Opera: Campbells could get up to $3 million more

Board members not given compensation committee minutes

Designer Zandra Rhodes says, "Opera is really, really important to San Diego." (Wikipedia/Phil Konstantin photo)
  • Designer Zandra Rhodes says, "Opera is really, really important to San Diego." (Wikipedia/Phil Konstantin photo)

If the San Diego Opera closes down after this season, as administrative and artistic director Ian Campbell desires, Campbell and his ex-wife Ann could make $2.5 million to $3 million after their work is over, according to new information given to board members. I have interviewed several who are critical of the abrupt shutdown, and one who is not.

The post-shutdown subject had been up in the air. Chairwoman Karen Cohn initially said the Campbells would get nothing after the opera closed; then she reversed course and said they would get in line with other creditors. The board was recently given information on who those creditors are and what they must be paid. From that data, they figured that the Campbells could get up to $3 million if the opera closes.

On March 28, a group of eight board members asked the Campbells for a lot of information, as required by company bylaws and state law. They have received some of that information. Critically, they have not received the minutes of the compensation committee. That committee had deliberations on whether the pay of the Campbells correlated with compensation of other opera companies of comparable size. (Combined, the Campbells were paid $973,000 in 2009, when the opera was already in trouble financially. The next year, they were paid over $1 million, even as various cuts were being made. The administrative head of New York's Metropolitan Opera, about 15 times larger than San Diego Opera, took an 11% pay cut to $1.3 million when the economic doldrums hit that company.)

The compensation committee was in charge of an investigation into a complaint about a hostile work environment. Seven staff members were interviewed, the board was never informed that there was such an investigation, and still has no information on it.

On Saturday night, April 5, Ian Campbell appeared before the audience prior to the opera. He was booed and heckled — but also applauded by many in the audience. Campbell was adamant that the opera was closing after this season. The audience did not know that Nicolas Reveles, director of education and outreach, was prepared to give a second speech that has been described as "inspirational, informational." It would have pleased the board members and opera fans who want the opera to fight on. But a message was delivered that only Ian Campbell could give a speech. I haven't been able to reach Reveles today (April 7).

On March 19, the board of the opera originally voted 33 to 1 to disband after the 2014 season ended. But after many board members complained that they had been kept in the dark, the board voted overwhelmingly to extend the dropoff date to April 29. Karen Cohn has not impaneled that committee, and board members who are demanding information think she is stalling for time.

I could not reach Cohn or Faye Wilson, the powerful board member who has been behind many of the decisions for a number of years. I did reach Don Cohn, Karen's husband, who is not on the board but is close to the situation.

"The opera is broke; ticket sales have diminished and there are not enough donors around," says Don Cohn. He says board members all along have been informed of the financial peril. Those I have interviewed say that is not true; only a small inside group was kept apprised of the deteriorating situation. Don Cohn says it would have been "fraudulent" for the board to go ahead with the 2015 season and then not be able to pay bills.

Don Cohn says the board members demanding information have not received what they desire because they asked for too much too soon. Another source says those board members were told they could come to the opera office and fish through the files.

Don Cohn says he, too, was not happy with the pay that the Campbells have been receiving. However, "their contracts were public information for ten years. It is done," he says, speaking of post-shutdown payments, whether called retirement, severance, or a contract extension. He says that the reason the staff was not informed about the upcoming dissolution is that the board wanted to complete the 2014 season. The agenda for the March 19 meeting did not mention a vote on dissolution. That was deliberate, says Don Cohn, because the staff would have then found out. "If they [board members who disagree with dissolution] want to keep it alive, I guarantee my wife will be first to resign. I don't want to be liable [for possible debts]."

The board members who disagree with dissolution will hold a meeting tomorrow night (April 8). The full board meets again Friday. Carol Lazier, who has given $1 million to the opera to help it continue, did not want to comment. Several others did not return calls. Zandra Rhodes, the world-famous designer who has designed costumes and sets for some San Diego Opera productions, would only say now, "Opera is really, really important to San Diego. All of us that really care are trying to handle this in a proper manner."

Comments

Conclusions:

Ranks have closed.

Karen Cohn's word is not all that trustworthy.

Who would be capable of "fishing" for the files? Would those board members really be allowed access? Has anyone tried to go take a look? My guess is that most of the board members haven't had to do anything like that for decades. They have "people" for that. So would their "people" be allowed to take a look?

Have all the tracks been covered? Will anyone bother to take a look?

This really does show who was on the board to rub shoulders and obtain status, as opposed to those who value opera. Looks like those who value opera were in the minority.

eastlaker: The ranks have closed and both sides are rankled. The board is bitterly split. It is hard to count noses to see who is in the minority. I just know, from interviews, that both sides are zealously holding to their beliefs, and hostility is ubiquitous.

This isn't the first time the opera board has been bitterly divided. At the time Tito Capabianco abruptly left in the early 1980s, the animosity among board members was equally intense. I had several friends who would never speak to me again. That was true of most board members, I suspect. Best, Don Bauder

It certainly isn't the first time, and the hostilities unfortunately seem to last: at a dinner a few weeks ago, when the situation was brought up, one guest pointed out that she has been boycotting the San Diego Opera... for the last thirty years!

cgv: Goodness. She can't be an opera lover. Best, Don Bauder

And now we know exactly what was said in that boardroom to make everyone vote to close. We foresee a huge deficit next year and you, as board members, are all liable. And now, let's take a vote!

