief champions today, and I’m heartbroken about it.”

Hagen said Roth was well-respected among his peers in the opera world and was active with Opera America, a national organization that supports and promotes opera.

“He really was proud of Kentucky Opera and proud to fly the flag for the company in Washington and in New York City,” Hagen said.

Roth was also known for cross-promotion and collaboration with other arts organizations in Louisville. Matt Wallace, artistic director of Kentucky Shakespeare, said he saw Roth at Central Park on July 11 when Kentucky Opera singers were part of the pre-show activities before a performance of “Macbeth.” (Kentucky Opera’s next season begins in September with the operatic version of “Macbeth,” by Giuseppe Verdi.)

“David was a kind soul, a great leader, a very special man,” Wallace said. “What a loss to Louisville and the arts community.”

Tanja Eikenboom spent six years working closely with Roth as Kentucky Opera’s development director. She said his diplomatic skills were a key to his success.

“He was a master in reaching out to all sides trying to bring them together, whether it was talking to musicians at the picket line, or organizing events at the Brown Theatre stage to show disgruntled and doubting patrons that moving the opera productions from Whitney Hall to a more intimate stage was the right thing to do,” Eikenboom said.

According to Business First, Roth was preparing a series of community-wide conversations about race, in conjunction with the 2015-16 season.

WUOL program director Daniel Gilliam contributed to this story.