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Specter to be opera's general director

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Austin Lyric Opera has chosen Joseph Specter as its new general director.

Specter is currently the director of institutional relations at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a fundraising position he has held since 2010.

Before joining the Met, he was an associate at the investment firm of Lord Abbett and Co.

A former professional baritone, Specter earned an artist diploma from Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts and is a graduate of the double-degree program between Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music.

Specter, 37, replaces Kevin Patterson , who left in May amid news that Austin Lyric Opera had at least $2 million in debt. Kevin Smith , former president and chief executive of the Minnesota Opera for nearly 30 years, has served as the opera's interim director since then.

Specter begins his new post April 16. He joins Austin Lyric Opera as the organization simultaneously marks its 25th anniversary season and tackles its fiscal troubles.

Specter said the position at Austin Lyric Opera appealed to him for several reasons.

"I was really impressed with the desire of the board to save this company and save opera in Austin," he said. "And Austin, as a vibrant, creative city, had an intense personal draw, too."

Last summer, Austin Lyric Opera leaders cut back the number of performances for this season's three productions, running three shows per production rather than the usual four. It also relinquished its box office to the Long Center for the Performing Arts, cut staff and jettisoned its Armstrong Community Music School. The school has since become a separate organization.

In December, Austin Lyric Opera sold its purpose-built headquarters to a local TV and film production company for $5.45 million .

Built specifically as a music facility with soundproof studios and a large rehearsal space, the building at Barton Springs Road and Bouldin Avenue across from the Long Center opened in 2000, after the opera raised $4.5 million from donors for its construction.

"I really believe that (Austin) is a wonderful environment for an opera company," Specter said. "What needs to be demonstrated to people is that this company is alive and well and thriving."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699