FGO chief Susan Danis to leave Miami for California job

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Susan Danis will leave FGO to become CEO of the La Jolla Music Society in October.

Susan Danis will leave FGO to become CEO of the La Jolla Music Society in October.

Susan Danis is leaving Florida Grand Opera after six years as CEO and executive director.

In October Danis will become CEO and president of the La Jolla Music Society and The Conrad Presbys Performing Arts Center in San Diego.

“It is hard to leave FGO after giving six years of your life to the company,” said Danis in an exclusive statement to SFCR Monday morning. “It has been quite a ride. Together with some outstanding patrons, staff, and board members, we have created great things artistically and in the community. You know who you are and I thank you!

“I walk away with my head held high for the many things accomplished,” she added, citing the “Made for Miami” series and the company’s new commitment to contemporary opera. “I wish FGO and its next leader the very best.”

“Since 2012, Susan has played a critical role in the development and success of the organization,” said Linda Balent, chairman of the FGO board, in a released statement. “While we will miss her and her inspiring leadership, we wish her the best of luck in her new endeavor as the President and CEO of the La Jolla Music Society and The Conrad Presbys Performing Arts Center.”

Danis, who left a 12-year tenure as executive director of Sarasota Opera in 2012 to take the top opera job in Miami, brought the company to new artistic heights that it had not seen in decades—if ever.

In recent seasons, the company has delivered acclaimed productions of standard repertoire such as Bellini’s Norma, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. She also raised a highly variable quality of casting to a more consistent and often inspirational standard.

Yet Danis’s strongest legacy was her dedication to opera of the 20th and 21st century, which brought a new adventurous punch to a tired and hidebound local repertoire. In the very first production under her aegis, she presented the belated Florida premiere of Mourning Becomes Electra by longtime Fort Lauderdale resident, Marvin David Levy. Other contemporary works FGO presented in her six-year tenure included Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger, Andy Vores’ No Exit and Jorge Martin’s Before Night Falls.

It was fitting that the final production of her FGO tenure was Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, a melodic contemporary work that may have been her most successful show of all.

Yet despite the artistic triumphs, Danis couldn’t overcome FGO’s continuing issues of shaky finances and a declining audience base in Miami. (The company continues to be hobbled by a lingering deficit, currently estimated at $3.5 million.)

She also had to deal with the backstage intrigue of competing agendas, internal factions and backstabbing by those set on undermining her authority, which seem an unfortunate but inevitable part of presenting opera in Miami.

But Danis is looking ahead and eager to start a new stage of her career in California.

“Becoming the President and CEO of the La Jolla Music Society and leading one of Southern California’s most prestigious arts institutions, is simply incredible,” she said. “I will have the great pleasure of working with an extraordinary, committed, and enthusiastic board and staff.

“Just as I did at FGO, I will make it my mission to passionately preserve the highest artistic standards while imagining a new, bright future for the company.”

FGO will contract a search firm to find a new leader. During this transition period, veteran FGO hand Justin Moss will serve as interim general director and CEO.


In other Florida Grand Opera news, Brian Kellow, FGO’s public relations manager, died Sunday from complications of brain cancer. Kellow was a longtime features editor of Opera News and had written biographies of several female show-biz/media icons, including Eileen Farrell, Ethel Merman, Pauline Kael and Sue Mengers.

Posted in News

3 Responses to “FGO chief Susan Danis to leave Miami for California job”

  1. Posted Jul 23, 2018 at 12:04 pm by Jack M. Firestone

    Susan has kept opera alive in South Florida and reinvigorated the company. I thank her for all she has accomplished and for the many fine productions we have been able to enjoy over her time in Miami.

    She rescued FGO from artistic bankruptcy and did everything within her power to keep it from financial bankruptcy. I respect her enormously as a professional and wish her the best in an exciting new position.

    I will miss her.

    Jack Firestone

  2. Posted Jul 23, 2018 at 2:29 pm by Raffaele Cardone

    I wish Susan all the best on her new challenge. it was a pleasure for me to see her hard work and dedication to maintain the opera in Florida at its best level.

  3. Posted Jul 28, 2018 at 8:39 pm by Charles Swierczynski

    I like how she says, “”Some” outstanding patrons, staff and board members…”. Competing agendas, internal factions and establishing one’s authority are part and parcel of any management position. Ms. Danis, for all her artistic vision, never seemed to care about people enough to exhibit the leadership, communication and rapport necessary to succeed as director.

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