Palm Beach Opera Announces New General Director

Intensive program alumnus James Barbato has successfully led the company through its recent season and inspired a $200,000 fundraising campaign.

By: May. 08, 2024
Palm Beach Opera Announces New General Director
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Palm Beach Opera has announced the appointment of James Barbato as the company's new General Director.

An alumnus of OPERA America's Leadership Intensive program, Barbato assumed the role of Acting General Director in February, deftly guiding the company through the final two productions of the season, which were notable for starry last-moment substitutions with the appearances of Kathryn Lewek as the Four Heroines in The Tales of Hoffmann and Angela Meade as the title role in Norma. The enthusiasm around Barbato's leadership led the Palm Beach Opera Board of Directors to raise funds for a $200,000 matching campaign in his honor to inspire donations from the community through May 31st.

"The entire Board is thrilled that James Barbato will be leading Palm Beach Opera into the future," said Board Chairman David Genser. "He brings a wealth of experience to the role, impressive business acumen, and a deep understanding of the art form and this community. Over the past decade at Palm Beach Opera, Jim has been instrumental to our successes, and it was obvious that there would be no need for an extended search because we already had the ideal candidate in house."

For the past five seasons, Barbato has served Palm Beach Opera as Director of Artistic Administration, with responsibility for the company's casting and artistic planning, as well as direction of its acclaimed resident artist programs. His tenure in this position has been noted for the high artistic standards of the company's productions, beginning with the first season he planned, the 2021 Festival. Faced with the closure of indoor venues during the pandemic, Barbato was the architect of the company's innovative outdoor festival, becoming one of the first opera companies in the US to resume large-scale live performances. Assembling a medical advisory team and testing partner, he developed and implemented effective safety protocols, while recruiting the nation's top opera stars to perform in productions of La bohème, The Magic Flute, and Pagliacci, including Michael Fabiano, Isabel Leonard, Latonia Moore, Quinn Kelsey, Matthew Polenzani, Kathryn Lewek, Janai Brugger, Ryan Speedo Green, Ana MaríA Martinez, and Michael Chioldi. The success of this bold experiment became a blueprint for the reopening of the opera industry that summer.

Beyond the success of the company's mainstage productions, Barbato has also established Palm Beach Opera as a leading artist training center in the industry, building a renowned faculty and helping to launch the careers of many of opera's most promising emerging talents through the company's Young Artist Program and Bailey Apprentice Artist Program, which now receive over 1,000 applications annually for 14 positions. Several singers selected and trained under his guidance have gone on to become National Grand Finals winners of the Metropolitan Opera's Laffont Competition and winners of the Operalia Competition, and others have continued their training in the esteemed programs of the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Washington National Opera, Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Opéra national de Paris.

"There is no better place to produce opera than Palm Beach," said Barbato. "Our sun-soaked paradise is a vibrant cultural community of devoted patrons who love and support the arts. I have been so proud to work for this company with its legacy of excellence and long history of impactful educational programming in the region. It is an honor and dream come true to collaborate with our Board and staff in this new role as we build on our momentum and bring Palm Beach Opera to ever greater heights."

Barbato joined Palm Beach Opera in 2015 as Artistic & Production Assistant, soon being promoted to Assistant Director of Artistic Operations. He simultaneously spent four summers on the staff of the Santa Fe Opera as Assistant Director of the Rehearsal Department, overseeing the complex daily schedule for one of the largest opera festivals and artist training programs in the world.

He began his career in opera as a singer, earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music, and continuing his training with a performance certificate from the Boston University Opera Institute. As a tenor, his performing career progressed through several distinguished young artist programs, including those at Florida Grand Opera and Central City Opera, while he gained onstage experience with roles in over 25 productions. Beyond his credits in opera, he performed in song and chamber music residencies with the Tanglewood Music Center, Marlboro Music Festival, Aldeburgh Festival's Britten-Pears Programme, and Festival d'Aix-en-Provence Académie européenne. In addition to his musical training, Barbato is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Rochester, having earned a bachelor of arts summa cum laude in economics.

While confirming Barbato's appointment at Palm Beach Opera's recent Annual Meeting, the organization also welcomed two distinguished members to its Board - Erika Franke Brown and Marsha Laufer. Mrs. Franke Brown is an accomplished architect with decades of practice in New York City. She is a lifelong opera lover, and her father Paul Franke was a tenor with 1,980 performances at the Metropolitan Opera. Marsha Laufer rejoins the leadership of Palm Beach Opera after serving on the Board from 2014-2020. Following her career in speech-language pathology, Dr. Laufer is now a prominent figure in political and social activism.

More Information

Next season, Palm Beach Opera will perform three beloved classics, beginning with the timeless story of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, Roméo et Juliette, in the lush musical setting of Charles Gounod from January 24-26, 2025, and continuing with the heartbreaking story of Violetta's passionate love and tragic sacrifice in Verdi's La traviata from February 21-23, 2025. The season concludes with the triumph of true love in Mozart's comic masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro from April 4-6, 2025. Current subscribers may renew until May 31, new subscriptions will be available to the public on June 1, and single tickets will go on sale on September 1. For more information about Palm Beach Opera and its upcoming season, please visit


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