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San Diego Opera Chief Placed On Leave

Ian Campbell, the longtime general and artistic director of the San Diego Opera, has been placed on indefinite leave effective immediately.

He will continue to receive his full pay and benefits. In 2011, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, Campbell was paid an annual salary of $508,021.

Campbell’s ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell, the opera’s deputy general director and chief fundraiser, has also been asked to step away from the company, according to a statement released Friday. She too will be paid during that time. Her salary in 2011 was $282,345.

“We have an amazing opera to fight for because of what Ian Campbell built," said Carol Lazier, the acting board president. “But we need new leadership because we have a different vision now.”

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San Diego Opera Statement: Ian Campbell And Ann Spira Campbell Placed on Leave

San Diego Opera Statement: Ian Campbell And Ann Spira Campbell Placed on Leave

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The focus, she says, is on reshaping the opera in a fiscally responsible way.

Keith Fisher, San Diego Opera’s former executive director, will serve as the chief operating officer going forward.

The statement also outlines a new fundraising push for the 2015 season that includes crowdsourcing funds, and details regarding a special meeting on Monday of the opera’s 850 association members.

Campbell has been under fire since he guided the opera’s board of directors to vote 33-1 to close the company at the end of the 2014 season. Campbell told KPBS shortly after the closure vote that the opera’s financial future was bleak and he and the board agreed it would be best to close now and avoid bankruptcy. “This course of action will allow the opera to go out with dignity,” he said.

But that dignified end has eluded the chief in the weeks since, as the public and some board members tried to make sense of a decision that seemed to come out of nowhere. Campbell was booed during a pre-performance talk at the opening night of “Don Quixote,” the company’s last production of the season.

Campbell, 68, has led the company for 31 years.

In the weeks following the surprise vote, an effort to save the company took root among board members. At subsequent meetings, the closure date was postponed twice - it’s now May 19th - and more than half of the 58 board members resigned, leaving 27.

Lazier, the new board president after Karen Cohn resigned in a huff during the April 17 board meeting, has led the effort to forge ahead, pledging $1 million to the cause.

Putting the Campbells on leave allows the opera board time to negotiate the terms of the Campbells’ departure from the company.

Their employment contracts, deemed generous by an Internal Revenue Service expert, will be important factors in negotiations.

“We want to come to an agreement that is fair to the community and company and honorable to Ian and Ann,” Lazier said.

Fundraising is also a priority for the newly configured board.

That includes a $1 million crowdsource funding campaign. The public is being asked to donate in small or large sums towards a 2015 season, which would be the company’s 50th. The funds will be placed in an escrow account so they can only be used towards the anniversary season.

If the 2015 season is not announced, or the $1 million goal not met by May 19, donations will return to the donor. "The new San Diego Opera will not only depend on large gifts, but the community’s engagement and support," said Lazier in the written statement.

Meanwhile, the board will work to raise additional monies for 2015, but is no longer aiming for $10 million, the figure proposed by Karen Cohn after a five-hour board meeting on March 25. An opera spokesperson would only confirm that the amount needed was “significantly less.”

The opera board meets again Monday with a full agenda. A final plan for the 2015 season has not yet been approved by the board. Opera America, a national umbrella organization, has advised the directors on what a cost-effective season might look like.

Reports after the April 17 board meeting had the budget for 2015 slashed by at least 40 percent. Cost-saving measures may involve performing operas in locations other than the Civic Theatre, where rentals can run as high as $129,000 per production, according to license agreements from 2011.

"We know we can't do four fully staged operas," said Lazier. "We may only do one and a mix of chamber operas. It's all under discussion right now."

The plan, says Lazier, is to use the 2015 season line-up curated by Ian Campbell, but change the way the operas are presented. That line-up includes “La Boheme,” “Don Giovanni,” “Nixon in China,” “Tannhauser,” and a mariachi opera. Contracts with singers are already in place for those operas, totaling $992,000 according to financial statements available on the opera’s website.

Eventually, the board will need to vote on producing the 2015 season and rescind the vote to close on May 19.

Before the board meeting on Monday, Lazier will chair a special meeting of the association members, who will weigh in on the company’s future, including the possible sale or preservation of the company assets. As KPBS reported on April 16, the association members, who give $100 annually to be a part of the company, have certain rights according to the opera’s by-laws, including nominating directors and approving the sale of company assets. The opera has $15 million in assets, including a scene-building shop on Commercial Avenue in San Diego.

Both meetings are closed to the public.

This story was edited by Lorie Hearn, executive director and editor of inewsource, a KPBS media partner.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 25, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Yeah,it was really silly for those who compared the impending Ken Cinema closing to the bureaucratic SD Opera.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 25, 2014 at 1:29 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

My ongoing kudos to Carol lazier!!

She has really done a fantastic job of trying to turn around something that everyone had chalked-up to inevitable.

Whether or not the Opera ultimately stays or goes, she should be commended for taking the horse by the reigns and really making a noble, tangible effort to save a long-standing cultural institution.

I hope that, whatever the outcome is with the Opera, that she continues to be a leader of the arts in San Diego.

It's rare to find a person who actually takes ACTION instead of just flapping their gums.

My compliments !!

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Avatar for user 'jbpolhamus'

jbpolhamus | April 25, 2014 at 3:04 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

“We have an amazing opera to fight for because of what Ian Campbell built,"

Yes, we have an amazing opera to fight for, but it wasn't Ian Campbell that built it. In fact, what we are losing is exactly the same structure we had when he took over thirty years ago. There has been NO growth, a decrease in educational outreach, NO imaginative variation in programming, and little real connection with the community. It's still a four opera season, with voices of lesser quality than his predecessor was able to bring to the table. The only thing that Ian Campbell has built in San Diego is his bank account balance. It's time for San Diego Opera to stop treading water, and start swimming. We've done it before, reaching an eight opera season - I would know, since I sang in all eight of them, including Ferrucio Furlanetto's debut in "Oberto," and Joan Sutherland singing "I Masnadieri." Every performance was a sell-out. In order to get your big-boy opera-pants on now, we've got to use all of our San Diego theatres and venues to present operas of all different sizes and genres, and we need to better utilize our stock of San Diego singers. After so many years of importing opera, we need to build from within. Our singing community has grown up - some of us have grown old while growing up here. It's time to put it to work for San Diego audiences.

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Avatar for user 'Moddemmom'

Moddemmom | April 26, 2014 at 8:29 a.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Campbell drove the opera into the ground while collecting over $500,000 a year. His ex-wife collected almost $300,000 in her job as fundraiser and obviously didn't raise enough funds to keep the opera open. Lovely that their contracts allow them to keep getting paid even though they burned through the money Joan Kroc left the opera and shut down the opera without notice. What, did the financial status of the opera come as a surprise?

Why do the people most responsible for this type of fiasco always end up without a loss?

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Avatar for user 'muse2488'

muse2488 | April 27, 2014 at 8:05 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

When will the two Campbells stop being paid?

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