The San Diego Opera relied on media coverage to help stop it from shutting down last year. The story had a villain: an overpaid leader who wanted to cease operations rather than do anything but the highest-quality grand opera it had produced in the past. It also had a hero: folks inside the company who fought hard to keep it alive, arguing that opera could survive by raising enough money, making big cuts and changing up offerings to include more affordable and accessible shows.
The public listened and many reacted by showing their support through a successful crowdfunding campaign, sending a message that opera is important in this city and they wanted it to stay.
San Diego Opera is again making headlines, but the new narrative is likely one the company wishes would go away.
Its new leader, David Bennett, is being blamed for playing a major role in the death of Gotham Chamber Opera, which announced it would be closing after discovering a big debt that had been kept off the books during Bennett’s time as its director.
I recently spent hours with Bennett as he scouted alternative venues in Barrio Logan that might make for interesting backdrops to a much more experimental 2016/2017 season. He proved to be a gutsy, idea-filled risk-taker when it comes to creating opera that might attract a wider, younger audience, and that’s partly why the San Diego Opera board president said they stand behind their man no matter what’s happened in his past.
Adding to the opera’s unwanted spotlight, the Union-Tribune dived deeper into Bennett’s past and found that he was managing director of Dance New Amsterdam, which closed in 2013 due to financial issues that started during Bennett’s tenure.