ArtsAnon: No one has told me that such a statement was made or even implied at that March 19 meeting. Remember, the board voted overwhelmingly to delay the dissolution at its next board meeting. Best, Don Bauder

It's depressing to be right on the money sometimes, a juicy severance package seemed the only logical explanation for Mr. Campbell's absurd prattle about the impossibility of Opera in our City, and "watered down beer". The books must be opened of course, but when they are, we likely will find that every asset has been thoroughly looted. Salaries were high, but likely we will see self dealing with donated funds added on top of that. Those fiercely loyal board members may well have shared the loot, until they make public every detail, we should assume the worst. They accepted donated funds, they have a duty to explain what happened to the money. They may continue to ignore common decency, but they will obey the law.

Psycholizard: A major factor, I fear, is Ian Campbell's desire to go elsewhere with his current love interest. I suspect Ann may want to leave town, too. I hope that is not a contributing factor for the hasty decision to give up the ship, but I am suspicious.

The books ethically should be opened -- but will they be? If board members can't get information, how can the public?

I have no evidence of looted assets or self-dealing-- other than the excessive pay of the Campbells. Certainly, the unwillingness to fork over information -- particularly the minutes of the compensation committee -- is deeply troubling.

The problem with the possibility of the Campbells walking off with $3 million is that fact may inhibit contributors to step forward to keep the opera going. Best, Don Bauder

William Smith: You ask the right questions. The Campbells and the board had plenty of time to do more cost-cutting. Cutting from 5 to 4 operas was obviously not enough. I believe the opera could go forward next year with only two operas, or possibly one. The opera could hire second or third tier singers instead of insisting all the time on first tier ones. There are many other economizing moves that were simply not made. And there were few new strategies for marketing, fundraising, administration, cost-cutting, and repertory changes. Best, Don Bauder

According to the minutes, the March 19 meeting was a touch over an hour long. I can imagine a situation where board members were barraged with bad news and a bleak outlook, and then the leaders painted a clear picture of each member's liability. There was no deliberation except for some technicalities of how the dissolution would work. So shellshocked with information that you didn't see coming, you are asked to vote. Fast forward to the next meeting. They deliberated for nearly 5 hours and with cooler heads decide to look into the situation a bit. Don, I understand that no one has told you that this is what happened. I am just trying to piece together all the facts that we have, spare as they are, into a coherent picture. I believe this is one explanation. Especially with Mr. Cohn's statement that his wife would resign if it became clear that she'd be liable to pay creditors.

ArtsAnon: I will try to get information on whether the subject of possible board member liability was used as a hammer. Best, Don Bauder

The State of California has laws governing non profits that solicit donations, I don't believe it's legal to stuff the money in one's pockets while pretending another purpose. For the period between when the Campbells decided to fold the Opera, many months ago by their account, and the day they announced the closing, Ian Campbell was stuffing the money in his tuxedo while talking up a 2015 season that by his confession, he believed unlikely to happen. In the common parlance this is a charity scam, and fancy bylaws and rules of operation can't make it honest. I'm less certain about legalities. I bet a subpoena cracks open the books.

Psycholizard: That is a serious charge that is not likely to hold up. Campbell was taking pay for the 2014 season. Yes, he continued to talk about a 2015 season to the board -- right up close to the time it voted to disband. From what Mr. Cohn told me, the staff was deliberately misled; that's why the dissolution vote was not on the agenda. But is that fraud? Disingenuousness, yes. Fraud -- no, I would say, unless more evidence comes in. I would presume Campbell and his coterie of insiders had consulted a lawyer on that secrecy strategy. Best, Don Bauder

If you know that you are not going to be having a season and you mislead the public into donating money then, yes, that would be fraud. The trick would be proving it. It would be interesting to see what Mr. Campbell has on his company email account that might pertain to this issue.

James Ryan: I think it would be hard to prove that the opera actually KNEW it would not have a 2015 season. Worried, yes. Knew, harder to prove. Best, Don Bauder

He confessed the deception. Many lawyers would recommend staying quiet, and perhaps we know when they consulted a lawyer, by when they stopped talking. Statements known to be false, made to enable the solicitation of charitable funds smell like crime to me. I'm not a lawyer.

Psycholizard: Opera administrators and a few board members made deceptive statements to the board and staff when saying they were planning for the 2015 season. Politicians make deceptive statements all day every day. Was the deception fraud? Hard to say. Best, Don Bauder

When politicians take campaign money, and just spend it on themselves, they get in trouble. Money collected for cancelled campaigns must follow rules to be spent legally. We may know soon what the rules for folded non profits are. Apparently they're complex enough to hire a legal team.

Psycholizard: There are serious complaints about the lawyers who have been hired. They may be far too close to the inner circle. Best, Don Bauder

Whatever it was, the damage that it did to the fund raising efforts of other local charities and arts organizations will be felt for years. Heck, if you could not trust the opera to use your donated money to continue to offer the same sort of productions that you had seen for years, whom could you trust? No, there will be fallout from this, and the museums, ballet, even the symphony, and the small fry theatre operations will suffer from the distrust that this fiasco has engendered.

