Board and Staff


Pensacola Opera is a non-profit, professional company serving Northwest Florida through
mainstage opera performances and a variety of innovative education and community
outreach programs.

Officers and Executive Committee

Brian Baumgardner


Donovan Chau

Vice Chair

Dr. Elise Gordon


Malcolm Ballinger


Ruth Orth


Diane Appleyard


Bobby Dunn


Ralph Peterson

Immediate Past Chair

Trustees Emeriti

Don H. Partington

Jan R. Miller


Lois Benson
Allan Benton
John Brannan
Megan Burke
Karen Burke
Tracy Clark
Dr. Juliet DeCampos
Kim Gibbons

Nan Harper
Karen Huang
Lyndi Kessler
Philomena Madden
Jane Merrill
Lisa Minshew
Clair Montgomery

Marte Picker
David Richbourg
Michael Riesberg
Justine Simoni
Carol Stoot
Lynne Tobin
Dr. Louie Watkins
Trisha Woodburn


Chandra McKern General Director

Chandra McKern joined Pensacola Opera in 2015 as the Managing Director, was named Executive Director in 2018, and was recently appointed to General Director in 2022. Of note, Chandra has secured two NEA Grants, and IMPACT 100 Grant, a Sunday’s Child Grant, and now will take the lead on the 40th Anniversary Campaign. Previously, Chandra served as the Director of Education and Outreach at Nashville Opera since 2012 where she was responsible for all aspects of the Education and Outreach Programs including the Mary Ragland Young Artist Program. Prior to Nashville Opera, Chandra was the Education Director at Pensacola Opera from 2010-2012 and spent four years working for Goldman Sachs and two years at Rockefeller University in New York. Before transitioning to arts administration, Chandra had an extensive performing career working with opera companies including Tulsa Opera, Opera Birmingham, Nevada Opera, Chicago Opera Theater and Central City Opera. Chandra holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Music from Indiana University. Chandra is a member of the Leadership Pensacola Class of 2017 and was a member of the 2016 OPERA America’s Leadership Intensive Training Program.

Corey McKern Artistic Director

Corey joins the Pensacola Opera staff as Artistic Director as the company welcomes their 40th Anniversary Season.

Cody Martin Music Director

Cody Martin was recently named Music Director at Pensacola Opera, where he has been the Director of Education and Director of the Artists in Residence Program since 2017.  During the 2022-23 season, he leads the company’s first ever production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, as well as sharing the podium for Forty Forward, a 40th anniversary gala concert. Recent seasons have seen Cody leading productions of Die ZauberflöteDon GiovanniAs OneFlorencia en el AmazonasMan of La Mancha and María de Buenos Aires in Pensacola, as well as making his debut with Fargo-Moorhead Opera conducting Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers. He was on the music staff of Des Moines Metro Opera for three seasons, most recently serving as associate conductor for Rusalka. He previously worked on productions of A Little Night MusicOrphée et Eurydice, and Falstaff in Des Moines. He was on the music staff at Arizona Opera for two seasons, working most recently on productions of RusalkaMadama ButterflyRiders of the Purple Sage (world premiere), and La Cenerentola.  Prior to that, he served on the music staff of the Janiec Opera Company at Brevard Music Center for three seasons, working as an assistant conductor and coach for productions of The Ballad of Baby Doe, Così fan tutte, Rigoletto, Sweeney Todd, Don Giovanni, and Albert Herring.

An avid proponent of new opera, Cody has worked on multiple premieres, including Arizona Opera’s first world premiere, Craig Bohmler’s Riders of the Purple Sage, with a libretto by Steven Mark Kohn; two workshops of The Copper Queen by Clint Borzoni, with a libretto by John de los Santos; a 2014 workshop of Robert Aldridge’s Sister Carrie, and the world premiere of Michael Ching’s Speed Dating Tonight! at Brevard Music Center.

Cody holds degrees from Murray State University and Florida State University.

Jennifer Knisbell Director of Development

Jennifer Knisbell returned to Pensacola Opera in February 2021 as the Development Director after a six year stint in Los Angeles, California. In LA, Jennifer served as the Manager of Special Events and Philanthropy for ICM Partners, one of the “Big Four” in the world of talent agencies. There she also held the role of Director of the ICM Community Partners Foundation. Prior to her career in Los Angeles, Jennifer spent five years at Pensacola Opera holding many titles throughout that time – Administrative Assistant, Patron Services Manager and most recently Manager of Special Events. Jennifer was born and raised in Pensacola and graduated from the University of Central Florida. She is a proud graduate of the Leadership Pensacola Class of 2011.

Alex Hilkey Director of Marketing & Communications

Alex joined the Pensacola Opera staff in February 2022, making the move from Western Kentucky where she grew up. Originally studying Music Education in college as a French horn student, she switched her education to focus on Public Relations and Advertising. She received her Master of Science degree from Murray State University in Mass Communication and her Bachelor of Science in Public Relations, with Advertising and Music minors. Since graduating in 2016, Alex has expanded her public relations foundation and strives to be a well-rounded marketing professional, while being a true creative at heart with graphic design and photography at the forefront of her skillset. She has worked in marketing in several fields including publication, agriculture, tech, healthcare, and most recently made her way back into the arts as the Marketing Director of Market House Theatre in Paducah, KY for over four years where she found her niche in nonprofit arts marketing. Alex was glad to head further south to the white sand beaches of Pensacola and is excited to bring her love of the arts and creative marketing & communications expertise to this organization and community.

Bethany Elswick Patron Services & Office Manager

Bethany joined the Pensacola Opera Staff in September 2022, after graduating from Regent University where she received her Master of Arts degree in Communication, with a concentration in Media and Arts Marketing and Management. She came to Pensacola in 2014 from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to attend Pensacola Christian College where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Bachelor of Arts in Performance Studies in 2019. While pursuing her undergraduate degrees, Bethany realized she had a greater passion for arts administration than performance. Bethany loves to stay involved with local theatre and has most recently acted as Production Assistant for PenArts 2022 production of The Revolutionists. Bethany is thrilled to begin her arts administration career with such a prestigious organization.

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