The inside story of San Diego Opera's demise

Who is at fault?

On the evening of March 20, San Francisco Opera held its annual meeting. David Gockley, general director, said the announced folding of San Diego Opera is "a tragedy." San Diego was"one of the best-run companies in the country for decades — it sends shudders through me and my staff that this happens to a good company, not a New York City Opera." (That New York opera company was known to be mismanaged.)

There is a lot of criticism of Ian Campbell, general and artistic director of San Diego Opera, and the board, which voted overwhelmingly to disband after the last opera this season. But the company did slash costs. It faced the woes that every opera company — in fact, every serious music organization — faces: audiences are dying off and younger and middle-aged people are not coming in to take their places. Classical music in the United States appears to be in the early stages of a death spiral. San Diego Opera acted before it got heavily in debt and had to go into bankruptcy.

Look at the numbers from San Francisco Opera, one of the nation's premier companies. The number of subscribers dropped from 165,000 in 1980 to an expected 93,000 next year; the company hopes the decline will only be to 80,000 in 2022. In 1980, ticket sales were 58.7 percent of the budget. That will be 32 percent next year. Gockley said that throughout the nation, opera companies face "the slowly declining role of subscriptions, the difficulty of balancing budgets...the marginalization of the classical arts in education and the mass media, the plethora of competing entertainment forms" and similar woes.

San Diego Opera faced the same factors — particularly after the Great Recession that began in 2007 and technically, but not realistically, ended in 2009. (Polls show most Americans don't think that recession has ended.) Total tickets sold dropped from 41,353 in 2010 to an estimated 31,500 for this season. Total ticket revenue dropped from $5.4 million in 2010 to an estimated $4.3 million this year.

San Diego Opera's net assets declined from $22 million in 2009 to $15.7 million last year. The biggest drop was $3.8 million in 2012, although the decline was $770,310 last year. The opera gets almost 40 percent of its revenue from ticket sales; the rest must come from donations, and after the Great Recession, they were much harder to bring in.

San Diegan Marcus Overton, who has had positions with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, marvels that Campbell and the board mulled the financial problems for three years, but no one was "able to formulate plans for an alternative business model for the company" in trying times. He believes overhead was too high -- particularly the plush offices across from the Civic Center. He does not understand why Ann Campbell, Ian's ex-wife, was promoted to a high post, and both Campbells had high salaries. (The company's 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service indicates that in 2011, Ian Campbell made $508,021 and Ann Campbell $282,345. Four other officers had salaries in six figures.) Overton also believes two of the four operas could have been oratorio-style (bereft of sets, costumes, and the like.)

Ian Campbell points out that expenses were $17.4 million in 2007 and and probably less than $15 million this year."To reduce expenses we dropped from five operas to four in 2010, reduced the number of performances, reduced outreach programs we had offered for decades, and later reduced staff, with those remaining carrying a greater workload," says Campbell. "It was to no avail." He adds that for the last twelve months the opera has looked for more economical space.

As to his salary, Campbell had two jobs: general director (overseeing all operations) and artistic director (planning all artistic matters). The board's performance review committee, consulting Opera America's survey of similar positions, determined that Ian Campbell's salary was appropriate. Ann Campbell negotiated her own salary and Ian Campbell was not involved.

Welton Jones, former arts editor and critic-at-large for the Union-Tribune, is not critical of Ian and Ann's pay. They were at going market rates, Jones says. However, he dislikes the abrupt announcement of the demise. "They are saying that this board and this staff are unable to run the company, and if they can't run it, nobody else can," says Jones. Like Overton, Jones thinks the board should have determined if some other chief executive officer could have saved the company. Ian Campbell "shaped the board, the board supported him. He stayed out of trouble with a ham and eggs menu." Says Jones, noting that he has been going to the theater for 50 years, "If you give people what they want, you can't keep them away."

Preston Turegano, retired arts writer for the Union-Tribune, says, "I can't believe the board would not encourage Ian to retire (save face) and reorganize, hiring new blood at a cheaper salary and creating a budget they could live with."

However, Charlene Baldridge, a San Diego arts writer who interviewed Campbell each year, is not critical. After 2009, "Every year he stresed that unless the economy improved and with it attendance and corporate, governmental and individual support, there would be no way forward eventually. I know he diligently tried and I don't think the board can be blamed for failure. The fact that [Ian Campbell] did not compromise quality and did not run up a huge deficit and then declare bankruptcy is to his credit."

