Skip to Content

Opera director Thomas de Mallet Burgess proposed as Artistic Director of Finnish National Opera

The open position attracted extensive international interest

The Board of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet Foundation decided to recommend Mr. de Mallet Burgess in a meeting on Thursday 27 September 2022. “As an Artistic Director, Thomas brings a combination of experience and creativity that would boldly develop the future of opera at the Finnish National Opera”, says General Director Gita Kadambi.

The English opera director Thomas de Mallet Burgess (b. 1964) is currently General Director (the artistic and organisational lead) at New Zealand Opera, a position he has held since 2018. During this time he has introduced major strategic and artistic reforms that have transformed New Zealand’s national opera company. Prior to this, in Australia 2012 he founded the innovative site-specific opera company, Lost & Found Opera and worked as its Artistic Director until 2018. Beyond his work in the Antipodes, he has directed award-winning opera productions for companies including Canadian Opera Company, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opera Ireland and Wexford Festival Opera where he later worked to develop a strategic vision for the first purpose-built opera house in Ireland.

Thomas de Mallet Burgess is passionately interested in the relationship between audience and performer and committed to finding new audiences through the limitless potential of the arts and creative industries to help forge a community’s identity and give it voice. He has collaborated with Learning Participation Programs of major opera organisations including the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Glyndebourne Opera, the English Touring Opera, and the Welsh National Opera. His experience in planning and delivering arts training programs reflects a commitment to developing artists, and he is a regular visiting artist at universities and conservatories internationally.

Over his four years leading New Zealand Opera Thomas de Mallet Burgess has contributed significantly to the growth of the nation’s opera audience by taking diverse approaches to attract different demographics. An immersive production of Handel’s Semele, for instance, generated the largest take-up of tickets among people aged under 25 in the Company’s history. The commission of Ihitai ‘Avei’a – Star Navigator saw a 47% new audience (people who had not been to an opera or NZ Opera production before) attend the performances.

During that time Thomas de Mallet Burgess has had a significant impact on New Zealand Opera’s culture. He places importance on diversity, inclusion, and embedding the organisations he leads in their local culture and communities.

Leadership skills, artistic vision and networks as key selection criteria

The proposal followed a motion by General Director Gita Kadambi and was unanimously supported by the nomination and remuneration committee appointed by the Board. Besides an expert knowledge of the opera arts and an expansive artistic vision, the requirements for the position include good leadership and interaction skills, an international network of contacts, and the capability to influence decision-making in the Finnish society.

”From many promising candidates, Thomas was the one who fulfilled our criteria best. He has excellent leadership skills and the artistic vision and talent needed for developing the opera art form and introducing it to new, broader audiences. Along with an extensive professional network, he has a track record in financially sound long-term planning. As an Artistic Director, Thomas has a combination of experience and creativity that would boldly develop the future of opera at the Finnish National Opera”, says Gita Kadambi.

Reporting to the General Director, the Artistic Director of the Opera is in charge of the artistic planning of the opera and concert repertoire, leading and developing artistic operations, and maintaining and developing artistic standards. The content and artistic stance of the opera repertoire is also within the Artistic Director’s remit.

The board will next hear personnel groups of the Finnish National Opera, after which it will decide upon the appointment in a meeting on Tuesday 11 October 2022. If Thomas de Mallet Burgess is appointed to the position, his contract will cover four years from 1 August 2023 to 31 July 2027 with an optional three-year extension. This means that his first planned season will be 2025/26. The tenure of the current Artistic Director of the Opera Lilli Paasikivi will end on 31 July 2023.

The recruitment of the Artistic Director of the Opera was open to the public and involved the services of a recruitment specialist as well as an invitation to apply directly. The board made its selection based on the applicants’ merits, interviews, preliminary assignments, and aptitude evaluations. 76 applicants from 20 countries took part in the recruitment process.

The candidate, General Director and the members of the Board of Directors are not available for comments before the board meeting on 11 October 2022.