Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Don't save San Diego Opera

That's right, I said don't save San Diego Opera. Let it go. I've seen a lot of posts and petitions on Facebook and Twitter from all my singer, conductor, director, and art loving friends promoting the Board of Directors at San Diego Opera to reconsider their decision to close the doors at the end of this season. At first, I thought this was a great idea and showed how the arts community stuck together in times of crisis. But then I thought about it for awhile.

We've all read about San Diego's 'noble' intentions of calling it quits when faced with the inevitable. Falling on their swords as the samurai of old. Drawing a warm bath and opening their wrists as Romans would do to save the honor. (I'll get to San Diego Opera's 'honor' in a second) But we've also all read the about the General director's annual salary, his wife's salary, and their view on talent in the opera world. We've all seen their operating budget, and ticket sale numbers. After seeing all the facts, I ask, why on God's green earth would we want to save this company?

Now, don't get me wrong. I would love for their to be an opera company in San Diego. I want there to be great opera in San Diego. I just don't want it run by the people who are running it now. I want someone capable. I want someone who is driven, and motivated. Someone who has a good, clear business model. One that understands opera in the 21st century. Someone who understands opera.

The Board of Directors, under the guidance of the General Director, voted 33-1 to close the doors. That might seem sad, but to me it indicates that there is at least one person there who gives a damn.

San Diego Opera has an operating budget of nearly $16 million. 10th largest in the US. It's General Director/Artistic Director made $500,000 a year. With his wife, the second highest salary earner in the company, they were paid $4.6 million between 2008-2012 (brief history refresher, there was a big recession occurring then). Now, I'm sure they both worked very hard at their jobs, but if pennies were needing to be pinched, maybe their own overflowing wallets should have been the first place they looked. Doubt if any of their 'top notch singers' were making that for their work. I only bring this fact up to say that we all have to be willing to make sacrifices for our art. I'm just not sure if the GM and his wife have made the sacrifices all the rest of us have had to. Could be wrong, but I'm eating a tostino's pizza for dinner in a hotel room, somehow don't think they are doing the same.

And there's this gem of a quote - “It would be like putting water in the beer, if you cut the artistic quality, people know.” This quote indicating that if they couldn't hire Sutherland, Pavarotti, or Domingo, then the quality they'd be putting on stage wouldn't be worth the effort. Seriously?!? Two of the three singers mentioned are dead, and the other one is past his golden age. Are you saying there is no real talent out there? No young talent worth investing in? That quote to me proves how out of touch the GM is with the opera world. Maybe he just misspoke. Maybe he's just naive. Maybe he just doesn't care...

I know money is tight. It is everywhere. Companies big and small have had to cut back, or even close their doors all together. It's a tough time for our art, no one denies that. Hell, Indianapolis Opera just cancelled their final production of the year today, 10 days before rehearsals were set to begin (interesting tidbit, Indianapolis Opera released this info to the press before notifying any of the artists or their management. Klassy move). But closing the doors, throwing in the towel, and dying a 'noble' death as San Diego Opera is doing is not the way to go.

What about a smaller operating budget? What about a pay cut for the Board and GM? What about hiring younger singers who would work for less? What about a reduced season? What about corporate sponsorship? What about including musicals in your season? What about allowing alcoholic beverages into theaters (big proponent of this one)? Were these ideas even discussed?

What the GM of San Diego Opera is doing is not noble, honorable, or heroic. It's cowardly. It's chicken shit. You have left hundreds if not thousands of employees high and dry. You have insulted young opera talent all around the world. And you've removed an art form from a city without a fight. If you truly believed in your product and company, you would have done everything in your power to keep it alive. What you did was not humane, it was cruel and unusual in a way you haven't even fathomed yet.

So I say let it die. Build from the ground up. There's still one board member willing to try. Start there.  Use the already existing staff.  They are obviously passionate about the art. There are plenty of singers, fantastic singers who would work in San Diego. There's already a fantastic orchestra, chorus, and stage crew ready to work. And there's a bounty of wealth in the region to be tapped for donors. If $15 million is to much, try $8 million. Many a company run on less. Everything you need is right there. Someone just has to take the lead. 

So don't sign the online petitions or do sign them, don't 'like' their page or do. It's up to you. But don't you think San Diego, hell, all of opera deserves something better than what the GM and 33 board members left the great city and it's art lovers? In my opinion, we do deserve better than that. Let's use the materials, people and resources we have to make something that rises from the ashes just like a Phoenix. 


  1. You should call me to get some facts. Chris Stephens. If you are a singer in San Diego, you already have my number.

  2. Mr Stephens-
    I don't know you, but if you like to start a conversation is be more than happy to have one with you. You can either shoot me your email address or just 'like' Bari-Chunks of fb and we can use that. Up to you. Cheers!

  3. Fire the GM His WIFE and demand a new Board of Directors........But save the company , the bones, the patron base and rebuild........the other options you offered should also be considered......but safe the guts to grow on.

  4. Bottom line - for those of us trying to save San Diego Oper without the Campbell's - this is most destructive - it gives the board the cover they want to kill the company. I think you should THINK before shooting your mouth off about which you know nothing and about which many peopld could lose their jobs forever.

  5. Mr Woods-
    I did think before writing this blog. I read all the available materials I could, and came to what I considered to be an informed opinion. Do I have all the facts? Probably not, just what was available to me. If there are more secretive things in the works to save San Diego Opera, that's fantastic! I'm all for it, especially if there is new management. I in no way want to cause people to lose their jobs. I want the good people at SD Opera, the ones who actually care about their company, to be a big part of whatever comes out of the area, new or old. As I stated in the article, they deserve a good opera company.

    I'm sorry if what I wrote offended you, or anyone else with what I wrote. It's just my opinion, naive as it is.

    Ps- if all the board needs as cover is a mainly comical blog entitled Bari-Chunk, well it think you give this blog way too much credit. I hope and pray the board members are smarter than that