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Ex-San Diego Opera Chief Didn't Stand To Gain Financially If Company Closed

The employment agreement between the San Diego Opera and Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director, has been under scrutiny for two months.

Caveat To San Diego Opera's Controversial Contract With Ian Campbell
UPDATE: KPBS has now obtained a signed copy of an amendment to Ian Campbell's employment contract with the San Diego Opera. At the time this radio story broadcast, KPBS only had an unsigned copy.

KPBS Staff
An amendment to Ian Campbell's employment contract with the San Diego Opera suggests he didn't stand to gain financially from the company's closure.

One man is getting most of the blame for trying to shut down the San Diego Opera, but that may not be warranted — at least with regard to the claim that he did it for financial gain.

Ian Campbell, the opera's former general and artistic director, led the opera for 31 years. He also guided the board of directors to vote in March to close the company, saying it was no longer financially sustainable. That decision has since been reversed, with the makeup of the board changing.

Since the vote to close, Campbell’s salary and compensation package has been a flashpoint. It's also been seen as a major liability for the company.

An amendment to Campbell’s contract — not brought to the public’s attention until KPBS obtained a copy of it Wednesday — suggests he would not have received a large lump sum if the company had shut down and paid off its creditors, the path proposed by Campbell and some board members.


Campbell’s original 2006 employment agreement said he would receive his annual salary through 2017, even if the opera shut down.

KPBS obtained a signed copy of an amendment to that employment agreement, dated June 26, 2010, stating that after 2013 the board could terminate Campbell’s contract with 30 days' notice. It also would only have to pay him a salary through the end of the calendar year, in this case it would have been 2014.

Former opera board president Karen Cohn acknowledged there was a contract amendment.

“The [contract] has a glitch,” said Cohn, who resigned from the board because she believes shutting down was the responsible path. “It [the contract] has an addendum on the back of it. So it would pick up year to year, and the board would have to pick it up.”

KPBS consulted two attorneys to interpret the amendment in the context of Campbell’s employment agreement. Both agreed that the amendment reduced Campbell’s contract to an annual renewal process.

When KPBS obtained a copy of the original employment agreement in early April, the one-page amendment was not attached. Once aware of the amendment, KPBS sent multiple requests to see it, but the opera refused those requests, though a spokesman for the company confirmed the document existed.

According to the amendment, Campbell would not stand to gain millions in salary upon shutting down the company, as has been speculated.

The San Diego Opera declined to comment for this story. Campbell, who was reached by phone, also declined to comment. The two parties are negotiating a settlement through their lawyers.

The opera board voted on March 19 to close at the end of the 2014 season in April, a move that shocked the company's supporters. Some directors soon regretted the decision and led a revolt to keep the company open. Board members loyal to Campbell resigned. The opera company eventually ended its relationship with Campbell and his ex-wife.

On Monday, the new board announced the opera had raised enough money to stay open and produce a 50th anniversary season in 2015.

On Tuesday, the opera also confirmed that the state attorney general is conducting an investigation of the company. The attorney general is asking the opera to turn over hundreds of documents related to the company’s finances, and specifically asks for the compensation history of Campbell and his deputy director and ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell.

The opera has 30 days to comply with the audit.

Corrected: January 26, 2023 at 5:58 PM PST
An earlier version of this story reported that the contract was unsigned. KPBS later received a signed copy of the contract and updated the story accordingly.