Personally, I agree with Baldridge. The economics are simply against serious performing arts, in San Diego and everywhere. I think the Campbells and the board did what they could against long odds.

(Full disclosure: I was on the board and advisory board of San Diego Opera over 30 years, and was a bravissimo angel donor, giving $5000 to $12,500 a year, probably averaging around $10,000 in the last 15 or 20 years. Ian and Ann Campbell are personal friends, as are Jones, Turegano, and Baldridge.)

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Great synopsis, Mr. Bauder. Thank you. I might have missed this, but is there any data indicating that ticket prices went up after the number of performances was reduced? If they did increase, that would strike me as a self-fulfilling prophesy in this current economy.

Duhbya. Today, Colorado Opera of Denver announced that it had saved the 2015 and2016 seasons. Until last season, it had three operas. Lastyear it dropped to two. It will do two idea hof the next seasons including a newly-commissioned work. This got me thinking thatperhapsI I have been too easyonSan DiegoOpera.

I want to know how many alternate strategiesitconsidered. Did it consider dropping to two operas? did it consider doing Gilbert and Sullivvan? musicals? Lyric Opera of Chicagoisdoing anAmericanmusical.

Incidentally, pardon my typing. I am using an iPad ins hotel room. Best,DonBauder

Viewer. Yes, I can hardly think of anything else. Best, Don Bauder

This is a sign of the decline of the middle class - and even of the upper middle class. A household making $150K / yr in San Diego certainly doesn't have to worry about having basic needs met, but after skyrocketing housing, energy, tuition, etc costs, something like opera tickets might be regarded as an un-necessary luxury.

I think the middle and upper middle class (those who aren't unemployed) are working longer hours for less pay now.

But hey, housing prices are strong and the Dow is at record levels so it's all good for the ruling classes.

Very well summarized ImJustABill. The Ruling class (Koch Bros. et al.) is plundering and destroying the American Dream that We The People used to be able to thrive on.

In San Diego, the Plunderer in Chief is Manchester who is destroying everything that made San Diego “America’s Finest City” even though that characterization may have been a myth in some ways.

viewer: Isn't Manchester supposed to have a good soccer team? Best, Don Bauder

viewer: The Lincoln Club will argue that REAL football is the American kind, and that's why the City should give away $700 million or more to the Chargers. Best, Don Bauder

I think the original idea behind "trickle-down" economics - that the government should have policies which are favorable to businesses and wealth producers - may have had some merit. But whatever the original intent, in practice trickle-down has started to turn into a shift of wealth to the upper classes, without any real improvement for the lower or middle classes.

ImJustABill: Trickle-down economics never had merit, in my opinion. Best, Don Bauder

ImJustABill: The middle class is vanishing all over the U.S. -- not just San Diego. High housing prices are good for the middle class, too -- except for those wanting to buy a house. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: I am an "upper known person?" Hmmm. Best, Don Bauder

I don't know how you've managed to follow any of what viewer posts, I gave up trying to figure out the incoherent ramblings in the very first comment of his (or hers) that I read.

KLoEditor: Admittedly, it's not easy. Best, Don Bauder

You have to read between the syntax.

Duhbya: You should know: you have to pay a sin tax. Best, Don Bauder

If this were basketball, I just earned an assist for feeding you a pass and helping you make an easy layup. I will admit I was expecting it. Nice shot.

Duhbya: Yes, you did set me up, and deliberately, I suspect. Believe it or not, I did play varsity basketball in high school, although I warmed the bench a lot. Best, Don Bauder

Man, I can relate to that. Why I pretended to play basketball is beyond me. I think I scored two points during the entire season before I decided to stick to football and baseball. I was on the bench so much that the coach created a new position for me. He called it "Left Out".

Duhbya: One time I went back to my old yearbooks and checked. I was the seventh highest scorer in my senior year, maybe sixth. I would have guessed I was tenth. Best, Don Bauder

Anon92107: Was San Diego ever Amerida's Finest City? It never was in the arts. Best, Don Bauder

Republicans have an absolute gift for constructing phrases and slogans that stick. America's Finest City has a pretty sound and all, and I don't object to it (better than Enron by the Sea) per se, but I have a feeling that phrase doesn't mean what we think it means.

KLoEditor: "America's Finest City" was a construct of Pete Wilson after San Diego lost a Republican convention amidst scandal. Best, Don Bauder

Exactly. What he meant by it sticks in every progressive's craw, I would imagine.

