For over a quarter-century, the San Diego Opera bragged of balanced books and the opera world was impressed. True, the company presented a rigidly conventional menu of proven classics in pleasant but unchallenging productions for a pampered clientele of well-heeled donors. And the leading artists were not exactly top-drawer even if some of them were headed in that direction. The artistic standards were as plain and solid as the company’s business practices.
But the deficit each year was announced as zero.
Why, then, did Ian Campbell suddenly announce one afternoon this month that this, the company’s 49th season, would be its last?
Unless he’s planning a scene involving a dramatic last-minute rescue by large new money, the most logical conclusion is that Campbell, the company’s “General & Artistic Director, CEO,” sees no hope of a competent successor, proclaiming with King Louis XV of France, Apres moi le deluge. (Roughly, “After me will come only oblivion.”)
That’s no more preposterous than Campbell’s statement that he preferred the company “…winding down with dignity and grace…” instead of dirty old bankruptcy.
Whose dignity is this? Can unconditional surrender in the tranquil peacetime of balanced books be dignified? How graceful is quitting?
The San Diego Opera is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation that belongs to its members. It is not Campbell’s place to shut it down, nor is it an option for Campbell’s handpicked board of directors. If they can no longer operate the company, they should resign in favor of a new board, voted in by the membership and charged with an immediate review of staff policies. In fact, several board members who somehow were not present for the vote are joining now to protest loudly. In legalese. So there remins plenty of hope.
The San Diego Opera deserves its 50th anniversary even if new leadership needs to be found. Deficits may develop requiring patience. There are ways to do opera that may be less precise but more exciting. Payrolls can stand deflation. Fresher programming can lure fresh customers.
Saying there will be no more donors is like having a sudden revelation that the audience is getting older. I’ve been sitting in audiences professionally for 50 years and they’re always getting older. Every successive generation of them.
As always, give the people a show they really want to see and you can’t keep them away.