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San Diego Opera Announces Current Season Will Be Its Last

Evening Edition

Aired 3/20/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Ian Campbell, Artistic Director, General Manager and CEO of the San Diego Opera


Aired 3/19/14 on KPBS News.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with San Diego Opera's artistic director Ian Campbell about the board's decision to close the company.


After nearly a half century on stage, San Diego Opera is taking its final bow on April 13 with "Don Quixote." Thursday night's Verdi's "Requiem" will be performed as planned.

San Diego Opera's artistic director Ian Campbell wants to be clear that the organization will cease operations after its current season ends. The company has an annual budget of $15 million.

"I think it’s important to know that the board has been looking at this issue for more than three years," Campbell said, "This is not a last-minute crisis. What we had to decide is do we sell the next season knowing that we might not be able to get through it."

A well-managed opera needs to have funding for three seasons at any time, with the company investing in artists several years in advance, he said.

"The opera has no debt, no deficit, no line of credit," Campbell told KPBS. The organization did not want to go into bankruptcy, and this course of action will allow the opera "to go out with dignity," he said.

Staging operas is labor intensive, Campbell said.

"We have many more people than any other theater company ever needs, any ballet company ever needs, any symphony," he said. "Seventy-four percent of the budget is people, that’s where the body is buried. It’s not buried in any other item, it's not buried in the theater rent. It’s people, people, people."

It took 288 people to bring "A Masked Ball" to life earlier this month, and even with rave reviews 25% of seats went unsold. And that hurts when opera already relies on outside contributions to survive.

"The company earns 39% of its budget at the box office," Campbell said, "The rest has to be contributed. And that 39% is the American average. 'Opera America' publishes statistics once a year, and our average is consistent with the rest of the country. Our weakness, if you can call it that, is on the revenue side. Sales have been dropping and contributions have been dropping."

Campbell said that surprisingly things like The Met Opera Live (where operas from the New York Metropolitan Opera are telecast in theaters) have not hurt their sales but rather have offered their patrons more opportunities to see opera. But he did say that there appears to be a cultural shift that is hurting the classical arts such as opera and symphonies.

Fans, supporters and donors of the classical arts also are an aging population, and new, younger patrons are not stepping up, Campbell said, which was a concern.

According to U-T San Diego, which first reported the opera is ceasing operations, the opera's board of directors voted 33-1 to fold Wednesday afternoon.

The opera operates under the umbrella of the San Diego Opera Association, which will not go away, Campbell said. If there were money to create another opera company, that could happen under the auspices of the association, he said.

Campbell has had a 47-year career in opera, with 30 of those years in San Diego. He said his concern right now is for the opera's staff members, who will have jobs through the end of the season.

San Diego Opera's next show, "Requiem," is sold out, according to the opera's website. The final show of the season, "Don Quixote," begins April 5 and closes the Opera's final season on April 13. Campbell said plenty of tickets available for that show.

It's an oddly fitting show for the company to close with since its hero is famous for tilting at windmills and reaching for the impossible dream.

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Avatar for user 'smarberry'

smarberry | March 20, 2014 at 12:37 p.m. ― 3 years ago

As a former subscriber and donor (though not at the levels needed) I want to say a few things: I truly love opera, and loved going to hear live opera, and SD Opera was wonderful for many years. A few factors in the falling revenues that weren't mentioned: 1) the availability of the Met and other companies in HD for only about $20
2) the fact that some operas in the season were repeated after just a few years when so many more great ones might have brought more people. I stopped subscribing because I didn't want to see Pearl Fishers again so soon, or Samson & Delilah, or this year's Don Quixote. Nor did I want to see Pagliacci - just about 75 minutes of music - on its own.
I got really excited about next season when I saw it advertised in the Masked Ball program and was about to subscribe again - and would have given my (not-large-enough) donation. So sad!

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 20, 2014 at 4:01 p.m. ― 3 years ago

I listened to the interview on the noon-time program, and I am a bit disappointed here.

To me it seems like this is only partially about money, and partially about an artistic director who is just too tired to fight.

I respect Mr. Campbell's glorious career, but it was clear from listening to this that he is too tired and too old to fight to keep this important institution alive.

He made reference to a young person with a lot of energy to ride in on the white horse and save the organization through new energy and new fervor in fund raising.

My point: If Mr. Campbell was losing his zest for robustness, why was a successor not already named and in training?

I just don't agree that rolling over dead suddenly is "graceful".

There isn't anything graceful about it.

In fact, I think there is more grace in the passion of declaring bankruptcy and being passionate about your art and moving ahead no matter what the challenges are, economically or otherwise.

To me this reflects extremely poor planning in finding new, young blood to succeed the tired old ones (who are brilliant by the way, I mean no offense by this, we all get old and tired at some point) to bring this institution into form for the next many decades.

What I heard in this interview was a lack of passion, a giving-up, tiredness, and THAT is far more disappointing than the money the institution lost.

Instead of telling people the end is coming a scant month or two before the last performance, they should have committed to one last year and give people who might be able to rescue it time to materialize.

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Avatar for user 'latincomposer'

latincomposer | March 20, 2014 at 4:52 p.m. ― 3 years ago

SDO is a great company and highly respect the work of Mr. Campbell. What is needed is to develop and present works that reflect the cultural diaspora of this country. Further, to take opera into venues and sites where new audiences live and breathe. As a Mexican American composer and artistic director of Opera Cultura ( it is our mission to develop work that speaks to the Latino community. It's in the best interest of all opera companies and the art form to think outside the box. Hector Armienta - Artistic Director of Opera Cultura

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Avatar for user 'rnnernsd'

rnnernsd | March 23, 2014 at 3:11 p.m. ― 3 years ago

I had season tickets for 9 years but did not subscribe this year. Why? Some performances were superb - others were mediocre. The ticket price did not justify inconsistent performances season after season.

Yes, many of the problems may have been decreasing subscribers and donors but I think that Mr. Campbell has to take a large part of the responsibility. While he (and his wife) enjoyed large salaries (did he also get a golden parachute?) I believe that he did not take the opera company into the 21st century. Perhaps as others have complained - he just got tired and lost his spark?

I would like to see that before the book is closed on the San Diego Opera that someone (?KPBS, U-T) consider doing an in-depth look at the opera's finances and how the money from subscribers and donors was spent.

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