KLoEditor: It was a Republican convention to anoint Richard Nixon for a second term. I doubt if many progressives gave a damn where the convention was held. Nixon whipped a progressive (McGovern) in the election, then in the midst of the Watergate scandal resigned the office. Best, Don Bauder

ImJusftABill. I will have a lot of information on that very topic in an upcoming column. Best, DonBauder

ImJustABill: San Diegans get psychic income...moderate pay, extremely high cost of living. There is not much left for entertainment. Best, Don Bauder

Nearly $800,000 in pay for two administrators? Guess I am completely out-of-touch with today's reality.
So what happens to the remaining assets? Will these two get diamond studded golden parachutes? Or will they get a thanks for your services like the formerly employed musicians and actors. (Eyebrow cocked and raised) .... Seems there are "insiders" who know how to enrich themselves in every facet of our culture, even the arts.

JustWondering. Good points. In 2009' Ian told me in aReader interview that bad economic problems lay ahead. He was cutting the number of operas and performances.Later hecut staff. But two years later,in2011' hewasmaking half a million each year and his wife, now ex-wife,was making almost three hundred thousand.

Should he have elevated his wife,despite her competence, to second in command? I think not. That said, when both had such high salaries, I was on the advosory advisory board. I did not like it, but I did not say a word. So I am a hypocrite criticizing it now. Also, the board should explain the Campbells' retirement packages. How much will each (or Ian) get annually? Critically,, would a bankruptcy have affected their retirements? Best, Don Bauder

JustWondering: No golden parachutes. Check my recent interview with the opera chairwoman, above. Best, Don Bauder

I think most ticket buyers had no real interest in opera and were only trying to come into contact with wealthy prospects. Financial planners, stock brokers, real estate agents etc. descended on the opera like maggots on a carcass hungry for clients to fleece. When these hucksters encountered diminishing returns due to the economy, they stopped buying tickets and went elsewhere for clients. There's no real interest in opera apart from business promotion. There's no real interest in the symphony either. Less than one out of five symphony goers are interested in the music. Most symphony tickets are purchased by hucksters looking for prospective clients.

I think there's a lot of truth to that: the symphony, the opera, Del Mar racing, the Padres, the Chargers, charity balls - these are all institutions that have benefited from ticket buyers looking for places to treat the clients to a night or day out to schmooze them. I've gone to the Pops, the track and the Chargers on someone else's corporate dime and eaten a few ballroom dinners because someone had "bought a table" and filled it with people they thought could help them somehow (back when I used to be somebody, used to be a contender).

As for opera - well, it has always been a niche market and changing tastes have made it even more so. As with the symphony, though, it had enough cachet among the monied classes to generate financial support way out of proportion to its actual popularity. Those forms of "classical music" are in some ways the public transit of music, serving a narrow slice of the population with each ticket heavily subsidized, in this case by corporate and individual donors and, no doubt, a few bucks from local government over the year.

The subsidies are drying up because of the economy and because the old rich folk who were the biggest donors are dying off.

Don B - I have to say I was surprised to see that a working class journalist could ante up so much in the way of donations every year: there had to be some sacrifice behind that and I am sure this is a very personal loss to you.

viewer: I assume you are asking me if a rich relative, or my inheritance, subsidized my gifts to the opera. As I told Bob Hudson, that was not so. The money came from speeches I gave in the community. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: Most of my gifts came while I was a writer/editor for the Union-Tribune. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: Unlike you, I don't remember a lot of what I have written. But I have written millions of words as a journalist, beginning in the early 1950s. Best, Don Bauder

Bob Hudson: The only reason I was giving so much to the opera every year is that every time I gave a speech, the organization had to give $200 to the opera. As you can see, I gave a lot of speeches. The amount climbed through the years. It started at $100 a speech, then went to $150, and ultimately to $200.

Opera and other forms of serious music are heavily subsidized in Europe, but very lightly subsidized in the U.S. (San Diego Opera got modest T.O.T. funds locally, and also in the 1990s got a big grant to perform 20th century operas. I think that was a government grant, but I am not sure. In any case, it backfired, because the audience was not too interested in 20th century opera.) Best, Don Bauder

Burwell: It has always been true that people went to opera to be seen, to schmooze, and to network for business. Those factors certainly would have become less important in the Great Recession. But there are many other factors in this, too. Best, Don Bauder

Thank you for this description. Everyone seems upset and blame is liberally applied everywhere -- the Koch Brothers, Papa Doug, venal climbers fleecing clients, lousy public schools without arts programs.

