7 April 2014

San Diego Opera Board Member Makes $1 Million Donation to Encourage Voiding of Shutdown Vote

San Diego Opera board member Carol Lazier has made a $1 million pledge to the future of the opera company following an April 1 decision by its board to grant a two-week postponement of its indefinite closure.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lazier said that her donation was meant to "to encourage [the members of the company's board] to rescind the dissolution vote as soon as possible," and that the amount is intended to aid the company in fundamentally reevaluating its mission. A statement issued by Lazier added that San Diego Opera's formula of presenting four mainstage productions was untenable and "clearly unsustainable in our community."

Lazier's donation is just the latest ripple in a series of aftershocks that have followed San Diego Opera's surprising March 19 announcement that the company — in extremis as a result of what it characterized as insurmountable financial hurdles — would cease all operations at the conclusion of its 2014 season on the recommendation of it longtime general and artistic director Ian Campbell. 

On April 1, the company's board voted to defer its closure by two weeks in an effort to secure roughly $10 million in potential emergency funding from the city of San Diego as well as other donors. According to the Los Angeles Times, the company's board tabled a motion at that meeting to officially rescind its closure, and instead opted to enact the two-week postponement. The company's official closure date now stands as April 29. 

"I am gratified and encouraged that the board seriously and constructively revisited a decision that it now recognizes was precipitous and flawed," board member David Kleinfeld told the Times following the vote to postpone the shutdown.

The postponement came after a public outcry that saw more than 20,000 people sign an online petition urging the company's board to reconsider its vote. In addition, the American Guild of Musical Artists — the union representing SDO's choristers and production personnel — filed two unfair labor practice charges in the wake of the announcement of the company's intention to close; and on the March 28, a faction of the company's board sent a letter to the full SDO board and administrators demanding detailed information on the company's finances, and questioning the propriety of the March 19 decision to shutter San Diego Opera based on "insufficient meeting notice or other procedural or substantive defects." It subsequently emerged that only 33 of the 58 members of San Diego Opera's board of directors were present at the meeting wherein a vote was made to close the company. 

What made the March 19 announcement by the 49-year-old company particularly jarring was the fact that the SDO had concluded its most recent fiscal year with a surplus and carried no apparent accumulated deficit. Subsequent to the announcement of SDO's slated folding, Campbell and his ex-wife, Ann Campbell, who served as the company's director of strategic planning, have emerged as focal points of particularly intense criticism, owing to what some have suggested were the disproportionate compensation packages paid to the pair, whose combined 2009 salaries were nearly $1 million according to tax filings. 

According to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times San Diego Opera's financial footing had been precarious for some time. The paper reports that the company's assets dropped from $33 million in 2007 to $15.7 million last year, and that the opera had been annually spending $15 million to present its four-opera season in the 3,000-seat San Diego Civic Theatre. According to audited financial records, the company's box office was generating roughly $5 million each year, and attendance had dropped 15% since 2010. spacer

More information can be found at the Los Angeles Times (here, here and here) and the OPERA NEWS Archives (here and here). 

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