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Arts & Culture

San Diego Opera Settlement With Former Executives Tops $1 Million

A portrait of Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director of the San Diego Opera.
A portrait of Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director of the San Diego Opera.

The San Diego Opera paid its former general director Ian Campbell and his chief fundraiser Ann Spira Campbell more than $1 million in a privately negotiated employment settlement last July, according to tax documents released Friday.

The documents show Campbell received $276,000. Spira Campbell walked away with $812,521, which includes nearly $600,000 in executive retirement compensation and more than $17,000 in accrued vacation pay.

San Diego Opera Association Form 990
San Diego Opera Association Form 990
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The opera released a statement about the settlement, which reads in part:

"All such matters related to these settlements were resolved through mediation in June of 2014."

"A friend of the Opera, who has chosen to remain anonymous, donated the funds with the specific instruction that they be used to resolve all issues with the transition in leadership so that no other donors’ funds would be used for this purpose."
Details of the settlement were included in the opera’s 2014 tax returns, filed with the IRS and the state.

Campbell ran the opera for 31 years and was known for staging expensive, grand productions. In March 2014, he guided the board of directors in a stunning vote to close the company, saying it was no longer financially sustainable.

The decision caused a public outcry and sparked a campaign to keep the opera open. The March vote was later reversed, with the makeup of the board changing.

Campbell’s salary and compensation package became a flashpoint and were seen as a major liability for the company.

According to the tax documents, Campbell’s compensation, including nontaxable benefits for 2013-14 totaled $502,155. Spira Campbell’s totaled $316,607.

He and Spira Campbell, who is his ex-wife and served as deputy director for the opera, were placed on paid administrative leave until lawyers could negotiate a settlement.


In the terms of the agreement, Campbell received no additional monetary compensation beyond the $276,000 lump sum.

However, Spira Campbell received $594,698 from a supplemental executive retirement plan, or SERP. This is in addition to her $200,000 payout.

"The SERP was established in 2006 and required annual employer contributions based on a percentage of Ms. Campbell's compensation," the tax filing said.

The company also paid her $17,823 in unused vacation time.

Both Campbell and Spira Campbell received two lifetime tickets to opera productions. Company officials confirmed the tickets are a gift intended for personal use.

Officials also said cars used by Campbell and Spira Campbell were returned to the company shortly after they left the organization and were later sold.

Carol Lazier, who was named president of the organization's board last April, said the company is moving forward.

"All the parties resolved all of our differences and we agreed to go our separate ways," Lazier said in a phone interview.

The opera went on to raise more than $2 million through crowd-funding campaigns. The company just completed its 50th anniversary season and announced David Bennett would be its new general director.

The company released an audit last November stating it was not in danger of financial failure.

The California attorney general opened an investigation into the opera last May and asked for hundreds of documents related to the company’s finances, as well as for the compensation history of Campbell and Spira Campbell.

An opera spokesman confirmed the investigation is ongoing and the attorney general’s office recently asked the company for more documents.