But the truth is that San Diego Opera under the direction of Ian Campbell was, for the ticket-holder or subscriber or patron, a superb experience. The usually hyperbolic term "world-class" fully applies to the San Diego Opera. Apparently also now, the phrase "Sic transit gloria."

I would remind those who feel Ian Campbell is overpaid: Yasiel Puig, a rookie outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers who was brought up from Cuba last year at age 22, was offered a five-year contract for about $25 million. Puig is a great baseball player. Ian Campbell is a genius director of classical grand opera. The pay differential represents the American Way.

If this can't be pulled out of the fire -- which, unreasonably, I still hope may happen -- we owe a debt of gratitude to Ian Campbell for the miracles he worked for so many years. And thanks to every patron-angel who ever made a gift to keep San Diego Opera alive -- even former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price who controversially gained a lot of good publicity for herself by providing County subsidies to the San Diego Opera. She had the common sense and good taste to do what the federal government isn't doing for worthy arts institutions across the nation.

While contrasting two unreasonable salaries certainly isn't the strongest argument for either one, somewhere in the neighborhood of three million fans will pay to see the Dodgers, and Mr. Puig stage their act with 81 home performances. If Operas around the nation could just pull in 10% of those numbers we wouldn't be here discussing it.

JustWondering: The REALLY obscene payments go to some hedge fund operators who rake in a billion dollars a year and then only pay a 15% tax on the loot. CEOs of large corporations average around $15 million a year. That is obscene, too. Best, Don Bauder

monaghan: I agree. Ian Campbell did a great job, artistically and financially, for many years. But why did the opera give up without trying alternative strategies to survive? Lighter fare such as Gilbert & Sullivan or Die Fledermaus or Merry Widow or other Lehar works or musical comedies could have been tried -- and are being tried elsewhere. Best, Don Bauder

KLoEditor: Pam Slater-Price deserves credit for what she did for the opera. Best, Don Bauder

monaghan, it should be pointed out that plutocrats like the Koch Bros. (who control herds of politicians with the power of money) and Manchester (who uses media propaganda power for political control) are increasingly deciding what American social and San Diego cultural values shall dominate our social, political and economic lives. If the powers that be don't give a damn about opera and the Balboa Park centennial they won't happen.

Anon92107: There is no question that politics is increasingly dominated by big money these days. The Koch brothers aren't the only offenders. On the left, George Soros tosses money around, too. Best, Don Bauder

Don, while we usually agree on matters of local concern, and although you made a balanced report, I don't fully support your conclusion. I agree with Overton, and wonder too why more drastic measures were not taken first, before just throwing in the towel. I partially agree with Welton Jones about the abrupt shutdown.

One thing that was not mentioned in regard to cost cutting was Campbell's salary, and that of his wife. While that was going on, did he take a pay cut? (I think we all know the answer to that one.) As to a "going rate" for opera directors, with as few companies in the nation as now exist, it is very hard to judge. When you are talking about a non-profit and one that was largely eleemosynary, such as the opera, princely salaries should be regarded as unseemly. Yet Campbell, and a host of others were, by your description, taking down six-figure salaries. So, it doesn't matter what the "going rate" was, if there was one at all. That "going rate" argument is used constantly in the public sector to justify high pay for school administrators, school superintendents, college presidents, fire chiefs, police chiefs . . . the list is endless. But very often all that results is a game of musical chairs, where the players move around from position to position at steadily and increasingly hard-to-justify compensation packages.

You, Don, have reason to decry the upward spiral of CEO pay in corporate America, some of which rubs off outside the corporate realm. I'd have to say that Campbell's pay and that of his wife were very hard to justify. So, while there is an air of inevitability about this whole affair, the fact that the opera didn't go down fighting for its survival just sticks in the craw of many folks.

I completely disagree that Ian Campbell's salary was "unseemly." We are every-ready to denigrate artistic accomplishment in an effort to reduce adequate compensation for successful artistic endeavor. Campbell MADE grand opera happen in San Diego (which, before he came in the '70's, I remember as lame, pretentious, silly and expensive -- sorry, diehards.)

