On the heels of the demise of the nonprofit that was trying to plan for a big celebration in Balboa Park in 2015, San Diego’s cultural community took another blow Wednesday with the news that the San Diego Opera would finish the year and be done forever.

The company will put on the rest of its performances for 2014. The board had only one dissenting vote in the decision to shut down after this year. The general and artistic director, Ian Campbell, would not say who it was.

Campbell told me that he and the board of directors were watching with increasing fear over the last couple of years and that they decided they would not ethically be able to take money for tickets for the 2015 season knowing that they were likely to run out of money.

“It’s not a case of overspending or being profligate. It’s the revenue side, which was the issue,” Campbell said.

Campbell said they were “losing to death many of our strongest supporters.” And he said other cultural institutions in town should also think about what will happen as their donors get older.

“I do have a concern that we’re losing many supporters as they age and if you look at the programs of the opera, symphony, Playhouse, Old Globe, many of the same names are listed. This should be a wake-up call,” Campbell said.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

There seemed to be a lot of people wondering why the Opera didn’t alert the community to this and whether there was a donor or several who could have come through.

“All of the people you’re thinking of were asked,” Campbell said.

I asked Bill Stensrud, a former member of the board of the Opera and of Voice of San Diego, what he thought of the news. He was a major donor and is an aficionado of classical music and opera.

“Grand opera costs too much to produce on a regional scale,” Stensrud wrote to me in an email. “The markets will not support it and no entity downsizes well.”

Then he added a vision of the future of opera. He said it’s in offerings like Loft Opera in New York, a group of young artists who stage opera-infused performances in lofts and other new spaces.

“Their performances are exciting, low-cost and I have been the oldest person in the place every time I have gone.  This is a sustainable model,” Stensrud wrote.

Campbell really wanted people to know that the shows for this year are going on. He’s most worried, he said, about his staff.

“This whole thing is upsetting and frightening for everyone. If anyone is looking for good not-for-profit staff, we’ve got them,” Campbell said.

The Opera’s most recent financial report is here. Campbell said last year’s budget was $17.4 million and this year would come in under $15 million.

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    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Ross Porter
    Ross Porter subscribermember

    During a mid-1950s visit to San Diego, Frank Lloyd Wright told the community that "opera is dead." That was a full ten years before SD Opera was founded. A non-profit board like the Opera's should not be allowed to vote itself to close in a single meeting. Ian Cambell's comment that "Anyone you can think of has been asked" is evidence of arrogance that has engulfed the full board of directors. How about quitting your own job and letting someone else give it a try, Ian?

    Nicole Larson
    Nicole Larson subscriber

    I've dearly loved opera since I was introduced to it as a child and attended regularly when I was a student in Europe, but it's been years since I've been able to afford tickets.  I do think the San Diego Opera needs to consider the salaries paid to their senior staff, which seem excessive compared to other non-profit arts professionals. I'd go back in a heartbeat if I could afford reasonable tickets.

    William Smith
    William Smith subscribermember

    I've attended live opera, including San Diego Opera, since my mid-twenties.  I took the cheap seats and standing room at first.  SDOpera had tickets as cheap as $45.00 in the balcony. Some of my greatest emotional thrills have come from attending San Diego Opera.   Part of the problem is the "classical arts" are not taught or emphasized in our schools and pop-culture has just about overwhelmed everything.  The last president who loved classical music was Jimmy Carter, and look what happened to him.  This is truly a sad event for San Diego.  Still, I wonder if it was necessary to disband completely, but I was not at the Board meeting.

    -P subscriber

    I LOVE opera. I can't afford the ticket prices.

    Roger Bly
    Roger Bly subscribermember

    Maybe we could re-release the Amadeus movie in 3D to attract a younger crowd. ;)    I've been attending the SD Opera since my 20's  (starting around 1990).   I do love the art, but also have good memories of  shaking hands and chatting with the likes of Jenny Craig, Ivan Bosky, Irwin Jacobs, Charles Brandes, politicians, etc.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    This art form has died in San Diego because the opera failed to generate sustained, widespread interest and a diverse donor base. It was a nonprofit built around catering to the tastes of the wealthy. Tastes change.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    It's too bad that the "strongest supporters" can't raise from the dead (like JC on the cross above) on Easter and save the San Diego Opera world.


    There isn't SRO at SDO 

    osbornb subscriber

    This is shocking news. San Diego Opera is a very fine company, and its productions immeasurably enriched my life. I got to know and love live opera right here in San Diego.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    I've attended a few operas in the past and realized early on that it is not my cup of tea.  OK, I hate opera.  But it is a sad day in San Diego nevertheless.  While it may not be for everyone, opera is major art form and having a company here enriches the cultural life of the region.  Opera, symphony, ballet, and theater, etc., all blend together to make a major metropolitan area whole.  Choices are one reason why we live in cities.  The more the better.  Losing a valuable artistic resource is like a death in the community family.  Whether we got along with it or loved it is besides the point, it's still family. RIP SD Opera.