San Diego Opera will stay open, put on Mozart, Puccini, John Adams

San Diego Opera will stay open, put on Mozart, Puccini, John Adams
San Diego Opera will scale back its 2015 season to three mainstage productions. (David Ng, Los Angeles Times)

After a contentious decision to close, a subsequent public backlash and the departure of its board president and artistic director, San Diego Opera has decided to reverse course and stay in business.

New leaders of the embattled company said Monday that they will launch a season in January that will feature a scaled-back roster of three main-stage productions, down from four productions seen in recent years.


When asked about the last two months of internal struggle that led to the announcement Monday, Carol Lazier, the opera's recently appointed board president, said, "I'm glad that period's over. It's been difficult. It was all-consuming for the staff and board members."

The opera has raised about $4.5 million toward its fundraising goal of $6.5 million, Lazier said. A crowd-sourcing campaign has so far accounted for $2.1 million of the money raised, and the company said it remains optimistic that it can raise the remaining $2 million toward its fundraising goal.

"We ended up doing a very successful awareness campaign just by accident," Lazier said. "People are curious, and now that they are aware of us, we think we can reach our objective."

For its new season, which will mark its 50th anniversary, San Diego Opera has outlined an operating budget of about $10.5 million. The balance not covered by fundraising will be filled by earned income, which includes ticket sales. In past seasons, the company has reported budgets of around $15 million per year, and the company had avoided debt thanks in large part to a $10-million gift from the late Joan Kroc in 2003.

Officials at the opera said its board of directors voted Friday to rescind the March decision to close. Back then, Lazier said, she initially voted in favor of the closure but changed her mind after a meeting with Marc Scorca, the head of Opera America, a New York nonprofit organization that supports the musical arts.

"He told us that ours wasn't the profile of an opera company on the verge of shutting down," said Lazier, who donated $1 million to help opera stay alive.

Unions representing musicians, stagehands and other workers have not yet formally sat down with the opera to discuss changes in compensation going forward. San Diego Opera employs about 40 non-union administrative and executive-level employees, who are expected to take 10% pay cuts across the board.

"I'm super proud of what the employees and the community have accomplished," said Chris Stephens, a veteran chorus singer and union representative who has performed with the company for 15 years.

He said that past leaders including Ian Campbell, the opera's longtime general and artistic director, "weren't willing to do what was needed for the company to continue." Campbell was not available for comment.

Campbell officially departed the opera last week after a tenure of more than 30 years. His ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell, who was deputy general director, also has left. Representatives of the opera said they will try to resolve differences with the Campbells amicably but declined to elaborate.

Ian Campbell was a key proponent of the vote to shut down, as was former board president Karen Cohn. They argued that declining ticket sales and donations and a virtually depleted Kroc fund made it impossible for the company to continue.

In an April board meeting, Cohn abruptly resigned along with other members. The opera's board had stood at close to 60 members; it now has 22, according to Lazier.

The 2015 season is scheduled to begin with a production of Puccini's "La Bohème," running Jan. 24 to Feb. 1 at the company's home at the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego. The other two productions will be Mozart's "Don Giovanni" (Feb. 14 to 22) and John Adams' "Nixon in China" (March 14 to 22).

A company spokesman said the operas had been chosen by Campbell before the March decision to shut down. Opera companies typically book their productions at least two seasons in advance.


San Diego Opera said it will announce an artistic advisor in the coming days. The company is also expected to launch a search for a new artistic director to replace Campbell. The opera's daily operations are being overseen by Keith Fisher, who has been with the company since 2002 and recently served as executive director.