Traditionalist Beware: Opera will Survive Beyond SDO Closure

‘If they could not continue to attract singers of the caliber of Pavarotti, Sutherland, Domingo and the many other stars of the world stage who performed here, Campbell indicated, they would just as soon shut it down.

“It would be like putting water in the beer,” he said. “If you cut the artistic quality, people know.”’ -from UT San Diego

Shame on you, San Diego Opera leadership. It is unnecessary to divulge the seemingly innumerable amount of sensible pathways that a debt-free, $15 million company could have taken to remain a source of influence in the community. Instead, you’ve allowed the agenda of most likely a very small pocket of minds to convince you that this is the best course of action; to give up without a fight and to go away with “dignity.”

Dignity? What? Get a spine.

Newsflash: this isn’t dignified. This is quitting; throwing in the towel; losing hope (cashing in?). In this article we won’t go into the obvious, hardly-outside-the-box thinking which is needed to avoid such a collapse (like a substantially reduced season(s), like pay cuts – especially in upper management – like smaller venues, like reduced orchestrations, etc..). Your upper tier may be pseudo-nobly thinking that such gutsy efforts simply go against your mission and don’t support the traditional foundation of the company. Well, we’re all saying get over it. Change. Adapt. Have your traditional cake and eat it too, but with a side of modern java to wake you up and kick your butts into high 21st century gear.

No, we won’t go into the mundane yet evident and courageous efforts that could have been taken (like hiring more local talent, like revolutionized marketing campaigns, like talent searches and, heaven forbid, large-scale auditions), but what we will divulge is the amount of immense talent that your tiny $15 million company has just directly degraded due to your comments and actions.

And without further delay, here are the ten (watered down) artists that you might have been able to afford and that we think would give your golden era singers a run for their money. Oh, and they would perhaps fill a seat or two. (Note: in order to help you understand on your dignified level, we’ve included a special craft beer comparison for each singer because, although the Heinekens of the Golden Era were great, these kick-ass microbrews are creating shockwaves on traditionalist palates worldwide:

Audrey Luna Photo Credit: Greg James
Audrey Luna Photo Credit: Greg James

Audrey Luna

High-flying songstress and young standout at the Met has a gigantic personality. She is humbled and is immensely passionate about the future of opera as we found out over a beer at Amsterdam Ale House after her role with ALT last year. [Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA – high-pitched, continuous hops but never overpowering, watch out for the high alcohol content!]

Joyce DiDonato

She’s on an opera renaissance campaign and would probably negotiate a contract. At least she comes across as the sweetheart that would do such a thing when we were invited into her dressing room at the Met a couple years back. [Georgia’s Sweetwater IPA – smooth, clean, hints of honey and darn seductive.]

Daniel Okulitch
Daniel Okulitch

Daniel Okulitch

Tour-de-force with a body of a Greek god. [Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale – bold ale flavor with the perfect marriage of bourbon infusion – a man’s beer.]

Michael Fabiano

It seems that drama follows this young tenor star wherever he sings. From a dramatic finish in The Audition to his debut at the Met, the opera world has it’s eyes and ears earnestly open for this guy. [Arrogant Bastard Ale – strong, almost overpowering ale, but with incredible focus and drive that such a name is warranted.] 

Isabel Leonard

Holy smokes, can you say Miss America? And this girl can sing! [Trappistes Rochefort 8 – full of color and flavor with a smooth, long and breathtakingly sexy finish.] 

Jaime Barton

BBC Singer of the World, not too shabby. Jamie can act circles around most well established singers and has a collaborative spirit that makes anyone feel at home. [Longboard Island Lager – a sweet, slightly spicy hop aroma with a full and sultry flavor.]

Sean Panikkar Photo Credit: Kristina Sherk
Sean Panikkar Photo Credit: Kristina Sherk

Sean Panikaar

Sings at a place called the Met and performs worldwide in Forte. He has a tiny bit of exposure. [Sam Adams Light – a full flavored light beer; don’t let this ‘light’ beer fool you, it has a complex palate and impressive finish, but is a good stepping stone to more intense brews.]

Alissa Anderson

Has character and voice for days. Her dark, sultry voice has graced the stage of many regional houses but more importantly she knows how to step into the limelight – she filled a role in Santa Fe within 48 hours. [Vanilla Java Porter – attractive vanilla notes, bold java flavor and utterly seductive]

Elliot Madore

Rising star, Elliot was a Met Opera winner only a few years ago and has a commanding stage presence. We saw him as Don Giovanni at Opera Theatre of St. Louis a couple of years ago and apparently we weren’t the only ones impressed – he sings the title role at Glyndebourne this summer. [Brooklyn Lager – classy, focused and character that outlasts any other lager]

Danielle Pastin
Danielle Pastin

Danielle Pastin

Multiple competition winner, Met opera, and an expanding international resume. Just listening to Danielle melts the stress of life away and truly embodies the transformative power of opera. [Left Hand Milk Stout – creamy, rich, luxurious chocolate finish, the roasted bitterness is balanced by it’s lasting depth of flavor]

The supposed golden age of opera is over, and traditionalists need to move on and see what is right in front of them. The Pav is gone. Sutherland is gone. Callas is gone. Domingo is wonderful, but is the last of an era. We’re in a new era with promising new artists and led by creative minds that will take us to unexplored territories. SD Opera leadership, you’re turning your back on a fundamental aspect of opera: timelessness. New singers, new art and new ideas need and will be created with or without you and will withstand the tests of time. What’s truly shameful is that you’re squandering the monumental potential you had to nurture the talents that are currently eclipsing the feats of your pedestaled singers.

