According to many who work for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Phyllis Brissenden viewed Opera Theatre as her family. When Brissenden died on Dec. 17, 2019, she left Opera Theatre $45 million.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL) announced on Feb. 6, they had received a $45 million endowment from Phyllis Brissenden. The OTSL’s administrative building is located on the university’s Webster Groves campus, and shows are often performed in the Loretto-Hilton Center.
Brissenden’s endowment is the largest OTSL has ever received and her gift more than doubles OTSL’s current general endowments of $35 million. Nicole Freber, the managing director of advancements at OTSL, said Brissenden’s gift offered a financial stability which will allow OTSL to continue operating long into the future.
“We’re celebrating our 45th anniversary this year and it really ensures the next 45 years. The company will continue to be vibrant and fiscally stable,” Freber said.
Performance-related services cost slightly over $8.5 million in 2018, whereas admission prices brought in a little over $1.6 million, according to OTSL’s 2018 Annual Report. Moreover, the report noted admission prices brought in only around 15% of revenue in 2018.
This makes donations vitally important to OTSL, according to the company’s press release. Brissenden had already donated an estimated $2.5 million to OTSL during her lifetime. Andrew Jorgensen, OTSL’s General Director, expressed gratitude for Brissenden endowment in OTSL’s press release.
“We knew Phyllis was planning to leave a bequest to OTSL, but we had no idea just how significant it would be,” Jorgensen said in the press release. “We feel deeply fortunate that this gift allows us to reach for even greater levels of artistic excellence and community impact.”
Jorgensen also said Brissenden’s passion will guide OTSL as the company develops a new strategic plan. Freber added that Brissenden’s endowment has allowed the board to discuss ideas they may have never considered before.
“ I’m excited to see how our board and staff together can look at the way in which we interact with our community and to figure out how we can have an even greater civic impact with this wonderful support.” Freber said.
Kimberly Moller, a former Webster student, had the opportunity to work with OTSL in 2008 during a production of “The Tales of Hoffmann.” She called the experience invaluable, and added that watching performances from OTSL expanded her view of what opera could be.
“I think (Brissenden’s) contribution will help propel the company’s mission and innovation in ways we can’t even expect,” Moller said.
This year, OTSL’s Susannah production will be dedicated to Brissenden. Freber said that this was one of Brissenden’s favorite operas and that Brissenden had asked Jorgensen to bring the production to OTSL.
“She, even a couple of days before she passed away, had asked a friend if they would drive her down in June to see the performance because she was so eager to see it and experience it here,” Freber said. “So it will be a little bit bittersweet, but we are delighted to be able to dedicate that production in her memory this year.”
Along with the production, OTSL’s press release stated that the company is looking to host a celebration in Brissenden’s honor later this year.
“She was just a wonderful person who was so humble and so curious about the world around her and interested in everything, and just loved OTSL,” Freber said, “She really felt that OTSL was her family.”