Visduh: Unfortunately, I believe you are right. This will dent other nonprofit fundraising efforts -- but I said "dent," not "crush." I doubt that it will have a huge effect.

There is one angle that will have a long-term effect. People now suspect that Ian and Ann Campbell rushed to close the opera abruptly to protect their post-closedown monetary packages, which could be up to $3 million. That leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. Best, Don Bauder

Just because Kangaroo-Dung Campbell's salary has been public for ten years doesn't mean anyone liked it, nor does it mean that - since the company wasn't about to be shut down - did any of the board have to pay attention to any amount of public displeasure. They do now. Likewise, accountability needs to be paid to the $500K per year rent the opera is paying on an un-necessarily large office, and who that money is being paid to. There's a MILLION per annum savings right there. Campbell, who I have ALWAYS said would make great Thylacine bait, has never been worth his salary, and is a second-rate sponge, bilking this community for all he could get. It's appropriate that he's closing out the opera with Furlanetto, who was a Capobianco hire to begin with. Good riddance, Ian, you little pillock. Don't let me catch you in a dark La Jolla alley with any of my friends from the singing community. They won't be prop-fists on that occasion.

JohnBurtPolhamus: Your Aussie-centric invective is certainly heated, but I understand how you feel. I have talked to several who feel as strongly, but don't express themselves as colorfully.

You are correct that Ian Campbell has to explain why he never moved the company out of that aerie downtown. And he must explain why he didn't cut multiple costs, such as his and Ann's salaries, far earlier.

I was on the board much of the time during the Capobianco years, and I don't remember that Furlanetto was hired, but I don't challenge your statement. It's one that could be checked.

I do disagree with you on the operas presented by Ian Campbell. They were consistently very good, and often absolutely splendid (Julius Caesar in Egypt, Boris Godunov, Tales of Hoffmann, Tannhauser, to name just a few.) He worked hard and was dedicated, and is an excellent judge of talent. San Diego got great opera under him. I loved being close to the opera -- and attending virtually all of them -- during the years of Walter Herbert, Capobianco and Campbell.

I do not understand why he pursued (with the counsel of his coterie) that abrupt shutdown strategy. I do not know why he did not change his repertoire, marketing, fundraising, and administrative strategies much earlier. The shutdown may -- repeat, MAY -- be defensible; the way in which it was done, and the keeping of board members in the dark, are not defensible. The fact that he and Ann may walk off with a total of $2.5 million to $3 million is reprehensible. Best, Don Bauder

Don, I have to disagree with you on Campbell being an "excellent judge of talent." Did you see Pagliacci? The soprano with a wobble you could drive a truck through, was absolutely abysmal. The tenor never should have been hired to sing Canio. The staging was horrible. The only good singer in that cast was Tonio. Pretty much a night (and a very short night) of ugly singing. I fumed in my orchestra seat during that production realizing how much I paid for what was probably the worst production I've ever seen at SDO. And then there was the tenor with the teeny tiny voice that Campbell hired to sing Calaf. As if that weren't bad enough, Campbell hired him to sing Manrico the next season!! It was impossible for him to sing it, and he backed out of the final performance and the Opera scrambled at the last minute to bring in Eduardo Villa. How many extra thousands of dollars did that cost? And then there was the last Carmen, another ugly voice and a singer who couldn't act. And then there was the tenor who couldn't sing or act Alfredo.... need I go on? Every once in a while, we get a singer worthy of an "international season" (as Campbell so loves to tout), like Furlanetto, Racette and Harteros, but sorry, most of the singers have been average to mediocre.

Rigoletto: I am sorry to hear your opinions of the Pagliacci. Up to now, the main complaints I have fielded about that are the staging of only Pag, and not Cav-Pag. For decades, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were presented in the same evening. Now opera companies are economizing and doing only one. SDO did that. If what you say is true, SDO was REALLY economizing.

Which role was so bad in the last Carmen? Was it Carmen? Don Jose? Escamillo?

Best, Don Bauder

It was the role of Carmen sung by Nino Surguladze in 2011.

And yes, the fact that we only got Pagliacci and not the double bill was fueled my anger at that horrible production. Just out of curiosity, can you name another opera company that has done only Pagliacci, and not the pair?

Thanks for your excellent reporting!

Gee, John, why don't you tell us how you REALLY feel about Campbell?

Visduh: Maybe because JohnBurtPolhamus has run out of Aussie pejoratives. Best, Don Bauder

Nice. Threats to feed the Opera Director to a Tasmanian Wolf or to beat him up in a dark alley. Keep it classy, John.

monaghan: You are the biggest Campbell supporter on this blog. But in your sarcasm, you are handing Aussie invective to the other side. Best, Don Bauder

Don, this whole scenario reads like an opera, time to add music and produce an opera to save the San Diego Opera. Wagner would have loved this opportunity.

Anon92107. Much of what Wagner wrote was about gods. I don't see many gods in this fiasco. Best, Don Bauder

THE SHEISTER SINGERS---possible working title.

Psycholizards: Or Das Mine Gold. Best, Don Bauder

Psycholizard: On second thought, make it "Dat's Mine Gold." Best, Don Bauder

Must revert to the revered "uffda" response!

