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On the heels of the demise of the nonprofit that was trying to plan for a big celebration in Balboa Park in 2015, San Diego’s cultural community took another blow Wednesday with the news that the San Diego Opera would finish the year and be done forever.
The company will put on the rest of its performances for 2014. The board had only one dissenting vote in the decision to shut down after this year. The general and artistic director, Ian Campbell, would not say who it was.
Campbell told me that he and the board of directors were watching with increasing fear over the last couple of years and that they decided they would not ethically be able to take money for tickets for the 2015 season knowing that they were likely to run out of money.
“It’s not a case of overspending or being profligate. It’s the revenue side, which was the issue,” Campbell said.
Campbell said they were “losing to death many of our strongest supporters.” And he said other cultural institutions in town should also think about what will happen as their donors get older.
“I do have a concern that we’re losing many supporters as they age and if you look at the programs of the opera, symphony, Playhouse, Old Globe, many of the same names are listed. This should be a wake-up call,” Campbell said.
There seemed to be a lot of people wondering why the Opera didn’t alert the community to this and whether there was a donor or several who could have come through.
“All of the people you’re thinking of were asked,” Campbell said.
I asked Bill Stensrud, a former member of the board of the Opera and of Voice of San Diego, what he thought of the news. He was a major donor and is an aficionado of classical music and opera.
“Grand opera costs too much to produce on a regional scale,” Stensrud wrote to me in an email. “The markets will not support it and no entity downsizes well.”
Then he added a vision of the future of opera. He said it’s in offerings like Loft Opera in New York, a group of young artists who stage opera-infused performances in lofts and other new spaces.
“Their performances are exciting, low-cost and I have been the oldest person in the place every time I have gone. This is a sustainable model,” Stensrud wrote.
Campbell really wanted people to know that the shows for this year are going on. He’s most worried, he said, about his staff.
“This whole thing is upsetting and frightening for everyone. If anyone is looking for good not-for-profit staff, we’ve got them,” Campbell said.
The Opera’s most recent financial report is here. Campbell said last year’s budget was $17.4 million and this year would come in under $15 million.