San Diego Opera’s dramatic turnaround after the company’s near-closing last spring has become the stuff of legend: a “local miracle,” as it’s been called. Opera lovers throughout the US, and even overseas, rallied around the “Little Opera Company That Could” to ensure its rebirth and revivification.
Getting to that point has felt daunting for new SDO board president Carol Lazier, the face of the movement to keep the company going, who confesses to being “the last man standing” after so many board members walked out of their breakthrough meeting on April 17th. The results of that gathering were chaotic, she says, yet wonderful. Afterwards, inspired by Lazier’s generous gift of $1 million to jumpstart the campaign, the immense outpouring of support that surged through the San Diego community-at-large proved that the city’s denizens clearly loved their opera company. Through huge numbers of donations large and small, they showed their solidarity in an unprecedented crowdfunding and social network campaign, the success of which astounded everyone following SDO’s remarkable journey. Even the sadly expired New York City Opera Company showed their support in helping get the word out: they did not want SDO to suffer their unhappy fate.
Lazier and Keith Fisher – company COO and Lazier’s prime supporter on her newly restructured team of board members and staff – both were astounded at the magnitude of the city’s efforts to ensure SDO would continue operations. The company must be saved, Lazier said, and the existing board had not fully comprehended the reality of the company’s situation. The abruptness of the announcement about the impending closing spurred the remaining board and the community to action. Along with devoted staff, the retooled board (pared down from fifty-six members to twenty-six), have worked hard to implement the plan for a “new San Diego Opera” that includes pay cuts for a reduced staff (already resulting in $9 million in savings); new lower-rent quarters for SDO offices; less costly tickets and productions (a planned Tannhauser has been cut because of its high price tag); bringing opera to neglected parts of San Diego County; and building a roster of younger, less high-profile singers than in previous seasons.
The 50th anniversary 2014-15 season already has been launched to great success with the stunning performance in recital of young duo opera superstars Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello on Sept. 5. The season’s three remaining full-scale productions, La Bohème, Don Giovanni and Nixon in China, remain intact. Rounding out the season will be one additional recital featuring Stephanie Blythe, a Mariachi opera, and a Gala benefit concert to take place at San Diego Symphony’s Copley Symphony Hall (the space donated by the Symphony). The 2015-16 season has been fully planned; the 2016-17 season is being developed. Former Chicago Lyric Opera General Manager William Mason has been engaged as interim Artistic Advisor, and an intensive search for a new Artistic Director has commenced.
Happily, the latest subscription stats show a great response in the number of opera lovers coming back to SDO:
- As of Sept 12, 2014, 85% of all households have renewed
- There has been a 377% increase in new subscribers
- There has been a 286% increase in lapsed subscribers (subscribers who used to attend but did not attend in 2014)
The result of all the above, and of the long, tough days that Lazier, Fisher and SDO staff have put in, is that a state of nervous excitement on the part of the opera board has morphed into one of optimism and eager anticipation.
In her brief prelude to the Pérez-Costello recital, Lazier pointed out that other companies have tried and failed to accomplish what SDO has done with such passion and commitment in a few short months. She characterizes SDO’s future as “novel and exciting.” And, according to Fisher, “The possibilities are endless.”
Featured Photo: Warner Music