Widespread Surprise at San Diego Opera's Decision to Fold

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 05:11 PM

Last week’s revelation that San Diego Opera, the 10th largest opera company in the United States, plans to close its doors – an apparent victim of rising costs and shrinking audiences – appears to have caught many opera fans off guard.

The 49-year-old opera company had boasted balanced budgets for 28 consecutive years but, behind the scenes, its board of directors believed that the writing was on the wall. Among the indicators that have emerged:

  • Attendance has plunged about 15 percent since 2010, according to company data, with ticket revenue dropping about 8 percent.
  • Competition for donations was increasing while cash reserves were shrinking.
  • The company had essentially run through a $10 million gift left by Joan Kroc in 2003 and which had provided $1 million a season.

Charity Navigator, the watchdog group that tracks nonprofits, had given San Diego Opera a score of 42.08 out of 70, or two out of four stars, in 2012. Several comparable opera companies had ratings in the 50s and 60s. Its own data based on the Opera's tax returns showed a steady, four-year decline in revenue while an upswing in costs.

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ian Campbell, the company's CEO and general and artistic director, expressed the apparent consensus within the company: that it was necessary to “go out with dignity, on a high note with heads held high,” rather than witness a prolonged downsizing and cutting back on quality.

Some observers weren't convinced. Los Angeles Times classical music critic Mark Swed deemed the decision rash, writing, “Who has ever heard of a major arts institution with a $15-million budget, one of the country's top 10 opera companies, simply throwing in the towel over a deficit of a couple million dollars and not fighting to the end because there is no dignity in that?”

Swed argues that the company’s board has simply run out of fundraising steam and could no longer respond to a changing environment for non-profits.

A petition aimed at convincing the company’s board “to reverse the decision and keep San Diego Opera alive” was posted online on Monday and has gathered more than 6,500 signatures by late Tuesday.

Others took to Twitter to voice their opinions:


The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles Opera will now remain as the one opera company in Southern California. In 2008, Opera Pacific in Orange County shut down.


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Comments [5]

Brunnhilde from NYC

Something's rotten in Denmark! Personally, I think opera companies are not meant to be profit-making institutions....unfortunately, we have business people running them, and that is all they know...that is their only goal. They only want to know...how to make money....how can we get more people to come....how can we engage the youth????? Forget about art. Forget about the culture. Forget about the humanities. Forget about the senses, the well-being of people. Money, money, money. (After all, their gigunda salaries have to be paid.) Too bad we don't have an arts administrator who can create a plan for the school system to expose kids to the arts from grade-school up...sorta like the sports people do with sports...oh, did you say that sports are part of the curriculum? Huh? Hmmmm.

Mar. 28 2014 01:15 PM
Fred from Queens

Free market principles seem to only matter when it comes to things like the arts, public broadcasting, public transportation, etc. San Diego spent hundreds of millions of dollars building new stadiums for their football and baseball teams. Like NYC, which lost City Opera, contributing tax dollars to these corporations has never been an issue.

Mar. 26 2014 10:03 PM

@Sisko24, I'm guessing the latter. Maybe the currently wealthy were never exposed to opera?


Mar. 26 2014 09:08 PM

Another one - opera company - bites the dust. Can't help noting that as the wealthy become wealthier, those who have the wherewithal aren't sharing. Is it because they don't trust the board of the San Diego Opera or are they philistines?

Mar. 26 2014 03:27 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

We are a nation that goes around bombing cities in the name of democracy and spending billions to do so. No money for things that ennoble us. What is the big surprise? Just heard on the radio that we will be giving a bundle of cash to the Ukraine. Why? All these years the Ukraine never bothered to build up their defenses. They knew they had a terrible enemy at their gates. Very corrupt government over there.

Mar. 26 2014 09:55 AM

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