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Board Meeting Leads To Shake Up In San Diego Opera Leadership

A meeting of the San Diego Opera's board of directors Thursday resulted in a shakeup in the organization's top leadership spots.

Karen Cohn is seen in this undated photo.

Credit: San Diego Opera

Ian Campbell is shown in this undated photo.

Board President Karen Cohn walked out of the meeting along with a group of other members. Another board member told KPBS that Cohn had resigned. Board member Faye Wilson also walked out early, as did opera director Ian Campbell. According to sources who did not wish to be named, just over 30 of the board's 50 members remain active with the group.

Board secretary Carol Lazier was named acting board president. Earlier this month, Lazier donated $1 million to exploring a new way forward for the opera company.

Thursday's meeting was aimed at finding ways to make the 49-year-old opera company more financially sound. Last month, the opera board voted to shut down, citing a decline in ticket sales and lack of donations.

No change was made to the April 29 deadline to close the company at Thursday's meeting.

The board meeting took place so a six-member special committee could pitch some cost-cutting ways to present opera. The committee brought in Opera America consultant Kevin Smith, who led the Minnesota Opera for 30 years and is credited with more than doubling attendance there, to help sway the directors. During a break, Smith told reporters there was a "healthy discussion" of future options.

KPBS later learned from a board member who did not wish to be named that a potential budget for the 2015 season was presented. It slashed costs for producing the season by at least 40 percent.

Former board president Cohn has said it would take $10 million to take the organization through its 2015 season, which would be the company’s 50th anniversary.

Lazier spoke to the press after Thursday's dramatic four-and-a-half hour meeting. When asked if Campbell, the opera's general and artistic director, is still affiliated with the San Diego Opera, she said "at this time."

Lazier also said the group would pursue funding for the reduced 2015 season.

She said the board would meet again on Monday and that a special meeting of the San Diego Opera Association members would be called in the coming days.

KPBS and its media partner inewsource reported this week that the board may not have the final say on closing the company.

Three experts in nonprofit management told KPBS that the board has to consult the 850 members of the San Diego Opera Association before selling off any of its assets. The opera has $15 million in assets that will be used to settle with creditors, including singers with outstanding contracts as well as Campbell and his ex-wife Ann, the opera’s deputy director.

Association members pay $100 a year and attend an annual meeting. They approve board appointees and have veto power over the sale of company assets.

If 5 percent of the association members request a special meeting, the board president must schedule it, according to the opera's bylaws. A letter from two association members calling for such a meeting now has over 50 signatures, beyond the amount needed. The board president has 10 days to schedule the members meeting.

As board members held their meeting at a La Jolla hotel, a group of opera supporters gathered in downtown San Diego to discuss options for the opera company.

The town hall meeting was organized by a “white knight” committee of opera staff, union, and community members. A crowd of 400 people watched a panel discussion led by Nic Reveles, the opera’s director of education and outreach. Panelists included Marc Scorca, president of Opera America and Opera Philadelphia's general director, David Devan.

In mid-March, the opera board voted to close up shop at the end of the 2014 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.

The San Diego Opera has an annual budget of about $17 million.

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