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Arts & Culture

San Diego Opera Association Votes Not To Sell Company's Assets

Greg Fedderly as Bob Boles (centre) with the San Diego Opera chorus in 'Peter Grimes'. Photo © 2009 Ken Howard
Greg Fedderly as Bob Boles (centre) with the San Diego Opera chorus in 'Peter Grimes'. Photo © 2009 Ken Howard

San Diego Opera Association Votes Not To Sell Company's Assets
The association also recommended the opera's board of directors go forward with removing the company's top two leaders and rescind a vote to close the opera.

The San Diego Opera Association met Monday morning and voted to not sell the company's assets. The group also recommended the opera's board of directors rescind its vote to close the company that just concluded its 49th season.

The association, a group of some 850 members, has authority over the opera's assets, but it also can advise and make recommendations to the governing board.


In its advisory capacity, the association recommended the board remove the opera's longtime artistic and general director Ian Campbell and his ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell, the opera’s deputy general director and chief fundraiser.

The opera's board placed the Campbells on paid leave on Friday. In 2011, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, Ian Campbell was paid an annual salary of $508,021, and Ann Campbell was paid $282,345.

About 160 of the association's members attended Monday's private meeting at San Diego City Hall. The votes to not sell the opera's assets and to urge rescinding the closure vote were nearly unanimous, with only one person opposing both items, according to those who attended.

The vote to recommend removing the Campbells was 97 in favor, 37 opposed and 21 abstaining.

Len Simon, a San Diego attorney and 20-year member of the opera association, said this is the message the group delivered to the board: "That we want the opera to continue, that we’re flexible to exactly how the opera continues, that we’re uncomfortable having the Campbells involved any further, and that we’re hopeful they can be disengaged from the opera consistent with law, consistent with contracts as rapidly as possible and a new leadership can go forward."


After the association met Monday morning, the opera's board of directors held its own private meeting to discuss the future of the company. No major announcements were made when the meeting ended.

Financial problems led the opera's board last month to decide to shut its doors for good, but employees and fans oppose the closure. The company's initial target to cease operations on April 14 was later reset to May 19.

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On Friday, opera officials announced that an escrow account had been established to accept donations to fund what would be the company's 50th season. As of Monday, about $277,000 of the $1 million goal had been raised, an opera staff member said.

"The public's support for the San Diego Opera's future has been overwhelming,'' acting board President Carol Lazier said before Monday's meetings. "People could not accept their beloved opera was disappearing and took to the streets in protest. We heard you.''

Opera officials said that if the goal was not met by the proposed closing date or the opera ended up closing anyway, the donations would be returned.

"We are now very focused on reshaping the San Diego Opera and following a fiscally responsible path,'' Lazier said.

The opera has also made a series of recent personnel changes led by former President Karen Cohn's resignation during a contentious meeting two weeks ago.

Keith Fisher, executive director for the past 12 years, also was named chief operating officer and was tasked with managing staff and resources after the Campbells were placed on leave Friday.

Lazier, who took over for Cohn, said she had "the utmost faith in his ability to handle the current needs of the company with urgency, clarity and discretion.''

Nearly 50 staffers and about 350 local musicians, singers and other tradespeople depend on the opera season's five months of work, Director of Education Nicolas Reveles said. The company also has an about $7 million impact on the local economy, he said.

The patron and donor base for operas are lessening nationwide. Companies in New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Baltimore, San Antonio and Orange County have recently gone out of business, according to the San Diego opera.