After two years of leading the Fort Worth Opera, Afton Battle announced that she is resigning from her post in an email that went out early Tuesday morning.
When she was hired, Battle became the first woman and first Black general director at the Fort Worth Opera and one of very few Black women opera directors across North America. Battle was initially hired as general director in September 2020 and later took on the additional role of artistic director after Joe Illick transitioned to music director emeritus.
“I am most proud of accomplishing what I set out to accomplish from the day that I started,” Battle told the Fort Worth Report. “When I was offered this position, and even in the interview process, I was very clear that I wanted to build a company that was reflective of the very vibrant community of Fort Worth and that I was going to build the people’s company, a company in which everyone felt seen, heard, safe (and) recognized.”
The Texas native sought to make the Fort Worth Opera known as “the people’s company” by expanding its connections with communities of color and offering new programming.
The current season is ongoing and has several performances on the docket, including the world premiere of a chamber opera called “Stand Up!” scheduled for Nov. 11, a recital titled “Of Thee I Sing! Songs of Love & Justice” on Nov. 13 and “An African American Requiem” by Damien Geter set for Jan. 28 of next year.
During her tenure, the opera held the world premiere of Héctor Armienta’s Spanish and English rendition of “Zorro,” developed a showcase titled “A Night of Black Excellence,” and brought back the opera’s Hispanic Heritage Month programming known as Noches de Ópera.
Battle said it was challenging taking the reins during the pandemic, before vaccines were available and when reliable tests were hard to track down.
“And that, along with just being a woman as a leader and being a Black woman who is a leader … I don’t want to say barriers because I do not think of me being a Black woman as a barrier. But those are three very enormous weights to carry,” she said.
Battle credits the staff for its dedication to the mission and commitment to building during a difficult period.
“If we had the resources that a company our size needs, we would have been unstoppable,” she said.
Wesley Gentle, the interim managing director and president of Arts Fort Worth, expressed gratitude for the opera. He said the group is happy to be part of the current season when “Stand Up!” takes the stage at the W.E. Scott Theatre in November.
“Our organization is so appreciative of what Afton’s been able to do in the community and (what) the Fort Worth Opera has continued to try to pioneer,” he said.
In addition to navigating the pandemic, Battle also had to help seek stability for the team after two major leadership shake-ups within the company.
Her predecessor, Tuomas Hiltunen, resigned over what he described to KERA as “different visions of the directions and goals of the company” after presiding over two seasons. Before that, Darren K. Woods was fired in 2017 after 16 years leading the opera.
Battle is leaving to start “a new chapter in her career,” which will be announced soon, the release stated.
Her last day will be Nov. 23, but Battle said she believes “there are great things in store for Fort Worth Opera and the people of Fort Worth.”
“I believe in Fort Worth Opera. I believe in the company that it is. I believe in the company we’ve built,” Battle said. “Again, I cannot say enough about my team, their dedication, their hard work, their tireless efforts. They are a small team of 13 who are accomplishing and doing things the size of a team of 300. So they really deserve all of the accolades because none of what we’ve been able to do and none of my leadership would be possible without them.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.