Our Story

sarah and ernest butler

The Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music in the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin in 2004 received a $2 million gift from Dr. Ernest and Mrs. Sarah Butler to endow the Opera Theatre program. In recognition of this gift, the program was re-named the Sarah and Ernest Butler Opera Center.

The endowment provides a stable funding source for the Butler Opera Center, which already ranks among America’s best, making it possible for undergraduate and graduate students to work with outstanding faculty, accomplished composers,

librettists, guest conductors, and other opera professionals. The gift ensures that students will receive valuable training in opera, opera performance, opera directing, opera coaching, opera production and a comprehensive, professional-quality opera education, while also funding scholarships to attract outstanding opera interest talent to the School of Music.

“Over the years, opera at UT ranked as one of the prominent educational opera programs in the country,” said Dr. Robert DeSimone, former Director of the Butler Opera Center. “The confidence, investment and trust reflected in Sarah and Ernest Butler’s gift has insured continued quality and development of a greater vision for the program. Their endowment and scholarship funding continues to touch the lives of many emerging operatic talent at the university, and has supported the creation of the Artist Diploma program and most recently the addition of graduate degrees in Opera Coaching.”

This gift is the largest in a series of contributions the Butlers have made to The University of Texas at Austin. In the past years they have given more than $3.2 million to the university, including the current gift, six Endowed Presidential Scholarships for voice students in opera at the Butler School of Music, a gift for the dynamic Focus Gallery in the Blanton Museum of Art building, and numerous other contributions to various areas of the university.

“Ernest and Sarah Butler have been wonderful supporters of the arts in Austin for many years through gifts to the Butler Opera Center, Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin, the Blanton Museum of Art and the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music” said DeSimone. “They are extremely committed to nurturing young operatic talent and providing the best educational and performance opportunities for future singers.”

“Over the years we have followed the growth and development of Butler School of Music graduates, and particularly of those voice students who have participated in the opera program. Many of them have carried their talent to young artists programs and to national and international opera companies. We value the contributions and influence the Butler Opera Center program has had on Austin’s opera and beyond. The faculty, the students and professional guests are all a source of enrichment for our community,” said Sarah Butler. Because opera remains the most comprehensive of all the performing arts, endowing the university’s opera program was one of the primary goals of the capital campaign initiated by the College of Fine Arts in 1997.

“Opera production is a collaborative effort involving not only student singers, but other musicians, actors, and graduate talent in costuming, scenery and lighting design from across the College of Fine Arts,” said Robert Freeman, former dean of the college. “Opera brings to bear all the creative forces of music, drama, dance and visual arts.”