The San Francisco Opera has a new music director. It’s the first time a top-tier opera company in the United States has hired a woman in this role.
An accomplished orchestral conductor, Eun Sun Kim is originally from South Korea, and is under 40. She stands out among the other people holding key artistic positions in the opera world, who are mostly white, male and older.
"It's very unusual to have a female conductor for any major opera house or symphony. San Francisco Opera only had their first main stage woman conductor in 2004—Sara Jobin, with Tosca—and only has had a handful since," said Bay Area-based opera commentator Charlise Tiee, who blogs at The Opera Tattler. "I think it's a great choice and it's a long time coming."
Indeed, the roster of women in top artistic roles with opera companies around the country is pitifully short. The Chicago Opera Theater, a smaller company than the San Francisco Opera, also has a woman music director, Lidiya Yankovskaya. Karen Keltner was a resident conductor with the San Diego Opera for many years, a role with fewer responsibilities than music director. Francesca Zambello, who often directs productions in San Francisco, stands alone as an artistic director of a major U.S. opera company: she leads the Washington National Opera.
Kim is the fourth person to have held the role of music director with the nearly 100-year-old San Francisco Opera. She succeeds Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti, who left in 2018.