Posted on October 30, 2022

Afton Battle, Fort Worth Opera General Director, Quits Amid Discord in the Middle of a Season

Tim Diovanni, Dallas Morning News, October 25, 2022

Afton Battle, one of the few Black women to ever run a U.S. opera company, is resigning from the Fort Worth Opera amid tensions with her role. {snip}


A self-professed artist activist, Battle previously expressed frustrations over running the company as a Black woman in a conservative state. {snip}


Several former board members told The News they left Fort Worth Opera during Battle’s tenure over concerns about the direction in which she was taking the company.


Battle cited achievements including diversifying audiences, the board, donors, staff members and singers.

“We have built The People’s Company,” she said in the email. “I set out to be dynamic in my leadership and effect change and I feel I have successfully done that.”


On her Facebook page, Battle previously shared her frustrations with leading the company.

“Y’all know the challenges of being Black in this world,” she wrote in a June 30 post, in which she was fundraising for the company. “Magnify that with being a woman running an arts organization in a conservative city and state.


Battle came to Fort Worth Opera in 2020. Like her short-tenured predecessor Tuomas Hiltunen, she had no experience running an opera company.

But she did have knowledge of the field, having performed as an opera singer up to the apprentice level. After moving into arts administration, she served as director of development at the New York Theatre Workshop and director of the annual fundraising campaign at The Joffrey Ballet. According to her LinkedIn page, she has moved between several jobs over the last decade, working no more than four years at any of them.

After taking the job at Fort Worth Opera, Battle pledged to guide the company in increasing its commitment toward inclusivity and diversity by “nourishing the talent of singers, composers, librettists and directors of all races, orientations and ethnicities.”

With the company facing financial constraints and the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, she eliminated the spring festival format, instead offering mainly small-scale concerts around the area featuring both Black and Latin American singers and composers.

Over Battle’s tenure, the company has staged only one full-scale opera, La traviata, albeit in a trimmed version. The current season doesn’t include a single staged production — only a concert version of Verdi’s Aida, with a mostly Black cast.


Particularly worrying to some former board members The News spoke with in the months before Battle’s resignation was her decision to add a page on the company’s website supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

“We hired her to be general director, not the voice of activism,” said Whit Smith, a board member who was on the search committee that hired Battle. {snip}


Battle has described herself as an “artivist,” or artist activist.

“I don’t think a season should pass, ever,” Battle previously told KERA News, “that we don’t intentionally program a work or works by composers and artists and creatives who represent the global majority.”

She has seen the turnover of board members at Fort Worth Opera as a kind of progress.

“I saw it as our garden turning itself over and blooming,” Battle told Opera America, a national service organization, in May. “If people don’t want to come along, that’s OK: I invite them to get off at the next stop. I can’t carry the weight of resistance. And newcomers are gravitating to us. We’ve gotten hit after hit — inquiries of folks wanting to be part of the opera revolution, which is about being in the service of your community in the 21st century.”