Scott Marks: But can Clint Eastwood sing? Best, Don Bauder

Pretty raspy, not much range. Might have good stage presence though.

eastlaker: They should have had him sing the Star-Spangled Banner at that Republican convention instead of standing there talking to a chair. Best, Don Bauder

That was art, I loved it. Dada lives!!!

Singing cowboy originally, reprised that in later movies.

Psycholizard: Maybe there is a role for him in Puccini's Girl of the Golden West. Best, Don Bauder

Why have we heard nothing from Mayor Faulconer on all of this? He certainly has enough to say about a Chargers stadium, yet no real leadership regarding the potential loss of this large arts organization and the resulting loss of 400 jobs. It is disgraceful.

And what of the Commission for Arts and Culture? Every year, the Opera has submitted copious paperwork to get its $350,000+ grant from the City--were they telling the truth in those applications? And if not, what would be the upshot? Why isn't the Chair of the Commission speaking out?

Your current reporting may be the most troubling yet. I suspect Mr. Cohn was not authorized to speak, and was going "off the cuff," therefore I tend to believe all he said. And the cocktail party chatter around town has definitely concurred that the reason the Board voted so hastily is that they felt THEY would be personally liable. They were scared for their own pocketbooks, as Don Cohn states here.

The scandal of it all is that a beloved organization will be sacrificed on the egos and self-centeredness of a few.

The best resolution at this point: Ms. Cohn, the Campbell's, and nay-saying Board members resign. Nic Reveles becomes acting general director, Carol Lazier becomes Board chair, and a real strategic planning process begins to rebuild San Diego Opera into a new and viable organization.

Anon 92067, well said as usual. I keep trying to turn this cultural disaster into a truly money making opera, so I offer some components for consideration such as:

One of the set designs can be based on Hieronymus Bosch’s painting "Hell 4" to represent Paradise Plundered.

A ballet must be performed by Filner and Allred singing lustily at each other.

A combined opera board and BPCI chorus can perform a dysfunctional oratorio inspired by the San Diego elite in action.

Throughout, the opera Pope Manchester could be featured showering sewertorials down on San Diego from his personal firmament, while his newest puppet-mayor promotes another money losing stadium subsidized by taxpayers, to replace the opera.

I'm certain that if we all pitched in we can create a real moneymaker to save the opera, they keep giving us ideas daily.

Anon92107. First, we need something to remind us that you are NOT Anon92067, but Anon92107. There are plenty of operas about hell -- Orpheus in the Underworld, Orfeo, Orfeo ed Euridice, for example -- but none that look like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Bosch could really scare the hell out of you. I love his work. Best, Don Bauder

Don, just remember I'm the OB version and he's the RSF version. I'd much rather hear the ocean at night.

Anon92067: According to the LA Times, Faulconer said the City won't give money, but he will help the opera to raise private capital. He said this while he is negotiating with the Chargers, who will get an enormous subsidy from the City. I am checking if he actually said that with Faulconer's staff.

So, like Minnesota, it will be a case of hundreds of millions for a football team and very little if anything for the arts. Personally, I don't believe in public subsidization of either. But the mayor's political instincts are telling: he knows people will pay to keep the Chargers but not to keep the opera. Best, Don Bauder

I'm not sure about the state of Minnesota, but the City of Minneapolis is exemplary when it comes to support of the arts. The entire power base there encourages philanthropy at a high level. When new companies come into town, shortly thereafter a delegation of corporate CEOs and politicians pay a call asking the new CEO what charities he/she will be supporting and at what level. The whole 5%-to-charity corporate philosophy started in Minneapolis (Target was a big inspirationi), and their mayor is VERY involved not just in arts and culture but with the entire nonprofit community. San Diego has never EVER had even a modicum of that kind of institutionalized pressure to be a "good citizen." We have been lucky to have a few families--the Jacobs, the Copleys, Joan Kroc, Conrad Prebys--who have stepped up in a big way. But no Mayor has been a leader, and generally the corporate community is very cheap in San Diego, with only a few exceptions like Qualcomm. The philanthropic problems plaguing the opera plague many other organizations serving our community. But the sad difference with SDO is that their weak board and strong-arming CEO have thrown in the towel and for some weird reason, want to shut it all down rather than rebuild it or let someone else rebuild it.

Someone should take a close look at Faye Wilson and her role in all of this--she seems to have her hands in so many aspects of this tale. One wonders: how much of her own money has she contributed? And what sort of relationship (personally) does she have with the Campbell's and Cohn's?

Anon92067: I agree that Minnesota is one of the most enlightened states. That's why the hundreds of millions for a Vikings football stadium while the orchestra was writhing in a near-death experience was puzzling. Best,, Don Bauder

The orchestra suffered from exceptionally bad administration which, fortunately, has improved. It took a strike on the part of the symphony, however. Thank goodness it is working out.

Loggerheads. As a technique, it might not be pretty, but it can work.

eastlaker: Some of their best players left and it's still up in the air if their great conductor will return. He has conducted at least once on a part-time basis. Best, Don Bauder

Yes, there is a strong campaign for his return, and things are looking much better.

