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San Diego Opera Board Still Making Plans To Close

Above: San Diego Opera kicks off its 2014 season with "Pagliacci."

The San Diego Opera board decided Friday to move forward with plans to fold after its 49th season concludes this month, but some of its members will continue exploring other options for the opera organization.

Aired 4/17/14 on KPBS News.

Members of the San Diego Opera board decided Friday to stick to a plan to end operations on April 29, but some will serve on a committee to possibly take the company in a new direction.


Open Letter To San Diego Opera Board Of Directors

Open Letter To San Diego Opera Board Of Directors

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Opera fans and some board members had hoped that a last-ditch effort to stave off the the company's pending shutdown could be achieved, but that was not the word that emerged after the three-hour meeting Friday afternoon in La Jolla.

Board member Pam Slater-Price, a former county supervisor and arts supporter, said after the meeting that the San Diego Opera would proceed with closure plans, although a committee was created to explore ways to fundraise or possibly take the nonprofit organization in a new direction.

That committee, headed by board member Carol Lazier, will present its ideas to the board when it meets again Thursday.

Slater-Price said most people were calm at the meeting and that many of the board members do want to see the organization continue, but it needs money.

"We've had more publicity in the last two or three weeks than probably (the opera) had in the prior 25 years, yet even though 20,000 signatures came in, we didn't see dollars," she said referring to a petition to save the opera.

In mid-March, the board voted to close up shop at the end of this season. The opera was expected to cease operations a few days after the April 13 closing night of “Don Quixote.” But after a marathon five-hour meeting late last month, the company got a two-week reprieve. The board of directors approved delaying the closure until April 29.

Friday’s meeting included a special presentation by a small group of board members on possible ways to move the opera forward. Lazier, who this month pledged $1 million toward keeping the opera going, was among that group.

She also flew to Dallas last weekend to discuss ways to reinvent the company.

Board President Karen Cohn previously said it would take $10 million to take the organization through its 2015 season, which would have been the company’s 50th anniversary.

Before the meeting began about 2 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla, four members of the National Opera Center America sent a letter to the board encouraging it to find a way to keep San Diego Opera going.

“For nearly 50 years, San Diego Opera has worked to establish itself as one of America’s finest opera companies,” the letter said. “It simply cannot ‘throw in the towel’ and go down without a determined effort to preserve the institution for the next generation of opera audiences in your great city.”

The New York-based group, which promotes and supports opera throughout the country, said it would assist the San Diego Opera with advice best practices on governance and financial management, fundraising plans and programming options for the 2014-15 season.

The San Diego Opera has an annual budget of about $17 million and employs around 400 people.

Throughout the opera drama, controversy has surrounded the San Diego Opera’s leadership, specifically General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell and his ex-wife, Ann Campbell, the company's deputy director.

A former official with the Internal Revenue Service told KPBS the "very generous compensation packages" given to the Campbells could raise questions with legal authorities.

The opera's tax filings for 2011-12 showed Ian Campbell made an annual salary of $508,021 and that his ex-wife made $282,345.

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Avatar for user 'Operatenor'

Operatenor | April 11, 2014 at 8:07 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

The White Knight Committee's goal in circulating the petition to which Ms. Slater-Price refers was NOT to raise money. For that matter, any fundraising effort developed or endorsed by the WKC will have stipulations in line with Ms. Lazier's bold and generous pledge.
What I can't understand is how seemingly reasonable, intelligent people can be so oblivious and obtuse. There must be a lot of arrogance in the air at that lofty altitude...

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Avatar for user 'JAW'

JAW | April 11, 2014 at 8:32 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Why would anyone give money to the current board and administration? If they are not interested in moving forward with restructuring San Diego Opera, then please resign immediately. Repeating the same talking points over and over again makes you look out of touch and foolish. The board should be serving the community, not the Campbells. What will it take for the board and the Campbells to find the "dignity" to leave San Diego Opera, they are no longer needed or wanted. The petition is solid evidence that SDO has sufficient supporters both locally and nationally to fund the opera. I repeat no one wants to give money to SDO with the Campbells and the current board leadership still around. I have one question for all those standing in the way of moving forward with SDO, have you no conscience or ethics? You actions unfortunately reveal you have neither.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | April 12, 2014 at 7:48 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

get a manager that will run it like a real business at a profit, not some buffoon snobs that use it as their private play thing.

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Avatar for user 'WKC'

WKC | April 12, 2014 at 7:59 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

You think people are going to donate to a company that is closing???? Give people a REASON to donate. Like a sustainable model for the future with some leadership that won't continue in the same direction that has proven not to work for 5 years. We have been telling people NOT to donate until the above is accomplished. Would you give your money to the company right now as it is? I can't imagine that you would.

The reason you have had so much publicity is that all of your employees are FIGHTING TO KEEP THE COMPANY ALIVE! We would love nothing more than for you and the other board members to join in that fight. Your board president says she wants to "Save opera in San Diego". How about starting with the company we ALREADY HAVE? How about telling your employees and your donors 5 years ago when you "SAW THIS COMING" so that they can help? A large part of the publicity you are seeing is coming from your employees. See what they can do? That could have been utilized 5 years ago IF THEY HAD KNOWN. Several donors have stepped forward and said they would have donated more HAD THEY BEEN ASKED.

Speaking of saving the opera. Explain to me why these choices have been made?
1) Removing any mention of saving the opera from the San Diego Opera website.
2) Ian not making a single mention about any efforts to try to save San Diego Opera.
3) Not a single mention in the program about trying to save the company. Over 10,000 potential donors have walked through the civic doors in the past week. What have you done to try to mobilize and utilize these potential donors?
4) Preventing all employees from using the opera database to talk about saving the San Diego Opera.

Yet, despite the above, you want to put the blame on people not donating?

All of those signatures show people want the company to succeed but what you and others seem to be missing is that we DON'T WANT TO CONTINUE WITH THE PAST BROKEN MODEL THAT LEAD US TO THIS POSITION, and the SAME LEADERS WHO STAYED ON THE PATH DESPITE SEEING IT COMING FOR 5 YEARS. If you see something bad coming, warn people and make changes!

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Avatar for user 'CynthiaP'

CynthiaP | April 13, 2014 at 12:20 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

The IRS and California Attorney General should be looking into the books as soon as possible. An injunction should be sought to freeze the assets until an investigation can be completed. The board of directors did not practice good oversight and has permitted Ian Campbell to loot the opera. Neither of the Campbell’s should benefit further until the books have been found to be in full compliance with non-profit rules. Perhaps if the Campbell’s realize they can’t do a midnight move-out and haul more cash out of SDO’s treasury, they will reconsider the path to keeping the opera viable.

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