David Genser: Star of The Palm Beach Opera

L. to R.: Joan and David Genser with Ari Rifkin
Carrie Bradburn/CAPEHART

Opera companies throughout the nation are notorious for struggling with debt, so everyone in the opera world is intrigued by David Genser’s leadership of the Palm Beach Opera, an organization that has consistently operated in the black for the past six years.  

Genser, 82, together with his wife, Joan, proudly proclaims how their interest in cultural arts has been a lifelong passion. After David’s graduation with a bachelor’s degree from McGill University and a master’s degree from New York University when he entered the insurance brokerage sector, he was determined to engage his interest in the arts. Establishing his insurance agency in the Boston region, Genser discovered there was a vast unfilled need. There were a multitude of performing arts centers, entertainment venues, and museums which required focused insurance policies. However, there was hardly anyone around who had knowledge and understanding of the elements to properly insure these organizations, along with their contents and value.

Genser was able to drill down and gain prominence for his expertise for ensuring entities in this niche. Whether it has been works of art, valued collections, galleries, specialized facilities like theaters, public arenas, or large groups and audiences, Genser has thrived on developing effective insurance policies for this specialty. The scope of his Boston company even extends into Canada, Mexico and Europe.

About 22 years ago, David and Joan transitioned to Palm Beach, although they continue to own a home in the Boston area. Their motivation was the community’s robust cultural life including the Palm Beach Opera, the Palm Beach Symphony, the Kravis Center and more. The Gensers have built a large portfolio of contemporary art. Fifteen years ago, they became official Palm Beach residents. From the time they arrived, David became active as a volunteer in the Palm Beach Opera.

“Palm Beach Opera was in the red for many years,” he recalls. “Dennis Williams, the past chairman of the board, began the financial turnaround. I took over in the spring of 2020 as COVID was present. While this posed a challenge, we did not lose a beat. We became innovative by staging major opera events outdoors. We attracted many thousands of people as we brought in some of the world’s best opera stars. 

“It was some period,” he adds. “A number of these artists could not perform and were unemployed. Many other opera companies had shut down. These opera stars were delighted to perform in Palm Beach. It was spectacular.” 

The opera flourished as a result.

“None of our donors left us,” he says. “Here it is 2023 and we are going strong getting rave reviews for our productions. We are considered one of the finest regional opera companies in North America. We have over 1,000 applicants for our program to field young opera talent. We take 15 a year. Many of these young people have gone to sing at the Met and elsewhere. This includes enlisting patrons who are contributing $20,000-$25,000. They are sponsoring the individual artists who are accepted. We are very proud of our accomplishment with this program.”

What is David Genser’s formula? 

“We don’t bring in enough money through ticket sales,” he says. “We raise considerable money from very giving people who live in Palm Beach who appreciate the opera. We know what we need to raise in order to cover our obligations. This is not magic, it is simply hard work. People want to be part of projects which are successful … Our prestigious 25-person board is generous.”

Part of Genser’s appeal is “to make sure our staff puts on the best of the best, which includes our strong subscription base, our great annual gala at The Breakers, and the greatest opera stars.”

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