While it would do little to repair all this damage, a criminal investigation of the events and actions leading up to that ill-considered vote would be appropriate. There is a small chance that it is already underway. The DA has a duty to insure that wrongdoing hasn't been hidden away. But with this DA, who knows about duty? And even if anything were to come from such an investigation, there's no reason to think anyone would suffer much punishment.

Visduh: Look at it this way: what's in it politically for the DA to look into possible mischief at the opera? Sadly, nothing. Best, Don Bauder

Those ripped off for the most money are generous donors, a group much beloved by politicians of both parties.

Psycholizard: Yes, Bonnie Dumanis is devoted to protecting the superrich, her backers, but the word "opera" would scare her off. Best, Don Bauder

Gosh, I thought that the DA was supposed to be above politics, as much as it is humanly possible to be. Wrongdoing is wrongdoing, isn't it? Isn't it??? Not on Bahnee D's watch.

Visduh: A DA above politics? The last one was Ed Miller, and he is now dead. Best, Don Bauder

start over with a manager that can actually get the opera to show a profit?

better than a bunch of leaches in charge.

Murphyjunk: Starting over with a completely new company might be the only option. But is it doable? Best, Don Bauder

NEW YORK TIMES TELLS OF MET'S DEVASTATING PROBLEMS. Today's (April 8) New York Times tells of the deep troubles of the nation's largest most prestigious opera company, the Metropolitan Opera. Essentially, unions are making devastating threats to management, which is shooting back. Some of this is normal posturing in union negotiations, but the Met's statistics are extremely disquieting.

"The Met -- worried by declining box office income, high labor costs, a growing reliance on donors and heavy spending from its endowment that has left it smaller than it was a decade ago -- opened negotiations recently by asking its unions to accept cuts of roughly 16 percent," notes the Times.

Singers in its chorus made $200,000 last season and are being asked to take $170,000. (The New York metro area, including parts of New Jersey, has a lower cost of living than San Diego. Manhattan has the highest cost of living in the nation.)

Last year, the Met's attendance dropped to a new low -- 69% of capacity. Hurricane Sandy and a price increase were part of the explanation. So the Met has lowered ticket prices.

The Meet's "Live in HD" is now beamed to 1900 theaters in 64 countries. Some think those broadcasts are cannibalizing ticket sales, and hurting regional opera companies, but the article doesn't discuss this.

Link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/08/arts/music/operatic-drama-swells-in-met-labor-talks.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

Best, Don Bauder

Don, you're making a serious charge, with no proof.

The Unions in NY have not made any "devastating threats." It is the Met Opera that is making the threats. The Unions have been told that if they don't accept the 16% pay cuts, they will be locked out. The Unions have been informed that the Met was amassing a $10 million war chest to allow them to lock out their employees.

Some of the Unions signed contracts with 0% pay increases in the recent past, and are now being asked for more.

The Unions have suggested that the Opera work in a more efficient manner within the work rules. It was the Opera that required the employees to come in for Sunday rehearsals, not the Unions. It's the Opera requiring the chorus members to work 12 hour days.

As for cost of living, how does living in the San Diego suburbs compare with "parts of New Jersey?" Please don't compare apples and oranges.

msalzber: If you read what I said -- and what the Times said -- both sides are making devastating charges. That's typical of contract negotiations. Best, Don Bauder

Don, I just re-read the article, and your post. You claimed the Unions were making 'devastating threats,' not 'devastating charges.' I can't find any such threats in the article, nor, in fact, do I see any devastating charges, unless you think bedbugs are devastating.

msalzbar: The union wanted to meet with the Met management at the Empire Hotel. Said the union head, "If you refuse to meet with us there, you make that choice at your peril." That's not a threat? The Times referred to "colorfully threatening emails." Best, Don Bauder

msalzber: I've had threats like that which I considered devastating. "At your peril" -- strong words. Best, Don Bauder

The NYT piece today spelled out the details of the fate of Grand Opera in the United States. I especially appreciated the description of what was required to produce Puccini's "La Boheme" in NYC this month: "Opera is labor-intensive. The Met's production...employs seven principal singers, 80 chorus members, 35 children, 72 musicians in the pit, 12 musicians in a stage band, 106 nonsinging supernumeraries and a horse and a donkey. Backstage, 94 stagehands help change its monumental sets and make it snow in the third act." The story goes on, "European opera companies rely on state subsidies to augment their income, while American troupes rely on donations."

Under Ian Campbell San Diego has had the benefit of opera productions that were full equals of anything made in NYC. Now it appears no one can "make it snow" here anymore. Personally, I am very sad to lose the magic.

But wait! Just today snail-mail brought me a letter and brochure, inviting me to "join us for San Francisco Opera's 2014-15 Season with an Out of Town Series. See two or three operas in two or three days, all while enjoying the extraordinary attractions that make San Francisco an ideal vacation destination...." Unseemly dancing on a grave -- but then again, it could be fun.

monaghan: I recommend you go. San Francisco Opera is a superb company. I saw a Tristan und Isolde there and all four Ring Cycle operas in a splendid Ring. I can't blame San Francisco for trying to pick off people who go to San Diego Opera. Best, Don Bauder

Don Bauder, I believe that I read that same NYT article. There is one thing I noticed in that article that you forgot to mention. Peter Gelb instituted several changes after he took over in an effort to "try to make opera more relevant to younger audiences." Increasing the number of new productions each season and hiring well-known directors to create them and the “Live in HD” program among others. According to the NYT, since Gelb took over, expenses have risen by more than $100 million per year. So with the Met's box office in decline, and Gel's citing that decline as a reason for needing to make cuts, perhaps those changes were such not wise ones.

danfogel: Gelb has taken a lot of criticism for his spending. Maybe it was not wise.

