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San Diego Opera Conductor To Step Down After 35 Years

An early, undated photo of conductor Karen Keltner, who is resigning as San D...

Above: An early, undated photo of conductor Karen Keltner, who is resigning as San Diego Opera's resident conductor after 35 years.

The resident conductor of the San Diego Opera has announced she’ll resign following next month’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.”

The resident conductor of the San Diego Opera has announced she’ll resign following next month’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.”

Karen Keltner will step down after 35 years with the opera company, where she also holds the title of music administrator and is the longest tenured employee.

Keltner has conducted more than 40 full opera productions in over 150 performances for the company. She’s also served as guest conductor for operas in New York, Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City.

Keltner said she’s been thinking about life after San Diego Opera for a while.

When the company almost closed down in March because of reported financial troubles, she postponed leaving.

“I did not want to have it appear that I was abandoning the company,” Keltner said. “And that’s why I wanted to stay through this adjustment and the transition. I think we’re on a healthy path now.”

An influx of donations as well as new leadership allowed the opera company to stay open.

“Little did I know when I moved to San Diego in 1980 that San Diego Opera would become my beloved home company and afford me the opportunity to make San Diego my home for these 35 years,” Keltner said.

Keltner was hired by former general director Tito Capobianco, but spent most of her tenure working with general and artistic director Ian Campbell, who joined the company in 1983 and left amid turmoil in April. It was under Campbell that she became resident conductor.

Her first assignment in San Diego was to assist Maestro Richard Bonynge in Johann Strauss’ "Die Fledermaus," starring both Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills. Her job was to give Bonynge notes on the balance of sound between the orchestra and the singers. Keltner says she had to work up the nerve to tell Bonynge the balance was off and Dame Joan Sutherland was getting drowned out.

“He said to me, ‘well, spit it out darling, that’s what you’re here for,’” recalled Keltner.

Keltner, who has a doctorate in music, said she was lucky that general directors in the U.S. and Canada took a chance on her. She’s one of the few female opera conductors in the world.

“It’s rare still. I thought there would be many more opera conductors who are women because, frankly, they’re hidden in the pit,” said Keltner.

While it may have been difficult being a woman in a male-dominated profession, Keltner said she never dwelled on it. “Because if one does, your energy is put in a place that doesn’t allow you to focus on what you have to focus on,” said Keltner.

Keltner, who is 67, said she's leaving to try new things. "I feel very good physically and mentally and that I'm doing some of the best work of my life. It's time to embrace the change if you have the courage." She plans to explore more guest conducting opportunities and spend time with family and friends.

The opera did not announce plans for replacing Keltner. The company is currently looking for a new general director, a post they plan to fill in 2015.

“La bohème,” which opens Jan. 24 at the San Diego Civic Theatre, will mark the beginning of the company’s 50th anniversary season.

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