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San Diego Opera Announces Current Season Will Be Its Last

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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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