Maybe the opera form is too grand, lavish and costly to continue in a town like this, or maybe anywhere. Even in Italy, there are always proletarian protests outside La Scala openings. But we are the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the world, and we squander money left and right on worthless endeavors (Iraq and Afghanistan, to name two.) There are so many rich people in this country who could make a decision to fully back opera in San Diego, including subsidy for low-cost tickets for students and the elderly and the poor -- why? just to keep something so wonderful alive. And of course, the federal government could do it too, though that will never happen.

I also disagree with the desperate notion that substituting another musical form such as oratorio (lovely) or Gilbert & Sullivan (charming and fun) or opera movies (totally different) or that some costume-free or dancer-less production might be the answer to what is, in fact, an anesthetic-free cultural amputation as terrible as anything depicted in "Gone with the Wind."

monaghan: I disagree. In fact, I remember a one-to-one conversation I had with Ian that took place, I believe, in the 1990s. We were talking about bringing in bigger audiences. He would have been happy doing a Gilbert & Sullivan, he said, and had given it thought. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: The Campbells actually did take a pay cut, but still wound up making too much. For the year July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, they made a bit over a million dollars combined. They dropped to $800,000. But that was still too much. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: Ian and Ann raked in over $1 million combined in the July 1 2009-June 30 2010 season, then dropped to $800,000. But I think it was still excessive. Best, Don Bauder

At the rate the Opera's assets shrunk last year, it would take twenty years for them to sink to zero. Let's zero in on that figure, $15.7 million in assets, that the Opera Board intends to zero out. What do they intend to do with this? Why shouldn't those assets be devoted to more Opera for San Diego?

Psycholizard: Yes, but what about the shrinkage the year before that? Best, Don Bauder

If we average the two years, it would last eight years or so. I might not last eight years, but I'm not hanging myself so as to leave with my head held high.

Psycholizard: If the company had decided to go down to two operas, it may have been able to go on indefinitely -- then, if things turned up (I am not counting on that), could have added more. Actually, Ian drastically cut the number of operas the first year he came in. Best, Don Bauder

If the retirement packages for Mr. Campbell and the ex Mrs. Campbell mirror their active pay then that money is spent on them and there are no funds for future performances.

JustWondering: One of the critical pieces of information is how much Ian Campbell's retirement package is, and whether a bankruptcy filing would have negatively affected it. I don't know whether Ann has a retirement package; if so, we should know that, too. Best, Don Bauder

JustWondering: I am trying to find out those retirement packages. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: Ironically, I was watching an opera this afternoon, and concluded I had been too soft on the opera in this column. 1. We must know why the Campbells continued to rake in $800,000 even as expenses were slashed elsewhere. 2. Ian Campbell's claim that he was doing two jobs is weak; so was Tito Capobianco, his predecessor. I was on the committee negotiating his salary in the early 1980s when he abruptly quit. He was going to make around $150,000. Adjust that for intervening inflation and it doesn't come to $500,000. 3. What about the Campbells' retirement package? Would a bankruptcy, which the board was studiously avoiding, have affected their pensions? 4. Ian did basically pack the board with people who agreed with him. 5. Did the board consider alternative strategies -- lighter fare (Gilbert & Sullivan, Lehar, works like Die Fledermaus and Merry Widow, perhaps musicals)? How about going to two operas? Or some chamber-type operas in smaller venues? The board should explain to the public all the strategies it considered and rejected. 6. The board must give more information about its deliberations, or it may be forced to do so through a lawsuit.

I still believe the macro picture is clear: opera -- particularly 19th century grand opera -- is in a death spiral. Even with all the factors above, the board may have made the right decision. But it MUST give more information. Best, Don Bauder

I have heard young performers scream incoherent nonsense to an untuned guitar, then leave the stage calling the audience idiots for not liking the act. This is not precisely what the Opera board did, but there are similarities. At some point they started losing audience, then blamed the audience and conditions for the failure. Ian Campbell deserves credit for running an Opera company for thirty years and leaving it with $15 million in assets, but if he doesn't think he can make it work he must step aside, and let another try. He must not be allowed to scuttle the ship.

Now as to the future of Grand Opera....Try this, jump to the last act of Turandot in your favorite recorded version, and close your eyes, tell me you can't see the Prince and the Enchanted City. Opera doesn't need spectacle if the voices are spectacular. Opera may always be for the few, it's not about numbers, it's about those who love to sing, and those who love to hear them. If the money is gone, those who love Opera will keep it alive.