I love to see the Met on HD in theaters. That's a Gelb innovation. But I fear that the HD productions may be cannibalizing live attendance. It's so much cheaper, and the performances come through splendidly, both the visual and the sound. Best, Don Bauder

Bob Shuttleworth: Many would welcome resignations of the Campbells and the coterie surrounding and mollycoddling them. However, the matter of how much pay the Campbells will receive on departure must be cleared up if more donations are to come in. Best, Don Bauder

Deborah Gondolfo: But there would be problems with resignations of the insiders, particularly if the matter of what is owed the Campbells is not cleared up. Best, Don Bauder

William Smith: The number of yearly operas should have been cut several years ago. To go from five to four was not enough. If the opera is to have a 2015 season, two operas should be the maximum. Best, Don Bauder

Jim Ahab Boydston: I have heard that some in the inner circle have reneged on pledges, but I don't have the information pinned down sufficiently to print any names, or even to state definitively that it has happened. Best, Don Bauder

Natalie Mann: Congratulations for having the last name of a great writer. Best, Don Bauder

Jim Hopper: Congratulations for having the last name of a great American artist. Best, Don Bauder

Pablo Armendartz: Thanks for the flagellation. I am trying to do my best about typos. There are several factors: 1. A goosey computer keyboard; 2. Shaky fingers and fading eyesight of the author, who turns 78 next month; 3. The sheer volume of items I put on the blog, which you are welcome to check. Best, Don Bauder

Hopefully no marks were left! But I was Just Wondering ... was it good for you? I know one thing, I appreciate having to bust out the dictionary from time to time when reading your responses.

JustWondering: Polysyllabic words shouldn't stump you. Best, Don Bauder

Last year the Virginia Opera presented five operas, on three stages, before 60,000+ attendees, for a budget of 6.2 million. Twice the attendance on half the budget of San Diego Opera. When this farce is over, we can expect and demand an Opera that wins fans on a budget.

Psycholizard: I have never been to Virginia Opera, so i have no idea about the quality of the performances. Best, Don Bauder

Luthar Oconnor: The word about which Armendartz complained was not misspelled. It had a typo in it -- a slip of the keyboard that was not caught. Best, Don Bauder

Pablo Armendartz: Don't worry about hurting my feelings. My job is to be a pin cushion or punching bag. Best, Don Bauder

Luthar Oconnor: If one realizes the many very serious questions about this attempt to shut down an opera company, one must agree with you: a typo is not a mea maxima culpa error. It isn't even a mea culpa error. Best, Don Bauder

Don, thank you for your always excellent investigative reporting.

Too bad enough people don't fight harder for San Diego, but Manchester is turning it into a cultural cesspool with the Opera and Balboa Park just two more victims of his culture of hate and destruction to maximize his power of money regardless of consequences.

Truth is, if I hadn't been born a block from the ocean, and have since lived for decades and raised a family a block from Sunset Cliffs I would leave also, but I have a lifelong love of the ocean which is in my DNA.

Thanks for your dedication to saving San Diego.

Anon92107: Some think I am trying to destroy San Diego and its opera company. Best, Don Bauder

eastlaker: You can't tackle a problem without the facts in front of you. That's what I am trying to provide. Best, Don Bauder

Quite to the contrary, Don. It is clear you are a true opera-lover, and aficionado to boot. When public institutions like SDO (whether privately funded or not, they benefit greatly from tax exemption) do not behave ethically, it is often only journalists who can bring light and truth to a subject. In this case, sadly, you may be tilting at windmills like Don Quixote himself, given the amazing power that Ian Campbell seems to have over his Board. But thanks for trying! You may be helping save opera in San Diego, and that is a noble cause.

Anon92067: I am certainly doing my darnedest to save opera in San Diego. At least that's what I believe I am doing. Best, Don Bauder

San Diego Highwayman: Yes, greed appears to be a big factor in this misadventure. But from a macro standpoint, when is greed NOT a factor in a controversy? Best, Don Bauder

Eric Swanson: There is no evidence of embezzling. The opera's insiders can only blame themselves for rumors of financial mischief, because they are not turning over documents they are required to produce. Best, Don Bauder

What is San Diego Opera??? Never seen, never been to, and don't really care. Am saddened that again the taxpayers, constituents & citizens are duped out of millions of dollar$ to help something that very few people care about, can afford to go see, even if they wished to! When are we going to use OUR city tax dollars to buy some rope and first tie up all these sill characters that keep pilfering our coffers, then re-use it to hang them by their kohunas and then, if they still aren't behaving soundly make it into a whip to keep them motivated to do the right thing. Crime is crime, and punishment is needed for these bad actors!! Including the "companies"/businesses that are involved in all this mis-appropriation(sp).