If we could say anything to the San Diego community it would be to never lose sight on the the ultimate artistic goal: enrich the community. This can never be based solely on tradition and self-agenda. It is about all of us striving to create value in minds around us. The moment such vision is lost, well, you see what happens.

And to Ian Campbell – while the rest of us trained professionals and opera lovers await our next event and try to think outside of our small boxes, we hope you enjoy your beach house. Or both of them.

Where, for sure, there is plenty of Heineken to be had.

11 thoughts on “Traditionalist Beware: Opera will Survive Beyond SDO Closure

  1. I started off loving this article but then the push for only a handful of singers turned me off big time….their agent paid for this I guess….not watered down….watered up for a few singers is more like it…. LOTS of great singers have been treated like shit and/or paid nothing forcing them to quit….how about employing them first! The teaching is awful now….awful in abundance, even at the Vienna Music Uni where singers are teaching who NEVER sang and never did anything – whose students fail at or lose everything they try….so they give that teacher a lifetime contract…. and the US Unis that charge huge amounts of money offering Music Opera Major degrees to thousands of future singers at a time when there is NO work flooding the market and pushing the pay down so far it is impossible to earn a living/career supporting wage any more……the result is mediocre singing…. not to mention the romance with Regie Theater holding the directors on a pedestal, paying them hundreds of thousands, and allowing them to stage schock and schlock…. audiences are turned off!…. not to mention the ridiculous money some conductors get…. not many can really conduct opera…. bel canto is practically dead….until the mafia stop ruling the business the world over and casting is more open and transparent these choreographed money moves will never stop…. Good try, but this article is just as twisted as any other…some good points though….obviously not impartial however.

  2. Just for the record, I have been working most places for a quarter of what my fee used to be and at Met next year I will work for half.
    Additionally, the recent cast of Ballo was not chopped liver! Some of the best singers ever. I feel many companies assume that established artists are expensive and do not bother even asking. A shame. And you are correct, there are many talented singers out there who are amazing.
    When I sang at SD opera I was just a young and not famous singer.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Susanne. It seems that this misnomer of expensive artist fees is coming to light in many of the discussions surrounding the SDO news. Thanks for sharing your story. We covered all of SDO’s productions last year and from the reports from our writer the artistic quality was really great. The company seems to have lacked the ability and drive to pivot their business plan when signs seemed to say times were changing.

  3. This attitude is typical of too many in the opera business. He wants someone else to train, nurture and promote singers into that level of artistry and fame. Sorry, but San Diego opera isn’t at that level. It’s a good company but it’s not an international opera house. An artistic director at that level has to be on the lookout for people on their way to that level of artistry, nurture them, mentor them and then hope that singer will be loyal enough to come back frequently once they are stars. It happens all the time. For some reason, some artistic directors expect someone else to put in all that work. In my opinion it’s the #1 reason why opera is in the state it’s in today.

  4. There’s a very simple explanation for San Diego Opera closing its doors, but not declaring bankruptcy, and it has nothing to with watered-down beer. Mr. Campbell knows this, as he’s programmed plenty of chamber operas over the years (The Lighthouse, Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucretia). If SDO declared bankruptcy, Mr. Campbell will have to get in line with all the other creditors to collect his pension. With a $10 million endowment in place, but no operating costs–do you think there will be any problem paying Mr. Campbell’s pension?

  5. AMEN!! I find it insulting that only the most hyped handful of artists (many of whom are DEAD, thank you very much!) are mentioned, as if only that equals quality. Bravo to you for this article.

  6. Great article! Although (small point) Sean Panikkar already appeared with San Diego Opera, singing Narraboth in “Salome” in 2012, and was already on the schedule for SDO’s next season. (Sadly, no longer.)

  7. Great choices! Sean Panikkar is a tremendously talented, young Tenor whose career is skyrocketing. He just finished a critically acclaimed performance as Rodolfo in La Boheme at Royal Albert Hall, London. He’s at Fort Worth Opera now rehearsing for The Pearl Fishers but breaks away to perform in the wildly popular new Tenor Trio, Forte, at the Denver Opera fundraising gala early April. He was just signed by the Met to play Molqi in The Death of Klinghoffer this November. And he’s booked pretty solidly between his solo career and his Forte Tenors group that he shares with the superb tenor soloists in their own right, Fernando Varela and Joshua Page. Mr. Panikkar has stated many times that he is dedicated to all he can to help promote Opera wherever he can. His Forte medium has been a huge help with this goal along with his own personal efforts. Any Opera would be very lucky to have such a talent – and he’s as nice as he is talented!

  8. …as if the casual, flightily, senseless san diegan taste would suffer from some watered down beer! (beer really? for an opera article? couldn’t think of something more appropriate?) I’m a native to this false oasis of california, i grew up with the symphony/opera (literally), and i know that the majority of our audience would be happy with “a good try”, rather than nothing.

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