Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has announced a bequest estimated at $45 million from life board member Phyllis Herndon Brissenden, who passed away in December.
The largest gift in the company's forty-five-year history — and one of the largest ever to an American opera company — will more than double the size of its general endowment, from $35 million to approximately $80 million. Raised in Springfield, Illinois, Brissenden spent part of her career working for the United Way, supported OTSL from its inaugural season in 1976, anonymously gave some $2.5 million to the company during her lifetime, and served on its National Patrons Council from 2010 to 2017. In recognition of her bequest and support over the decades, during which Brissenden got to know not only the company's singers and general directors but also staff and volunteers, OTSL will dedicate its 2020 production of Susannah to her memory.
"Phyllis championed Opera Theatre from its very beginnings and remained a loyal, devoted fan and supporter throughout her life," said OTSL board chair Noémi Neidorff. "Smart, knowledgeable, witty, and extraordinarily humble, Phyllis truly considered Opera Theatre her family. Every season, she made frequent trips from her home in Springfield, Illinois, so as not to miss any performances, board meetings, master classes, rehearsals, or workshops. My fellow board members and I count ourselves fortunate to have known Phyllis. We will forever cherish her memory."
"We knew Phyllis was planning to leave a bequest to Opera Theatre, but we had no idea just how significant it would be," said OTSL general director Andrew Jorgensen. "We feel deeply fortunate that this gift allows us to reach for even greater levels of artistic excellence and community impact. As we continue our work on our next strategic plan, which will chart a course to our fiftieth anniversary, Phyllis's passion for this company and this art form will be one of our guiding lights."