1 April 2014

San Diego Opera Board Postpones Company Closure by Two Weeks in Effort to Identify Critical Funding

Nearly two weeks after San Diego Opera's board of directors voted 33-1 to cease all of the company's operations and shut its doors following the final performance of its 2013-14 season, the company has now "postponed" its closure by two additional weeks so that its board might identify potential emergency funding from the city of San Diego as well as other donors and philanthropists. 

The announcement of the postponement came following a public outcry over the company's intended closure, as well as a March 28 letter — delivered to company administrators, SDO board president Karen Cohn and the entire SDO board of directors — in which some board members demanded information about the company's finances, personnel, and the employment, retirement and severance packages of the company's executive management, including general and artistic director Ian Campbell and his ex-wife, Ann Campbell, who served as the company's director of strategic planning.

Cohn told the Los Angeles Times that the company's board has now voted to postpone SDO's closure until April 29, in the hopes that it might be able to secure roughly $10 million in funding that would allow it to continue operating on the scale of its past efforts. That amount would roughly be equivalent to a bequest left to the company in 2003 by Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonalds president Ray Kroc. According to the company, that fund is now depleted. 

On March 19, the company announced that it would shutter its doors following its April 13 performance of Massenet's Don Quixote. "After nearly fifty years as a San Diego cultural cornerstone providing world-class performances, we saw we faced an insurmountable financial hurdle going forward," said Campbell in a statement issued by the company. "We had a choice of winding down with dignity and grace, making every effort to fulfill our financial obligations, or inevitably entering bankruptcy, as have several other opera companies. Our board voted today to take the first choice." 

What made the abrupt announcement all the more jarring was the fact that the company had concluded its most recent fiscal year with a surplus and carried no apparent accumulated deficit. Likewise, several news outlets have drawn attention to what some have suggested are disproportionate compensation packages paid to Cambell and his ex-wife, whose combined 2009 salaries were nearly $1 million according to tax filings — an amount equal to roughly six percent of the company's 2013 operating budget of $16.3 million. In addition, only 33 of the 58 members of SDO's board of directors were reportedly in attendance at the meeting wherein a vote was made to close the company. 

An online petition to save the company launched after the March 19 announcement has generated more than 20,000 signatures. 

Subsequent to the company's announcement of its intention to close, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing SDO's choristers and production personnel, filed two unfair labor practice charges, asserting that SDO administrators has "refused to provide the union with information relating to its fiscal condition and the business practices relating to the announced closing" and that it had refused to engage in collective bargaining with the union over the effect of the company's closure on its members. Likewise, the March 28 letter sent by a faction of the company's board demanded detailed information on the company's finances, and questioned the validity of the March 19 decision to close the company based on "insufficient meeting notice or other procedural or substantive defects." 

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Cohn said, "I'm amazed at all this furor. [...] What we really need is for people to buy a ticket. Buy two tickets." She is quoted as telling the Times that the company's Don Quixote has sold only 74% of the available seats. spacer 

More information can be found at the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Reader, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the OPERA NEWS Archives

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