Richard Gaddes, a British-born opera impresario who nurtured young talent as director of companies in Santa Fe, N.M., and St Louis, died on Dec. 12 in Manhattan. He was 81.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by the Santa Fe Opera, where he served as general director for eight years, and by the Opera Theater of Saint Louis, of which he was a founder. The executor of his estate, Maria Schlafly, said he died after a brief illness.
Leading the two companies over several decades, Mr. Gaddes (pronounced GAD-iss) helped spur the careers of younger stars like Thomas Hampson, Christine Brewer and Frank Lopardo, and brought prominent artists well known in Europe, like the soprano Kiri Te Kanawa and the conductor Edo de Waart, to audiences in the United States.
His generous, open-minded embrace of an art form he saw as encompassing all others spurred his attempts to open it up — to new artists, new audiences and new works. In Santa Fe, he offered discounted tickets to New Mexico residents and staged a production of “The Beggar’s Opera” at the city’s El Museo Cultural using mostly local performers.
“I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing if it hadn’t been his leap of faith,” said Ms. Brewer, who had been a school music teacher before Mr. Gaddes heard her sing in a competition in St. Louis and decided to take a chance on her. She didn’t win the competition, but Mr. Gaddes sent her a check anyway.
“Richard just said, ‘I heard it in your voice.’ He was super supportive,” Ms. Brewer said in a phone interview.
Invited to create an opera company in St. Louis at the end of the 1970s, Mr. Gaddes had an idea at odds with local grand-opera expectations: to use the new company to engage young American singers at the beginning of their careers. His idea turned out to be fruitful.
“I recommended to them that rather than doing extravaganzas with elephants and camels and mob scenes in large spaces, what they should do is have an ensemble company presenting the cream of the crop of young American singers,” Mr. Gaddes said in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, which honored him in 2008.
The conductor Leonard Slatkin wrote in an email that the St. Louis company “became a destination point for those starting careers.” He added that Mr. Gaddes “had an encyclopedic knowledge of the repertoire and knew what could and could not be done.”
Mr. Gaddes pursued a similarly democratizing approach toward expanding the audience in Santa Fe. He had already had a long career there before becoming director in 2000, a post he held until 2008.
“I felt there was a slight attitude of our being elitist,” he said, noting that the company, located seven miles outside the city, “didn’t have much to do with the locals.”
His initiatives, including the reduced-price ticket scheme, transformed the audience, which went from being 38 percent New Mexican to over 50 percent.
“What’s marvelous is, Richard has really taken the reins in a new era in which the piece of contemporary opera that everyone feels we are obliged to do does not have to be an act of sufferance,” the director Peter Sellars said in an interview after Mr. Gaddes was honored by the N.E.A. “It’s not like having to go in for a invasive surgery. It is in fact, a pleasure.”
Richard Gaddes was born on May 23, 1942, in Wallsend, an old coal mining and shipbuilding town near Newcastle in the north of England. His father, Thomas, worked in the local shipyards; his mother, Emily (Rickard) Gaddes, was a homemaker.
He showed an early aptitude for music — his parents both sang in local choirs — and his mother, defying his father’s wishes, paid for his train ticket to London to audition at Trinity College of Music (now the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance), where he was immediately accepted. He graduated in 1964.
To earn money, he turned pages at Wigmore Hall, then London’s premiere chamber music venue; started a series of lunchtime concerts at the hall, which became immensely popular; and went to work for an artist management company.
Mr. Gaddes credited his days at Wigmore Hall with stirring his interest in helping young singers. “I turned pages for many great accompanists, including Gerald Moore,” he said in the 2008 interview. “I sat at the piano during the cycles of singers such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau, los Ángeles, Hans Hotter. An amazing, amazing exposure to music that you couldn’t buy.”
Spotted by the conductor John Crosby, the founder of the Santa Fe Opera, on a trip to London, he was eventually recruited to become the company’s artistic administrator in 1969, at age 25.
He became founding general director of the Opera Theater of Saint Louis in 1976, and under his stewardship it became the first American opera company to receive an invitation to the Edinburgh International Festival. He returned to the Santa Fe company in 1994 and became its second general director in 2000.
Mr. Gaddes is survived by his brother Harry. Another brother, Simon, died in 2011.