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Plan In The Works To Save San Diego Opera


Carol Lazier, Board Member, San Diego Opera

Jay Merritt, Board Member, San Diego Opera

The season is finished, and in two weeks the San Diego Opera is set to shutdown completely on April 29. That's the date the organization's board of directors set to cease operations.

But at least two board memberswant to postpone and possibly avert the closing of the 49-year-old institution.

Carol Lazier, a board member who donated $1 million to the company earlier this month, is now chairing a committee formed to look for ways to save the opera.

Lazier said her donation has gone to pay for Opera America consultant Kevin Smith, who led the Minnesota Opera for 30 years and is credited with more than doubling attendance. Smith is taking a close look at the San Diego Opera's finances. Details about the findings along with a reorganization plan are set to be announced at Thursday's board meeting.

No specific details about the plan have been released, but board member Jay Merritt said Smith has found areas of significant savings and ways to trim the company's operating budget.

"You can expect significant cuts in expenses, overhead is high, it has to come down. I would expect a full production schedule in 2015, with some changes to make some of the productions less expensive," said Merritt, who is married to Lazier.

He said there are also plans to revitalize the patron and donor base, increase marketing efforts and look for new venues to put on performances.

As for leadership, both Merritt and Lazier agree change is needed.

"We've had a wonderful opera here for many years. Ian Campbell has done a wonderful job. We've had glorious productions here, but I do think we need new leadership because this is a new direction we need to take to keep opera viable in San Diego," Lazier said.

But reorganization efforts could be hampered if the company moves forward with its decision to close and start selling off assets.

“If you start from scratch, it sometimes takes years to get something started,” Lazier said. “If you have assets already in place and no debt, you can always retool to make the opera more more financially feasible.”

Either way, the board may not have the final say on whether the company closes. Experts tell KPBS that California law and the association’s bylaws say the board of directors alone cannot shut down operations.

The San Diego Opera board voted last month to close up shop at the end of this season due to diminishing ticket sales and donor support. Board President Karen Cohn has previously said the company needs $10 million to put on the Opera's 50th anniversary season in 2015.

A town hall is set for Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the Copper Room of the San Diego Civic Concourse to discuss the future of San Diego Opera by looking at alternative models of opera.


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