Psycholizard: Yes, the last act of Turandot is glorious. In our recording, Placido Domingo sings "Nessun dorma." There are beautiful arias throughout all eras of opera: Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart, Gluck, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini, Verdi, Richard Strauss, Wagner to name just a few.

Tragically, however, the statistics DO show that opera, particularly grand opera, is in the beginning or middle stages of a death spiral, greatly because of the costs, and, of course, changing audience tastes. Look at the charts above on San Diego Opera attendance. Few are more depressed about that than I am. Best, Don Bauder

Buck up. Opera needs someone with financial expertise right now, who will fight for it. We need you. I chose TURANDOT because the answer to the riddle is love. I'm Facebook fans with a young lady with a nose ring and tattoos who loves Opera enough to pursue a voice degree at SDSU. The money battles must be fought by those who know money, but win or lose, young people will make it live long after we're gone.

Psycholizard: Since I am almost 78 years of age and we have a huge collection of CDs and DVDs, I will get through this trying time. But I have sons and a grandchild. I do hope that young people wake up and come to serious music -- not just opera, but symphonic and chamber music, too. Best, Don Bauder

I would like to be Don's personal friend of many years so he can quote me in a story.

Besides me, there's only missing from this story: unconfirmed but quite possibly true rumors.

commando: Yes, you are the one who always compains about rumors. I have said that credible rumors when labeled as such are acceptable. Best, Don Bauder

Hi, I am a violinist with the SD Symphony. I would like to know if you have any thoughts on how San Diego Symphony can continue serve the still-alive opera fans in San Diego, now there is huge void in the music life from this art form? Would remaining opera fans appreciate high quality concert version operatic-vocal-oratorio music? It just seems that it would be a terrible shame here that a large part of great classical music will be MIA simply because there is not an opera company in town, while there are still quite a few audience and donors left.

shenyeh: I am happy to share my thoughts, for what they are worth. If I were managing the San Diego Symphony, I would immediately institute "opera nights" in which one or two singers sing the great opera arias to the accompaniment of the orchestra. I think that would be a huge winner, and it would fill a hole left by the abrupt and still-unexplained demise of San Diego Opera. Best, Don Bauder

Thanks for your great suggestion. I posted a link to the article on my Facebook for my colleagues to see. I hope there will be opera nights here and there will be supporters of the opera like you joining us to bring in the top stars to San Diego in these concerts. I also hope there will be an opera company here again.

shenyeh: The San Diego Symphony could also do complete operas oratorio-style. Other symphony orchestras have done that. Best, Don Bauder

The economy and uncertainties certainly still pose as concerns for the paying public. For this year's opera gala, which we covered, it did not sell out. Low end tickets for just the gala were lowered to $650 per person versus $1,250. The gala was very well done, but I think that regretfully the bottom line factors in the reality of affordability, especially in today's world. On the flip side of keeping modern, the San Diego Symphony is doing a tremendous job inviting the younger public, to affordable events.

Margo: I value your input tremendously. I think you should share it with the board of the opera, even though it would seem to be too late.

It's fascinating to hear about the opera gala not selling out even though ticket prices were lowered. This may have been one of the factors in the decision. The opera board complained about "donor fatigue" This would certainly be evidence of that.

I think it is possible that the opera board and other insiders became quite insular. Some people may have felt they wouldn't fit in. That has to be explored -- among many questions that must be answered by the board.

Wanna know something? As I have said, my wife and I were bravissimo angel patrons -- the highest classification. The names of my wife and me were listed in the program among the biggest donors, those giving $10,000 and above. There were our names listed with Bank of America, the James S. Copley Foundation, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Muriel Gluck, the National Endowment for the Arts, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the John M. and Sally Thornton Foundation, among others. Again, the money came from my speeches. We never went to a gala because we could not afford it. Best, Don Bauder

A key point missing from your piece, Don, is how much longer Ian will receive his salary. I'm hearing rumors that he'll get his full salary through 2017.

Joaquin_de_la_Mesa: I have not heard that rumor. But the board should answer it -- and reveal Ian's retirement package, among many things, many of which are listed on this blog. Best, Don Bauder

During a musical soiree' imagined by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice everyone dutifully suffers through the Symphonies waiting for the Opera Arias to return. Opera once was considered lowbrow pandering compared to the esoteric pure music of the Symphony. When Opera flops and the Symphony flourishes, it's not because the world won't listen to great music.

