15 May 2014

San Diego Opera Formally Parts Ways With General & Artistic Director Ian Campbell, Deputy General Director Ann Spira Campbell

San Diego Opera, fighting for its life and the chance to virtually reinvent itself after a March 19 announcement that it would cease all operations, announced today that it has formally parted ways with both its longtime general and artistic director Ian D. Campbell and his ex-wife, deputy general director Ann Spira Campbell. 

"The Opera acknowledges and thanks Ian and Ann for their dedication and contributions to the Opera over the past many years," said a formal statement issued today by the company. "At the same time, the Opera also acknowledges that current differences with them need to be resolved. Ian Campbell, Ann Spira Campbell and the Opera have agreed to try and resolve their differences in an amicable manner and no further comments will be made at this time." 

It was reportedly on the recommendation of Ian Campbell, who served as San Diego Opera's general and artistic director since 1983, that the company's board of directors announced in March its intention to cease all operations immediately following what appears to have been a hastily called meeting. That event, in which only 33 of the 58 members of the SDO board were in attendance and voted to shutter the company, set off a firestorm of public criticism leveraged at both the board of directors and the Campbells.

At the time of the announcement of its intention to close the company, San Diego Opera's board cited what it characterized as "insurmountable financial hurdles." While SDO's financial assets reportedly dropped from $33 million in 2007 to $15.7 million last year (its 2014 operating budget reportedly amounted to roughly $17 million), San Diego Opera was unique among American opera companies in that it apparently carried no accumulated deficit. Likewise, many have argued that the Campbells — whose combined 2009 salaries amounted to nearly $1 million, according to tax filings — were compensated to a degree that was significantly disproportionate to the size and means of the company. Questions about excessive pay and retirement benefits promised to the Campbells — benefits that would have ostensibly been lost had the company entered into bankruptcy instead of shutting down — were further stoked when a group of board members demanded the release of information about the company's finances, personnel, and the employment, retirement and severance packages of the SDO's executive management.

After twice deferring a drop-dead shutdown date for the company, and electing a new board president, Carol Lazier — who pledged $1 million to shore up the company finances — the company announced on April 25 that it had placed both Ian and Ann Spira Campbell on administrative leave from the company. The company also announced that it had set up an escrow account to solicit funds and donations that would allow it to present a fiftieth anniversary season in 2015. Established with the approval of San Diego Opera's board, that escrow account would only release donations and funds to the company if a $1 million fundraising goal was met by March 19.

On May 14, San Diego Opera announced that, with a $100,000 donation from the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and $400,000 raised through public crowdfunding efforts, the company had met a challenge-gift benchmark that resulted in the release of an additional $500,000, and brought the company's fundraising efforts to more than $2 million. 

San Diego Opera's board still needs to vote on a motion that would allow the company to move forward in producing a 2015 season, in addition to voting to formally rescind the March 19 decision close the company.

An emergency meeting of the company's board of directors was originally scheduled for Friday, May 16, with an announcement about the future of the company to follow, but that press conference was postponed after a state of emergency was declared in San Diego due to uncontained wildfires. spacer

More information can be found at the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune,KPBS and the OPERA NEWS Archives (here, herehere and here), the Los Angeles Times (here, here and here), the New York Times and San Diego Opera.

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