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Posthumous Gift to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Among Largest in US Opera History

Published February 13, 2020   |  By Alicia Cook  |  Post in All Areas

Phyllis Brissenden, a founding supporter and Life Board Member of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL), left the Company a record-shattering gift in the wake of her death. Brissenden, who died on Dec. 17, 2019 at 86 years old, bestowed the company an endowment gift, estimated at $45 million.

Phyllis Brissenden and OTSL general director Andrew Jorgensen
Photo: SUZY GORMAN

"This gift, the largest in Opera Theatre's history and one of the largest ever recorded for an American opera company, will offer OTSL a new level of financial stability as the company prepares for its 50th anniversary in 2025," the AGMA signatory company said in a press release.

According to the press release, Brissenden’s gift will more than double OTSL’s endowment. Since the Company’s annual distribution is based on a three-year rolling average of endowment performance, it will take several years before OTSL will feel the full effect of her generous bequest.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Phyllis once under the tent during my two seasons at OTSL. I am honored to have been a part of the OTSL family, and I look forward to watching their brilliant future continue to unfold,” shared Eric Ferring, AGMA Board of Governors. Ferring is also the Chicago/Midwest Area Committee Soloist Representative, Ryan Opera Center AGMA Representative, and Soloist Caucus Organizing Member.

“Donations are the lifeblood of cultural institutions, and without continuous, generous support, our ability to inspire, create, and change the world is greatly diminished,” continued Ferring. “A contribution of this magnitude will forever change the life of OTSL. The Company will be able to continue to present new, dynamic, important premieres, balanced with classic operas all with phenomenal casts. They have the ability to truly enhance the landscape of what they do; the sky is the limit…and that is so exciting!”

Brissenden, who was born and raised in Illinois, was no stranger to philanthropy and had been a life-long opera fan and donor to OTSL, ever since its first season in 1976. Prior to her death, she had given the Company a total of $2.5 million.

Phyllis Brissenden with OTSL's former general directors

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis will dedicate its 2020 production of Susannah in her memory, a production that Brissenden had expressed a desire to see just two days before her death.

“We are profoundly humbled by and grateful for this extraordinary gesture of generosity,” said Andrew Jorgensen, OTSL’s General Director. “Phyllis was a member of our company from the very beginning. We knew Phyllis was planning to leave a bequest to Opera Theatre, but we had no idea just how significant it would be. We feel deeply fortunate that this gift allows us to reach for even greater levels of artistic excellence and community impact.”