Cedar Rapids Opera has two news items.
We’ve officially changed our name from Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre to Cedar Rapids Opera. And, more importantly, we have a new executive director, Ashley Shields.
Shields brings a wealth of energy to this position. She is an experienced administrator who has worked as corporate events director for the American Heart Association in Cedar Rapids, director of advancement for the Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and director of development for Flat Rock Playhouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina. She is a sought-after administrator who has an undergraduate degree from Emerson College in Boston, and both a master’s in arts management and MBA from Southern Methodist University.
Board President Susan Wolverton sums it up: “Engaging, warm and approachable, Ashley brings positive energy and sincere dedication to the Cedar Rapids Opera. We are fortunate to have a professional of her caliber joining us as we embrace the challenges of emerging from the pandemic to keep CRO a vital part of the corridor art scene.”
Shields spent much of her time on the East Coast.
“Before I moved to Cedar Rapids, I never would’ve thought it to be synonymous with world-class opera. But turns out, opera is one of the things this state does best,” she said. “And I am over the moon to be a part of a company that is committed to creating both exceptional productions and meaningful educational opportunities for young artists. While my background might be more jazz hands than cadenza, I’m so excited to learn from and with CRO’s amazing community of supporters.”
Shields’ first week on the job with Cedar Rapids Opera was the week of June 14, the week of our Juneteenth events. She worked in tandem that week with Virginia Michalicek, our interim executive director.
It’s a good thing we had both of these experienced hands on deck. It was an intense week of preparation, and it was so good to have two brilliant minds working together; we needed them.
When asked about the challenges of small arts organizations in the United States, Shields said: “It seems like there are more screens, more distractions and more noise in our lives than ever before. And I know I’ve been guilty of those weekend nights — when Netflix and pajamas seem easier than a night out at the theatre. And maybe it’s easier …but it will never be as powerful or as transformational as what you will experience at Cedar Rapids Opera. So that will be my drum to beat, and my constant reminder to myself and to our audiences — TV kills time, but opera feeds your soul!”
She joins us for our 24th season of opera, which will include Suzanne Sings at Cedar Ridge Winery (Sept. 30), Cosi fan tutte (Jan. 21 and 23), “Pirates of Penzance “in June, and video presentations of Eric Ferring singing Liederkreis by Robert Schumann, and Robert Lindsey-Nassif’s Flight of the Lawnchair Man.
Daniel Kleinknecht is founder and artistic director of Cedar Rapids Opera.