A cost-cutting San Diego Opera ready to regroup


San Diego Opera has reached a new level of stability, leaders say, after a series of cost-cutting and the announcement of new initiatives to broaden its presence in the community.

The company — which in May rescinded a controversial decision to close its doors — will offer the first of three main stage productions in January, but will present recitals and other special events starting in September.

“I think that we are stabilized and that we are more committed than ever,” said Keith Fisher, the opera’s chief operating officer. Fisher has been leading the company following the departure of Ian Campbell, who headed the company for three decades.


Fisher said the 2015 season will have a budget of $11 million, reduced from the previously planned $17 million.

Savings are coming from various parts of the organization’s annual budget. Fisher said that the company’s staff recently accepted a 10% pay cut across the board. Thirteen people were laid off in May, almost one-third of its staff, and some full-time positions became part-time.

After its annual meeting last week, the company confirmed plans to move its headquarters in an effort to save more than $400,000 in rent each year.

The opera’s administration has been using office space in downtown San Diego’s Civic Center Plaza, near its main performance venue, the Civic Theatre. The new office will be located nearby in downtown San Diego and will be 50% smaller.

In a recent statement, company officials said that they continue to “work on other cost reductions, always mindful of the need to expand its presence in the community and maintain high standards of artistic quality.”

The company has raised millions of dollars through crowd-funding and other efforts but is still looking to raise about $1.9 million to meet its fundraising goal of $6.5 million. Fisher said that the company is “determined and confident” that it will meet the target.


The city of San Diego recently approved funding for the opera of $260,000 for the new fiscal year, a decline from amounts awarded in past years.

An opera spokesman said that the new amount was disappointing but added that leaders understood that city commissioners had concerns in light of the company’s recent turmoil.

The opera said that its board of directors currently stands at 26 members, with Carol Lazier as the president. When the company announced its intention to close, the board numbered almost 60.

Many board members resigned in the subsequent weeks, which saw a significant public backlash and internal strife that led to the departure of Campbell, who had been the primary advocate of the company’s closing.

As part of its relaunch, San Diego Opera is expanding its slate of community outreach initiatives, including the reopening of complete dress rehearsals to local students and the return of free lunch-time concerts in the downtown San Diego area.

The offerings are intended to give the company a more consistent, almost year-round presence. “Opera doesn’t have to be just downtown on the main stage,” said Fisher.


San Diego Opera still faces an investigation by the California attorney general’s office. The company said its deadline for filing material related to the inquiry is July 14. The attorney general’s office made the request in the spring in the wake of the opera’s leadership upheaval.

William Mason, the former general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, was appointed as the company’s new artistic advisor in May. A search for a new, permanent artistic director is in the early stages, according to the company.

San Diego Opera said it would be teaming up with Dallas Opera to co-produce a new work by composer Jake Heggie. “Great Scott” is scheduled to premiere at the Dallas company in fall 2015. The two companies previously worked together on Heggie’s adaptation of “Moby-Dick.”

“Great Scott,” with a libretto by playwright Terrence McNally, could have thematic resonance for San Diegans. The opera tells the story of a famous singer who returns to her hometown to perform with an opera company that faces myriad organizational problems.

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