Psycholizard: The question is whether the San Diego Symphony is flourishing. Yes, it has a huge endowment, thanks to Irwin Mark Jacobs and his wife. But is it getting big audiences? We need some answers from the San Diego Symphony, as well as from the San Diego Opera. Best, Don Bauder


Opera is not in a death spiral...opera management is:

(Full disclosure...the author is my wife)

operanow: It is thrilling to read that Omaha put on a successful Agrippina -- Handel's only comic opera. We have seen it only once (in Santa Fe) and of course have a recording of it. My wife and I are Handel opera fanatics, but I never would have recommended Agrippina to San Diego. It did put on a wonderful Julius Ceasar in Egypt and a wonderful Ariodante, but I doubt that the attendance was impressive.

Back in the early 1990s, when Ian grabbed at a grant and wanted to have modern operas for 2 of the 5 offerings in the upcoming season, my wife and I at a meeting warned him it wouldn't work. Before he had arrived, a large part of the audience had walked out on Strauss's Elektra, which debuted in 1909. Ian wouldn't listen to us then but later admitted we were right. He cut down the number of modern offerings. That's why I don't agree with critics who think San Diego Opera failed because it wasn't adventurous enough. The numbers show that isn't so. The audience preferred a conservative, older menu. Ian had the right formula in the latter years.

What brought down San Diego Opera was economics -- the crash of 2008 and subsequent economic weakness. It brought down other opera companies and other classical music organizations as well. The weakness still persists and the opera board and Ian were shrewd enough to see that.

The main point I am trying to make is that San Diego Opera has to reveal much more than it has revealed at this point, which is almost nothing. I have spelled out my questions in various posts above. Best, Don Bauder

The first opera I ever attended was in Vienna and was Strauss's Elektra. Some pretty intense stuff...

While I was not familiar with it, hadn't studied the libretto, it was still unforgettable.

It was a very dramatic production, and although it has been many years since I saw it (1976), I can still bring it to mind.

eastlaker: We had a chance to see Elektra at La Scala this May. We passed on it (we have seen it twice) and elected to see a Mahler First and Beethoven Second at La Scala with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. We can't wait. Best, Don Bauder

Linda Regan: Yes, ian and Ann Campbell were overpaid, even if their remuneration was in line with Opera America standards. (I haven't checked that yet.) Further, Ian had no business naming his wife (now ex-wife) second-in-command at the opera, with a salary of almost $300,000, even if he wasn't involved in her compensation negotiation. It was simply a conflict of interest and the board should have blocked it.

As I have confessed on this blog, I was an advisory board member when I believed that Ian and Ann were paid too much, and it was a conflict for Ian to name Ann to the second-highest post. But I didn't say a word at the time, so I am a hypocrite raising the point now. Still, people should get answers. Best, Don Bauder

Glenn E. Grab: Beginning in the early 1990s, in response to a juicy grant, San Diego Opera began putting on too many modern and contemporary operas. But it realized its mistake and slowed down the process several years later.

As to Wagner: I hate to say it, because I am a Wagner fanatic, but I think you are right. Wagner probably didn't sell in San Diego, although I haven't seen the figures. The opera put on Lohengrin and Tannhauser (a wonderful performance, in my view). It put on a couple of "Wagner Evenings" of selected music. Long before Ian's arrival the opera did a Ring Cycle -- one opera each year, in English. I don't think it went over so well.

One problem is that the pit at the San Diego Opera is not big enough for a Wagner-sized orchestra. My guess -- and this is just a guess -- is that there weren't enough good brass players in town, too. Best, Don Bauder

You guess wrong, between LA and Tijuana, there are plenty of brass players on call. When the Symphony does Mahler, that's a Wagner Orchestra.

Psycholizard: OK, maybe my guess on brass is wrong. I admitted that. But I still am not convinced. Yes, Mahler is a Wagner-sized orchestra. Does the Symphony do Mahler well? Best, Don Bauder

The Campbell's spent more than their salaries certainly, we need a full accounting, but whatever they spent, when they were winners they were worth lots of money, now that they are confessed losers they are less than worthless. They need to resign immediately. If the Opera is no more, their skills are no longer needed.

