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In reporting on the San Diego Opera’s looming closure, news outlets around the city have come to spread a few myths as facts.
The future of the San Diego Opera hangs in the balance, and there’s been no shortage of speculation on the causes and implications of such a loss.
It is not. World-class opera happens in New York, possibly San Francisco, Chicago, various cities in Europe – perhaps two dozen places total. Then there are somewhere between 50 and 100 “first class” opera companies, from Houston to Lyon, Bratislava to Bucharest and Graz and maybe San Diego.
With its four annual productions and 16 performances, San Diego’s got to be the smallest of these first-class companies. Over the years, acclaimed singers have performed here. The pay is competitive and with only four performances during one month – one per week – the stress remains within limits. But let’s not kid ourselves with a tacked-on “world-class” distinction.
Not really. Three hundred to 400 people may provide services in one form or another at various times of the year. But the vast majority of opera associates are part-timers.
Any job lost is a pity, but the statement of “hundreds of good jobs will be lost” is clearly an exaggeration. It’s not like Solar Turbines moving to Texas.
No, the general director’s salary is not the issue. Campbell’s pay is well in line with those of other regional U.S. operas – the U-T has published good information on this.
Campbell has taken upon himself the double role of general and artistic director. With San Diego producing merely four operas on 16 evenings, the tasks between these two jobs appear manageable. Campbell should be compensated appropriately, considering both his dual title and industry standard.
Correct, our opera does not have its own building. But that’s no reason there couldn’t be suitable space made for donor recognition. We could reconfigure the area around the bar, or establish a small museum to display history, milestones and donors.
The real disadvantage of the opera lacking its own building is having to fill the Civic Theatre’s massive space. With its 3,000 seats, it’s simply too large to provide a top-notch opera experience. Part of the audience misses out on the ambiance of the performance while sitting so far from the stage. These are multidimensional, total works of art – live orchestra music, singing, acting, architecture, refined illumination and part fashion show.
Plus, the Civic Theatre’s stage features decades-old stage technology, which really is not on contemporary standard. The space for the audience looks worn, and the outside façade is most unappealing, not to say ugly.
The opera deserves its own theater, maybe in Balboa Park or Mission Bay. It deserves a more appropriate size – 1,000-1,500 seats – state-of-the-art technology, remarkable design both inside and out. It could be what the opera always should’ve been: a venue radiating wonderful vibes to become a destination itself.
No, it is not. Some opera companies are failing, but others are emerging, and in some cities, opera is booming.
Whether it’s looking at a Rembrandt at the Timken or a Keith Haring work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, attending a drama by Shakespeare or Sam Shepard, experiencing live a Beethoven piano concerto or one by Elton John, “true” art is here to stay. Our city’s museums are doing well; we enjoy great concerts and the Old Globe operation is outstanding. Opera is the most complex art form demanding substantial investment. Not only financial, but in education, appreciation and patience.
But future achievements reflect the efforts of the past. Let the change start now.
Eduard Schmiege is an opera fan and civil engineer. He lives in Tierrasanta. Schmiege’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.