Ian Campbell protester

by Angela Carone | KPBS
edited by Lorie Hearn | inewsource

Ian Campbell, the longtime general and artistic director of the San Diego Opera, has been placed on leave effective immediately.

He will continue to receive his full pay and benefits. In 2011, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, Campbell was paid an annual salary of $508,021.

Campbell’s ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell, the opera’s deputy general director and chief fundraiser, has also been asked to step away from the company, according to a statement released Friday. She too will be paid during that time.

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“We have an amazing opera to fight for because of what Ian Campbell built,” said Carol Lazier, the acting board president. “But we need new leadership because we have a different vision now.”

The focus, she said, is on reshaping the opera in a fiscally responsible way.

Keith Fisher, San Diego Opera’s former executive director, will serve as the chief operating officer going forward.

The statement also outlines a new fundraising push for the 2015 season that includes crowdsourcing funds, and details regarding a special meeting of the opera’s 850 association members.

Campbell has been under fire since he guided the opera’s board of directors to vote 33-1 to close the company at the end of the 2014 season. Campbell told KPBS shortly after the closure vote that the opera’s financial future was bleak and he and the board agreed it would be best to close now and avoid bankruptcy. “This course of action will allow the opera to go out with dignity,” he said.

But that dignified end has eluded the chief in the weeks since, as the public and some board members tried to make sense of a decision that seemed to come out of nowhere. Campbell was booed during a pre-performance talk at the opening night of “Don Quixote,” the company’s last production of the season.

Campbell, 68, has led the company for 31 years.

In the weeks following the surprise vote, an effort to save the company took root among board members. At subsequent meetings, the closure date was postponed twice – it’s now May 19th – and more than half of the 58 board members resigned, leaving 27.

Lazier, the new board president after Karen Cohn resigned in a huff during the April 17 board meeting, has led the effort to forge ahead, pledging $1 million to the cause.

Putting the Campbells on leave allows the opera board time to negotiate the terms of the Campbells’ departure from the company.

Their employment contracts, deemed generous by an Internal Revenue Service expert, will be important factors in negotiations.

“We want to come to an agreement that is fair to the community and company and honorable to Ian and Ann,” Lazier said.

Fundraising is also a priority for the newly configured board.

That includes a $1 million dollar crowdsource funding campaign. The public is being asked to donate in small or large sums towards a 2015 season, which would be the company’s 50th. The funds will be placed in an escrow account so they can only be used towards the anniversary season.

If the 2015 season is not announced, or the $1 million goal not met by May 19, donations will return to the donor. “The new San Diego Opera will not only depend on large gifts, but the community’s engagement and support,” said Lazier in the written statement.

Meanwhile, the board will work to raise additional monies for 2015, but is no longer aiming for $10 million, the figure proposed by Karen Cohn after a five-hour board meeting on March 25th. An opera spokesperson would only confirm that the amount needed was “significantly less.”

The opera board meets again Monday with a full agenda. A final plan for the 2015 season has not yet been approved by the board. Opera America, a national umbrella organization, has advised the directors on what a cost-effective season might look like.

Reports after the April 17 board meeting had the budget for 2015 slashed by at least 40%. Cost-saving measures may involve performing operas in locations other than the Civic Theatre, where rentals can run as high as $129,000 per production, according to license agreements from 2011.

“We know we can’t do four fully staged operas,” said Lazier. “We may only do one and a mix of chamber operas. It’s all under discussion right now.”

The plan, says Lazier, is to use the 2015 season line-up curated by Ian Campbell, but change the way the operas are presented. That line-up includes “La Boheme,” “Don Giovanni,” “Nixon in China,” “Tannhauser,” and a mariachi opera. Contracts with singers are already in place for those operas, totaling $992,000 according to financial statements available on the Opera’s website.

Eventually, the board will need to vote on producing the 2015 season and rescind the vote to close on May 19.

Before the board meeting on Monday, Lazier will chair a special meeting of the association members, who will weigh in on the company’s future, including the possible sale or preservation of the company assets. As inewsource and KPBS reported on April 16, the association members, who give $100 annually to be a part of the company, have certain rights according to the opera’s by-laws, including nominating directors and approving the sale of company assets. The opera has $15 million in assets, including a scene-building shop on Commercial Avenue in San Diego.

Both meetings are closed to the public.

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Lorie HearnCEO, Editor and Founder

Lorie Hearn is the chief executive officer and editor of inewsource. She is a lifelong news-aholic who started her reporting career writing her Girl Scout newsletter at age 12. High school and college were filled with school newspaper work, and after graduation, she worked as a reporter for newspapers...

One reply on “Opera general director Ian Campbell placed on leave”

  1. This is an encouraging beginning, but most of the staff were hired and nurtured by Ian Campbell. Executive and especially the artistic department need house cleaning.

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