Esther Nelson

Esther Nelson

Stanford Calderwood General & Artistic Director

Esther Nelson combines an extensive career in the arts with significant management expertise. Prior to joining Boston Lyric Opera in September 2008, Ms. Nelson was a management consultant for a broad range of clients that included the New York Historical Association, research library, and associated Fenimore Art Museum, NY; the Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, NY; the European International Music and Arts Foundation; the Cultural Diplomacy Institute, NY, Berlin, DE; Albany Symphony Orchestra, NY; The Douglas Moore Fund, NYC; the Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta, NY; Portland Opera, ME; Opera Memphis, TN; Virginia Opera, VA; and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Ms. Nelson was until the fall of 2002 the General Director/CEO of Glimmerglass Opera, NY, one of the country’s largest and most prestigious opera festivals. During her seven year tenure, the company experienced significant artistic growth and fiscal stability, including the elimination of its accumulated deficit and development of a surplus. Her leadership earned her a professional citation from the governor of New York.

Before coming to Glimmerglass, Ms. Nelson was the General Director/CEO of Nevada Opera in Reno, NV, where she was responsible for all administrative and artistic activities and founded the company’s successful state-wide touring program. During her tenure the company also experienced financial and artistic growth.

Born to an American father and a German mother, Ms. Nelson was educated in Germany, England, and France, where she studied art, music, theater, and business. She graduated with a degree in Communication from Kaiserslautern, Germany, before coming to the U.S. in 1979. Ms. Nelson has won several national advertising and design awards as Art Director in television and advertising in New Orleans. She headed the press, marketing, and development departments of the New Orleans Opera before assuming a senior a management role. While in Louisiana she also became involved in an advisory capacity to the State Tourism Commission, and in creating joint development activities of all the major, cultural organizations of New Orleans. Subsequent leading management positions included the Virginia Opera, during its international tour and state-wide expansion. She also was the chief executive of the Triangle Opera Festival in Durham, NC, which included producing programs for Duke University.

Ms. Nelson has served as evaluator for the New York State Council. She consults with OPERA America, the American service organization and currently serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive and Finance Committees of Assurant Insurance Company of New York State; the Spring Brook Home for Adults and Children with Disabilities; and the international executive committee of the Friends of Amerika Haus, Berlin, DE. Previous Board affiliations include Hospice, New Orleans; The Durham Arts Council; the Academy of Music in Reno, NV; First Fortis Insurance Company; and Bankers American Life.

She, her husband Bernd Ulken, a retired Delta Airlines captain, and their two children reside in the Boston area. Ms. Nelson also maintains close ties to her family business in Germany.


Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) is New England’s largest opera company. Founded in 1976, BLO is recognized for its artistically excellent productions of a diverse repertoire that entertain and inspire audiences and feature emerging operatic talent. BLO produces three mainstage productions at the Citi Performing Arts CenterSM Shubert Theatre in Boston, an Opera Annex production in a found space, and a fully staged, one-hour English version of a popular Opera for Young Audiences throughout New England. 
BLO’s programs are funded, in part, by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.