San Diego Arts Community In Shock Over Closing Of City's 50-Year-Old Opera

The San Diego Opera’s Board of Directors voted Wednesday to fold next month, following the final performance of its 2014 season.

The opera will wind down operations after the last performance of “Don Quixote” on April 13, CEO Ian Campbell said.

“After nearly 50 years as a San Diego cultural cornerstone providing world-class performances, we saw we faced an insurmountable financial hurdle going forward,” Campbell said. “We had a choice of winding down with dignity and grace, making every effort to fulfill our financial obligations, or inevitably entering bankruptcy, as have several other opera companies.”

Board Chairwoman Karen Cohn said it was a heart-wrenching, but unavoidable decision.

“After 28 consecutive years of balanced budgets, it was clear that we could not continue,” Cohn said. “In spite of excellent financial management, the Opera faced increasingly higher ticket-sale and fund-raising hurdles.”

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The patron and donor base for opera companies are diminishing nationwide. Opera companies in New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Baltimore, San Antonio and Orange County have gone out of business recently, according to the San Diego Opera.

The San Diego Symphony went bankrupt in 1996 and briefly ceased operations, but it was put back on solid financial footing in 2002, when Joan and Irwin Jacobs bailed it out with a $120-million donation. Unfortunately for the Opera, there is no such angel donor to come to the rescue.

“All the people who you would think we would ask we have already asked,” Opera spokesman Edward Wilensky said. “Unfortunately, no angel investor will step up to save us at the last minute.”

The news is particularly shocking for the local arts and culture community.

“I was shocked and very, very devastated. [The San Diego Opera] has been a source of civic pride and joy for a lot of citizens in San Diego for multiple decades. This is terrible news,” said Dana Springs, City of San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture, Interim Executive Director. “Citizens find solace [going to the Opera]. They find joy. They find educational opportunities in the arts and culture that we offer here. The arts are a draw for talent for our businesses. Also, the arts organizations themselves do a lot to put the money back out into the economy.”

Springs and Campbell agree the San Diego Opera and other arts organizations in San Diego attract tourism, which adds to local economic growth.

The Opera will stage one performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” March 20, and four performances of Massenet’s “Don Quixote” April 5, 8, 11 and 13 before ceasing operations.

“Although it is a sad day for San Diego culturally, we have to thank everyone who supported us for nearly 50 years,” Campbell added. “It is better to go out with dignity, on a high note with heads held high than to slip into the night, leaving creditors and community in the lurch.”

The Opera originated as the San Diego Opera Guild in 1950. The San Diego Opera Association was incorporated in 1965, and Campbell was hired from the Metropolitan Opera in 1983.

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