FreedomPlease: The opera gets something like $354,000 from the City. Groups like the symphony get a similar amount. That's not millions and millions. But when the City subsidizes the Chargers to the tune of $700 million or so -- THAT will be millions and millions. Best, Don Bauder

I have a question about a comment made by a poster to this blog. They claimed that “both Mr. and Mrs. Campbell brand new and expensive cars just a few years ago--BOUGHT, not leased, to the tune of $100,000 total for both.”

Can this information be verified? And if it is true, who authorized the purchase of the vehicles and who are the legal owners (or lienholders). If this allegation is true, and if there was not written authority in the SDO by-laws, then what would these transactions be considered?

Ponzi: I have posted an item on Ann Campbell's contract: the opera provided her with an auto, and paid for expenses such as insurance and maintenance (except when she was using it on personal business.) Ian's contract might have something similar in it. I would have to check. Best, Don Bauder

If I thought it highly likely that someone would be indicted for a crime, I would be more careful in my statements, even opera killers deserve a fair trial. But it's far more likely the perps will leave town with the bags of loot in their hands, so I scream bloody murder, asking that the books be dug up and examined. Even though Mr. Campbell has confessed deception, unless the hidden books contain something nastier than his clever scheme to lay himself off thereby triggering a generous buyout of his contract, he likely will dance out of town laughing. The difference between a leading citizen and a common thief is often four zeros in the amount stolen.

Mr. Cohn's statements, that his wife and others might be liable for corporate debts, would be true if they were treating the corporation as personal assets, if proven, creditors could go after officers and board. I've never heard of board members of a charity being sued this way, but the lawyer telling them this presumably has looked at the books.

Psycholizard: A comprehensive audit by an independent third party is absolutely essential. I fear you are right -- that the Campbells will escape town with loot in their saddlebags.

More and more, I am convinced that the reason for the abrupt, ill-handled, ill-timed and disingenuous attempt to shut down the opera was generated by one thing: Ian and Ann Campbell's fear that if the opera went forward next year, and had to incur debts, their $3 million in retirement/severance could be jeopardized. I hope I am wrong. Best, Don Bauder

JAHJA LING TO ENTER OPERA PICTURE? IT'S DOUBTFUL, BUT POSSIBLE, DEPENDING ON THE ROLE. There is a rumor that Jahja Ling, music director of the San Diego Symphony for ten years, will step into the opera mess as a possible savior. It has been reported that he made such a statement -- even saying he might come in in an executive capacity. "I would say that would be very doubtful," says Ward Gill, chief executive of the symphony, who can't speak for Ling.

My own guess is that the rumor started as people realized that if the opera dies, the symphony will have a natural market to exploit: it could put on semi-staged operas, or have recitals of opera singers with the orchestra. Gill says that is possible, but that he has had "no communication" with the opera since the announcement March 19. In his many years as a music administrator, "I have never seen anything like this," he says. Symphony musicians are in the opera orchestra and stand to lose a lot of money. According to the rumor, that is why Ling wants to step in in some way.

My own guess is that Ling may have told somebody that the symphony might do some sort of semi-staged or recital opera arias if the company goes under, and the rumor escalated into Ling saying he might step into the picture. Ling is an excellent conductor who might do something like conduct San Diego Opera performances for a low fee to help the company and his own musicians. He is an internationally-renowned conductor who would probably not be interested in administration.

In other news, opera board members who want to save the institution got an optimistic report last night from two board members who traveled to Dallas to consult with those who helped with that company's problems.

The problem in San Diego is if the current opera disbands, paying out money to the Campbells and other creditors, selling costumes, sets, music and other essentials, it would be very difficult to start up a new company. Best, Don Bauder

OPERA INSIDERS FURTHER CIRCLE THE WAGONS. Keith Fisher, chief administrator of San Diego Opera, sent a memo Monday announcing that a handful of opera insiders are further tightening their grasp. Said the memo, "What we are now calling the 'Operations Team' will make executive and administrative decisions, particularly about financial issues, publicity, and public statements." This inside group will consist of Board Chairwoman Karen Cohn; General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell; assistant head of the opera Ann Campbell, Ian's ex-spouse; Fisher, and Michael Lowry, the head of financial operations.

Said Fisher, "This system may be a bit cumbersome, but it sets a protocol, covers all the departments, seeks everyone's input, and involves the board through Karen Cohn WHEN APPROPRIATE." (Emphasis mine.)

Staff members "can invoke this policy if a board member requests something related to finances, operations, or publicity." (Several board members have requested detailed information, and as of now have not received some critical items, such as minutes of the compensation committee.) Fisher claims in the memo that the requested information has been provided. Best, Don Bauder

We're forced to speculate, but from the start my smell said Ian Campbell wanted out of town in a hurry for an unknown reason, but also wanted all his contract money. Normally an artist or athlete in this situation acts like a jerk until they pay him to leave, but as artist-manager Mr. Campbell couldn't buy himself off. So he concocted the scheme of laying himself off by closing the company, thereby triggering the buyout clause in his contract.

This basic outline seems confirmed on every point, in spite of repeated denials, but so much is unknown. Why does Ian Campbell want to leave town so quickly?

