The Woman Who Fired Luciano Pavarotti

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

To some, Ardis Krainik's most visible moment as leader of Lyric Opera was potentially the riskiest: She fired Luciano Pavarotti just days before the opening of last year's gala 35th season. ``I'm sure he didn't realize the cumulative effect of what he had done to Lyric Opera [cancelling a total 26 out of 41 scheduled performances in five productions], but everybody in Chicago did, and if I hadn't done anything strong, the Chicago public would have been very upset. And after all, my job as the steward of Lyric Opera is to serve the public. They're the ones that are buying the tickets. There's no question from the reaction - people that didn't know me would stop me on the street and say, boy, I'd done the right thing.'' AS a leader of this country's premier operatic institution, Ardis Krainik has gained the respect of both the opera world and the Chicago business community as well. What are her views on leadership?

``I think anyone who thinks that they're leading something themselves is in a lot of trouble, because as far as I'm concerned, the helmsman is God. I think that it takes confidence to be a strong leader, and a lot of good humor, and a lot of determination. I think it takes intelligence, it takes knowledge of the field in which you intend to be a leader.

``It takes a willingness to compromise so that you can have all the people follow you instead of just one or two. But most of all, I think leadership is a matter of the sum-total of your experience and then always listening for the `still, small voice': That's what ...guides the way - the `still, small voice.'

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``The first year that I took over I was scared to death all the time .... Well, I am not scared to death all the time now; I am only scared to death about half of the time! And anybody in my business who doesn't have that edge of anxiety is kidding himself, because when you're putting on anything theatrical, all people in the theater run on the raw edge of nerve all the time. That's just the nature of the business.

``At 7:30 that curtain goes up, and you do 68 performances between September and February, and that is it. And you do parties around that, and you raise money around it and you have P.R. [public relations] and interviews with people, you have to go out into the community and be a figure in the community, as in Chicago every business leader is.

``I think that one of the things that has driven me most is the sense that I must not fail.... The one way to take away a sense of looking at the possibility of failure is to recognize that this is not all in your own hands.... And so, through these 10 years, I think I've grown as a manager, as a business person, and my understanding of God and His presence in my life has grown.

``The biggest challenge was, and always is, trying to make the greatest art with the least amount of money. And even though the budget has gone form $9 million to $20 million, that doesn't mean that we don't have that challenge to meet every year.

``I don't believe that leadership involves risk. You've got to examine everything, and even though it seems to be a risk from outside, you as an insider must know the pitfalls - whatever might be going on - and determine what to do based on facts, dollars, bottom-line figures, not taking risks.''

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