Maggey Oplinger Brings International and Local Experience to Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Florentine Opera Company’s "The Coronation of Poppea." Photo by Kathy Wittman.
While most of her peers had their hearts set on becoming Broadway stars, Maggey Oplinger gravitated towards opera as a high school student at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts.
“Singing Mozart’s Requiem with the orchestra there and getting to do early chant from multiple cultures, it was fabulous,” Oplinger says. “It was such a breath of what the singing voice could do that it got me really excited.”
Today, the Milwaukee native recently began her dream job as the general director and CEO for the Florentine Opera Company. Oplinger is the first woman to hold this position for the sixth oldest opera company in the United States, currently celebrating its 85th season.
“I am the first person to get excited when I see a woman take the helm somewhere, and for some reason it didn’t even occur that it was a thing for me,” Oplinger admits. “I’m mostly excited to be part of shifting the balance to be more representative of our community. I think each person who steps into a role like this with a different set of eyes helps. Diversity of thought is really critical for all of our successes.”
Oplinger holds degrees in voice performance from McGill University and business administration from Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business, both in Montreal. She spent nearly a decade as an opera singer and translator, calling Vienna, Paris and Munich home.
Finally, she returned to her first home of Milwaukee in 2009, finding work in various nonprofits before accepting pivotal roles in innovation with Johnson Controls and community engagement with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
“I just reached a point where it was like, ‘this is no longer working, I’m going to reboot,’” Oplinger explains. “I came back because my family is here. (Milwaukee) is such a friendly and open city.”
Maggey Oplinger. Photo courtesy of Florentine Opera Company.
In her roles as director of community partnerships and director of shared experiences for Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Oplinger doubled volunteer engagement to approximately 800 participants, increased the profitability of fundraising events by 21%, and curated all MSO appearances and events excluding mainstage and education.
“Maggey is the perfect fit for the Florentine,” says Kathleen A. Wilson, Florentine’s board president. “She is a visionary leader with both opera and business experience, and she understands Milwaukee’s cultural landscape.”
Although Oplinger enjoyed her experiences with the Symphony, she says working in the art form she passionately loves and can critically analyze is something she couldn’t pass up.
“I’ve never played a symphonic instrument, so the Symphony was always my escape,” Oplinger explains. “Even though I got to work there I still never learned how to play violin, or cello or trumpet, so I still have a wonderful childlike appreciation for their music.”
One of Oplinger’s leading goals moving forward with the Florentine is to give the company a clear focal point: “What are we trying to achieve as an organization? How do we make it a very reliable excellent product every time you come to a show?”
Oplinger clarifies that she doesn’t expect audiences to love every show that they see at the Florentine; in fact she believes the company is doing something wrong if that is the case. She wants to make sure everyone is engaged and struck by a production and goes home thinking about its deeper meaning.
‘We are going from a very stable design and stage director team to a much more varied diet of partnerships,” Oplinger shares. “There will be different artistic teams coming in to do each of our shows, and that’s really going to mean each show has its own look and feel. There’s going to be a lot more variety, not only in the repertoire itself, but in how it’s approached and how it’s presented.”
Florentine’s 85th season will close with A Night at the Opera, May 17 and 19, a concert featuring some of the greatest hits in opera history, accompanied by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Tosca, Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro are just some of the renowned operas that will be included.
“It’s going to be a celebration of everything the Florentine has been for 85 years and hopefully everything the Florentine will be for the next 15 up to 100 years,” Oplinger says. “We are using that as a real framework of conversation around, 'who do we want to be when we get there?' I think that will be our moment to crystalize who everyone see us as going forward and how we see ourselves.”
“A Night at the Opera,” presented by Florentine Opera Company, runs May 17 and 19 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets visit florentineopera.org or call 1-800-32-OPERA.