Much handwringing, slow progress on San Diego Opera’s Future

Much handwringing, slow progress on San Diego Opera’s Future

edited by Lorie Hearn | inewsource

Ian Campbell, general director of the San Diego Opera, was heckled and booed before Saturday night’s opening performance of “Don Quixote,” perhaps the last opera to be staged by the storied company.

Patrons in the upper balcony yelled “opera killer” and tried to start a chant of “Ian Out.” Meanwhile, patrons in the front rows at the Civic Theatre, many of whom, sources said, are longstanding supporters of Campbell, stood and applauded, competing with the dissention.

“It was definitely confrontational, and that’s always uncomfortable,” said Stephanie Thompson, who was in the audience and worked for the opera 13 years ago.

Campbell was making this “curtain speech” days after the San Diego Opera board breathed brief new life into the 49-year-old institution, which had been marked for closure on April 14. The board extended the deadline two weeks until April 29 to give another chance to those searching for a way to secure the future of local opera.

Moby Dick

Click to read part one of this series

KPBS obtained a transcription of Campbell’s speech. It was far from a rallying cry by a man who’s spent 30 years building the organization.

“I also want to thank the thousands of artists, orchestra, the soloists, the chorus, who have performed for this company loyally for so many years bringing incredible artistic standards to this city. I want to salute the backstage crew, the wig and make-up crew, the thousands of people who have made opera possible in this theater for so long.”

One patron said Campbell seemed like “ a man mourning a dead company instead of someone with a two-week reprieve.”

There was no mention of efforts underway to save the company or raise the $10 million dollars board president Karen Cohn said is necessary to mount the company’s 50th anniversary season in 2015.

In fact, no one on staff knew if Campbell would give a curtain speech. Staff sources said at 6:50 p.m., moments before the lights dimmed, the stage manager received a memo from opera board president Cohn stating that no one will give a curtain speech but Campbell.

Campbell then appeared and walked on stage to find a fractured audience.

The pre-performance at “Don Quixote” mirrors what has been going on behind the scenes at the San Diego Opera since the public announcement that the company would be shuttering because of lagging ticket sales and donations.

Sources who have first-hand knowledge of opera events but don’t want to be quoted by name because of their proximity have told KPBS that communication is nonexistent between management and staff, board members are resigning, and the clock is ticking toward April 29 when assets will be sold.

In the meantime, board member Carol Lazier pledged $1 million to explore a sustainable future for the opera.

Don Quixote

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Lazier said she wants her gift to help a strategic planning committee find ways to reinvent how opera is presented in San Diego. “This money is not being given to restart raising financial support from the community for the company as it exists today,” she said in a statement.

Some opera directors pushed to form a strategic planning committee during a marathon board meeting on Monday, March 31 to explore the company’s finances and future options.

According to the organization’s by-laws, such a committee would need to be appointed by Cohn. Sources told KPBS that has not yet happened.

The next board meeting when that could happen keeps getting rescheduled. It’s currently set for this Friday, April 11th.

Some worry that Cohn and other board members are dragging their feet on setting a course of action.

The vote to shutter the opera on March 19 was 33-1, but since then a group of board members has circled back, contending they did not have the appropriate information to make that decision. Opera finances have long been floundering, but board members and staff who have spoken with KPBS said the resolution to shut down was a surprise.

On March 28, this group sent a letter to Cohn and Campbell asking to review a long list of documents.

As of late last week, they said they’ve received some but not all of the information requested. The minutes of the compensation committee were not provided, nor were the results of an investigation into management conducted in late February.

The compensation committee is chaired by Faye Wilson, a board member with the title “Life Director.” Sources said she has led the committee for more than 10 years.

Wilson is in charge of determining Ian and Ann Campbell’s compensation package, including salary, retirement, and benefits. According to the board’s by-laws, the compensation committee is supposed to regularly report to the board:

“…a written summary of matters addressed and actions taken at each of its meetings. The summaries shall be submitted to the Administrator of the Association who will distribute them to the Board in advance of the next Board meeting.”

Click to read part three of this series

Click to read part three of this series

Sources said the compensation committee has not followed this practice. When deputy director Ann Campbell’s contract was altered in 2013 and signed by her ex-husband Ian Campbell, the action was never put before the board.

In the last couple of weeks, four board members have resigned, which leaves 53. A source said there is almost a 50-50 split between those wanting to explore ways to save the company and those committed to the proposed shutdown.

Board members are required to give a minimum of $25,000 upon joining the board and every year of their tenure. Most give far more. There are at least two members, however, who were given special consideration, according to sources, and haven’t given any money. They are reputed to be friends of the Campbell’s.

Some board members told KPBS they worry about not getting impartial legal counsel during this process.

Attorney Victor Vilaplana, of Foley & Lardner LLP, has been retained and is advising the board, though sources said they have yet to see an engagement letter spelling out his services.

Vilaplana served as best man at Ian and Ann Campbell’s wedding, according to multiple sources. At the March 19th board meeting, Vilaplana is cited in the minutes explaining how the company’s financial obligations will be handled.

Mr Vilaplana explained that as of April or soon thereafter, the Assignee would take possession of all Company assets and would be responsible for negotiating all outstanding obligations and contracts.

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