BWW Exclusive: San Diego Opera Rejoices in a New Vision
San Diego Opera announced today that the March 19 decision to close the company had been rescinded, and that the company would continue operations for the upcoming 2015 season. In a press conference this morning, Opera Board president Carol Lazier touted the news to an eagerly expectant crowd of SDO staff members, chorus personnel, association members, press corps and well-wishers.
A surge of applause accompanied Lazier as she strode to the podium at 10 a.m. She began by thanking the San Diego firefighters first responders for their remarkable job in fighting the recent firestorms in the area. Then she launched into her announcement.
"I'm here to tell you that after careful review of analysis and revenues and expenses... and the outpouring of financial emotional support from the public, San Diego Opera Board of Directors voted unanimously to rescind the decision to close the company that was made two months ago."
The Company has also announced that the ongoing crowd funding effort has resulted in a total of $2,116,376 in donations from 2,461 donors, 48% of whom were first time donors, with a median gift of $100. Foreign donations came from six countries: Austria, Australia, Canada, England, Italy and Mexico, and thirty-six states. She then announced SDO's 2015 50th company season starting in January: La Bohème, Don Giovanni, Nixon in China, all at the Civic Theatre; finishing with a 50th anniversary Gala Concert at the Copley Symphony Hall, with the space donated by the San Diego Symphony.
In the four weeks since its groundbreaking Town Hall meeting on April 17 (/bwwopera/article/BWW-Reports-San-Diego-Opera-Continues-Its-Battle-for-Survival-20140422), San Diego Opera has turned several corners and several pages. The grit and determination of the company's staff, its most intrepid board members, and the city's rabid opera lovers, have sparked a potential resurrection of an organization that, as of the earth-shattering March 19 announcement of its imminent closing, was perceived as doomed.
The above-mentioned meeting lit a fire under its hundreds of attendees, and also thousands of San Diego operagoers and aficionados, who have rallied around the cause of saving the company and reinventing it in more realistic, contemporary terms. Change was needed and due. Results of the meeting and its "Move Forward" theme were well publicized (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rmg027mQNs).
The story of San Diego Opera literally has been ripped from the headlines. Word of the company's plight, and eventually its hope for resurgence, resounded throughout local and national news and social media. Postings on Facebook and Twitter, providing links to local and national news media reports touting the latest SDO happenings, have appeared almost daily. The company's immense progress in its journey to affect a new, improved "opera company for the people" has been carefully chronicled.
At the Town Hall meeting, Opera America president Mark Scorca and Opera Philadelphia chief David Devan inspired SDO minions with testimony about the innovations that other smaller US opera companies have incorporated in order to ensure their survival. At a board meeting on the same day, president Karen Cohn resigned, along with numerous other board members, helping motivate the much criticized, beleaguered board to push the April 29 closing deadline to May 19. Soon afterward, local philanthropist and opera aficionado Carol Lazier, who is well known in the nonprofit world as a dedicated advocate for local arts organizations, pledged $1 million toward the company's rebuilding, fueling fervent hopes of revival among the company and its fans.
Changes then came swiftly and precipitously. Lazier was named acting board president. SDO launched an online crowd-funding campaign to raise another $1 million to help fund the 2015 season. On April 25, the company placed General Director Ian Campbell and his ex-wife Ann Spira Campbell, whose generous salaries had become a source of great controversy, on paid administrative leave. Speculation abounded that the move spelled the end of the company's "Campbell era." Lazier acknowledged Campbell's valuable contribution to the company during his 31-year tenure, but she emphasized the need for new leadership and a different vision of a "fiscally responsible" nature, guided by advice from Opera America. Executive Director Keith Fisher was named Chief Operating Officer. By April 28, thirty percent of the crowd-funding goal had been reached. Lazier expressed her encouragement at the public support for a "new San Diego Opera."
It was then revealed that according to California law and the bylaws of the 800-plus-member SDO association, the board of directors could not act alone to shut down the company's operations. In addition, association members had not been notified immediately of the board's decision to close, and also were not convened to vote on whether the board could sell the company's assets, as Campbell has proposed. Two association members secured the signatures of a requisite 5 percent of the overall membership to convene a special meeting, where it was decided that the Opera's assets would not be sold, and that all reasonable alternatives to preserve the company would be explored.