Specifically, I wouldn't know why Mr. Campbell wants to leave town in such a big hurry. But I agree with everyone on the need for a thorough audit. And I think that Mr. Bauder probably got it right when he said the Campbells are trying to make sure they get their $3 million. Sorry state of affairs. Smarm and charm a-plenty from the Campbells; ethics, not so much.

eastlaker: Read my last message to Psycholizard. I understand from several good sources that he wants to go to New York. Cherchez la femme. Best, Don Bauder

So it boils down to tawdry soap opera after all? And that--while destroying an opera company and putting hundreds of people out of work, jeopardizing symphony musicians, none of that means anything to the Campbells, it is just take the money and run. No sense of hurting all those people, no sense of the sadness of the collapse for the musicians and related artists. No sense of remorse, just pure ego and selfishness. I can't imagine anyone hiring Ian Campbell for anything after this. Except the Kardashians, perhaps.

Or maybe he can do infomercials for a new product. Smarm-in-a-can, the oiliest substance available, recommended by all the best snake-oil salespeople, for when you really, really need to get out of something.

Psycholizard: I have heard from several sources that he wants to go to New York to be with his new girlfriend. But he also wants his share of the $3 million he and Ann will split upon the closing of the opera. He'll need it if he intends to live in Manhattan, which is even more expensive than San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

Mara Oh: Yes, your parents would weep over this. Plenty of people are weeping now. Best, Don Bauder

Eugene Ingram Jr.: Yes, an independent audit is essential. Best, Don Bauder

I keep looking at the photo at the top of this blog post, and I keep thinking of what might be but is not. "Designer Zandra Rhodes says, 'Opera is really, really important to San Diego'", is the quote. And it could not be more mistaken. Maybe for her and a few people, the opera is "really, really important", but few San Diegans care about it at all, and the numbers of those who care keep dropping. If the quote read "should be", instead of "is", that might be defensible. 99% of the local folks don't go to operas, don't even like operatic singing, and could not care less about this.

And this lack of interest is what dooms the SDO to either a quick death or a slow lingering one.

Right now what is dooming SDO is the board's refusal to cooperate with those who want it to survive.

So I guess if Karen Cohn and the small group surrounding Ian Campbell have decided to hand over the $3 million and say forget about it to everyone else, what are the options?

Law suits--but they take time, and time is dwindling. So, are we going to let Ian and Ann Campbell strip the remaining assets and head for the hills like a couple of old-style bandits?

There is nothing stopping them from the standpoint of ethics, and I supposed they aren't thinking about returning to San Diego once they have left.

You'd think those still defending and supporting the Campbells might want to start thinking about their own life post-SDO. But maybe they are going to take that cruise around the world for the next year, and by the time they are back, will just hope everyone will have forgotten this mess.

Except I don't think this will be forgotten that easily.

The lawsuits have started. Yesterday's Mill reports the opera singers union has asked for an injunction to freeze the assets of the opera to insure the members get paid. I thought someone might go the injunction route on this. It's too bad that it is only the singers and that their concern goes no farther than insuring they don't get stiffed, but it is better than nothing.

Visduh: At the Met, management wants to reduce pay of chorus members from $200,000 to $170,000. I am sure SDO chorus members don't get anywhere near that much. And the San Diego metro area has a higher cost of living than the New York metro area (not Manhattan alone). Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: Opera has always attracted a small percentage of the population. That is just a fact. I agree with Zandra Rhodes that opera is very important to San Diego. I am even willing to utter vile heresy in San Diego: saving the opera is more important than subsidizing the Chargers to the tune of $700 million. Best, Don Bauder

Just when you thought it couldn't get crazier, I heard from my wife, who has neighborhood friends at SDO, that they have hired Mark Fabiani as their "crisis management" guru--and he's the guy who works for the Chargers to strategize lobbying for the new stadium! Yikes--he was also a consultant to the Clinton's! Definitely a heavy hitter, but seems kind of late to address a crisis that has so spiraled out of control...

Maybe the damage control has really started...or maybe we will end up with a combination football stadium/opera house!

Psycholizard, Dadaism definitely lives!

Many large organizations have made huge errors in contracts with CEO's who prove to be incompetent, They pay whatever is necessary to get rid of the CEO. If this puts the company in bankruptcy, at least the Directors can say they tried to save the company. How is it possible that Karen & the Campbells who are the cause the problem are part of the small committee have the power to totally destroy opera in San Diego? Are there no corporate laws which would make it possible for new Directors to take over? Maybe there are donors who would understand that it will be necessary to pay the Campbells 3 million to preserve opera for the future. Maybe some of the Directors who voted to renew his contract would be willing to help pay for their great error!

I appreciate your sense of outrage--one hopes that some legal entities are looking into things. I doubt anyone will take responsibility for this. Those who should will probably just say they were doing what Ian Campbell told them to do, which is really a version of the excuse that is not supposed to work "just following orders".

The board members, though, did get rid of the previous board president as well as Opera America about a year ago. I have to think that is because those who wanted to try and take the situation in hand to make sure SD Opera could survive were in the minority. At any rate, they were not towing the Ian Campbell party line, and so were sent off.

Lots of problems. We need total access to records. I also think it is time for depositions. How can an organization supposedly run by the business leaders of San Diego be in such a mess? Because the business leaders were not running it, Ian Campbell was, and he was running it for his own benefit.

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