Although San Diego Opera begins 1985 with performances of that operettic chestnut "The Merry Widow" this week, General Director Ian Campbell insists that the company is broadening, rather than narrowing, its horizons. And though productions at the Civic Theatre will be reduced in future seasons from six to four, Campbell denies cutting back.

"We are presently laying out a five-year plan in which we will be changing the way we present opera in San Diego," Campbell explains.

"I want to get variety," he says. "We will still do the big ones downtown (at Civic Theatre), but in addition we want to launch a series at the Old Globe Theater." In 1985-86, Campbell notes, four operas will be presented in the 3,000-seat Civic Theatre, and two in the more intimate Globe, including Peter Maxwell Davies' 4-year-old theater piece, "The Lighthouse." The second Old Globe production is yet to be announced.

"We will use the Globe to experiment. 'The Lighthouse' is not for everyone, and that's fine. The contemporary works will eventually build their own markets. We would like to develop four audiences for four series--with a good deal of overlap, of course. There will be the international series at the Civic, the experimental works at the Old Globe, a separate operetta series in the next four years, a recital series called 'Special Engagements,' opening next season with Anna Russell and Renata Scotto at the Old Globe."

Campbell admitted that cost considerations have heavily affected planning, noting that production expenses "continue to rise way beyond the rate of inflation. So, we'll need private contributions. The typical cost of a four-performance run of an opera--excluding advertising and all that--is $350,000-500,000. We can't make that up in ticket sales."

Even big-name singers won't always help. As an example, Campbell points to the recently defunct Verdi Festival. "The last festival had some very big names--Sutherland, Milnes, etc. And we set an attendance record, 67%. But that's still terrible."

Will recent operatic developments north of San Diego--David DiChiera's appointment as general director of Opera Pacific in Orange County, and the involvement of Placido Domingo with Los Angeles' fledgling Music Center-based opera company--affect San Diego's future? Yes, says Campbell without hesitation: Those developments "will only help."

In addition to the predictable enthusiasm over the growth of Southern California opera in general, Campbell expressed his intention to reap specific rewards. "(DiChiera) and I know each other well. We can work jointly on new productions. If we want to do an 'Aida,' say, we could present it in both places in consecutive years, saving money on reduced rehearsal time. And, too, we could send it to other theaters around the country, thus making some more money."

PHILHARMONIC RETURNS: The Los Angeles Philharmonic resumes its season at the Music Center following its East Coast tour. German-born conductor Guenther Herbig--now music director of the Detroit Symphony--will be on the Pavilion podium only on Friday and Saturday nights, leading performances of Lalo's Cello Concerto (with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 5. The same forces will travel to Santa Ana High School next Sunday afternoon, presenting the same program.

FROM STUTTGART TO CLAREMONT: A touring exhibit assembled by the Institute for Foreign Relations, Stuttgart, honoring the tricentenary of Bach and Handel--as well as the quadricentenary of Heinrich Schuetz--is on display at Scripps College, Claremont, this month.

According to Edith Potter, a member of the Germanic languages department there, the exhibit includes about 50 panels comprising reproductions of scores and contemporary drawings of the composers and the cities in which they dwelled.

The exhibit will be on view at the Clark Museum Mon.-Fri. from 9-12 a.m. and 1-5 p.m.

Also included in the celebration is a screening on March 28 of a filmed dance performance of the "St. Matthew" Passion, choreographed by John Neumeier.

Live music events include a duo-recital by harpsichordist Preethi de Silva and Viennese Baroque violinist Eduard Melkus on next Sunday.

CHOIRS YOUNG AND OLD: A pair of contrasting choral concerts will be presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, the Vienna Choir Boys will appear under sponsorship of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The group was founded by Imperial decree of Emperor Maximilian I nearly 500 years ago, will present sacred, secular and folk music spanning nearly the same span of time.

Next Sunday afternoon, a group with a shorter history takes to the Pavilion stage: the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers, this year celebrating its 20th season. The ensemble, which recently completed its 11th tour of Europe, will sing a program ranging from Broadway to spirituals and gospel songs.

ADDENDA: Monday Evening Concerts will observe Handel's upcoming 300th birthday (Feb. 23) with a typically eclectic musical offering this week. In addition to performances of two chamber works by Handel (an overture in D and a trio sonata), the program lists acoustic and electronic music by Anna Rubin, Harrison Birtwistle, Shulamit Ran, George Crumb and Anthony Payne.

Soprano Leona Mitchell, a veteran of such cavernous facilities as the Metropolitan Opera and Hollywood Bowl, appears in recital in the decidedly intimate surroundings (capacity 400) of the University Theatre, Cal State Long Beach Thursday evening, singing music by Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Faure, Obradors, Turina and Carter.

The Vienna Octet, consisting of first-desk string and wind players from the Vienna Philharmonic, will appear at a Music Guild concert on Wednesday in the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. The program lists Weber's Clarinet Quintet, Opus 14, Mozart's Divertimento in D, K. 136 and Schubert's Octet.

The Juilliard String Quartet plays music by Schumann, Mozart and Irving Fine at a Coleman concert next Sunday afternoon at Beckman Auditorium, Caltech.

FOR THE RECORD: In the Jan. 27 Music News, Bernard Greenberg, who heads an ad hoc committee to bring "Einstein on the Beach" to Los Angeles, spoke of the possibility of mounting the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera in the Ahmanson Theatre this summer "to fill up that hole left by the loss of Center Theatre Group." In fact, the hole was created by the loss of Civic Light Opera.

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