Psycholizard: What good would it do for them to resign now? The opera has voted to go out of business. If it can be revived, it will have to be done by a new board and management. Best, Don Bauder

I'm certainly not an expert on non profit organization, but obviously the skills needed to run an Opera Company are different from those needed to dismantle it. The management needs to be replaced by people with expertise in the legal obligations of charitable organizations who cannot, or refuse to use donated money for the purpose solicited for. Requesting money for one purpose, and using it for another, is fraud, and if I were a member of the Opera Board, my instinct would be to resign, but I certainly would consult a lawyer before authorizing spending another penny. As for the Campbells, the statement that he saw this coming, informed the board, but kept it secret from donors, seems like a confession of fraud and conspiracy.

Psycholizard: We don't know that Ian Campbell kept the looming problems secret from doors. Best, Don Bauder

I don't believe he even informed the board. Music people can't stay quiet. Obviously no one heard the news at the latest Gala. The issue is simple, San Diego Opera funds should be used for San Diego Opera, any other use is certainly wrong, and possibly illegal.

Psycholizard: As I do more reporting on this, it becomes clear that if Ian shared this with board members, it was a small number of them until the meeting at which the closure was revealed. Best, Don Bauder

MEA CULPA: The initial part of this column about San Francisco Opera was taken from the San Francisco Classical Voice, in a story by Janos Gereben. It was sent to me but I thought it was from another source who had not wanted to be quoted. I thought that other source had posted it on his blog. My apologies to Gereben and the publication. Best, Don Bauder

In case anyone is interested (!), has a 'save San Diego Opera' petition going. The first signature was at 1:45 this afternoon, and there are now almost 1000 signatures--only 5 hours later. Yes, I think that the decision to fold up the tent and go home was premature, and based upon purely selfish motives, which I won't go into at this time.

Perhaps something can be salvaged. I, and may others, hope so!

eastlaker: Yes, I have looked at that site. I agree it gives some hope. But the current board and top management (Ian and Ann) cannot even consider coming back unless they answer the questions I have been posing on this blog. Best, Don Bauder

Yes, well, under the circumstances, I don't really think that Mr. Campbell and his ex-wife Ann would be a welcome part of any reorganization. Especially when it looks like the Joan Kroc bequest just disappeared.

eastlaker: I think that decision is well into the future...if it ever has to be made. Best, Don Bauder

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KLoEditor: I do not believe the arts are doing just fine in this nation. Every once in awhile, an arts writer (even for the NY Times) writes a piece saying the arts are actually thriving, despite the gloom and doom, but don't believe them. The gloom and doomers are correct.

You could make a case that in the visual art world, the Great Masters and modern art are doing wonderfully. Yes, prices are going up ridiculously at auctions. But all that means is that the Federal Reserve has printed money like crazy, and the top 1% has to gamble with it somewhere. It doesn't mean the visual arts are thriving, although they are doing better than serious music. Best, Don Bauder

Mindy Olson: One of the things I am trying to find out is how a bankruptcy would have affected the retirement of Ian, and perhaps of Ann, too. This is a point that I have been talking about on this blog. It's too early to say that Ian, who is in his mid-60s, was fearful that somebody younger would come in and rescue the operation, and he would lose face.

But as I have said several times on this blog, the board absolutely MUST reveal the alternatives it considered. Could it have dropped to two operas a year? Could it have cut corners on talent? Could it have done lighter fare such as Gilbert & Sullivan or Lehar to fatten the audience? I want to know how much time the board spent figuring out a new business plan. Any? Best, Don Bauder

The combination of one light opera and 2 - 3 others, plus a recital or other lighter offering could be workable, or should be looked into.

eastlaker: In Central City, Colorado, the opera company was wonderful. We would sometimes see four operas in two days. We saw two great Handels (Rinaldo and Amadigi di Gaula) and a good Gianni Schicchi, a delightful Orpheus in the Underworld, a good opera by Poulenc and many others we loved. But we noticed many seats were empty, particularly for the Handel offerings, and figured the boom would be lowered.

It was. The company went to one war horse, one modern (or 20th century) and one musical comedy, which recently was done in Denver, each season. We quit going and giving. They asked me why. I told them. This year, however, we are going again -- to Marriage of Figaro and Dead Man Walking. We will donate again. Next year? Who knows. Best, Don Bauder

I think that one way to enlarge the audience for opera is to have some open-air performances. Maybe in Balboa Park, or at the venue on the bay where some Summer Symphony performances have been held.

Show the joy of it, the exuberance!

eastlaker: There can be acoustical problems with outdoor performances unless the singers are under a shell. Best, Don Bauder

How large of a shell? Would the organ pavilion in Balboa Park be too small?

Because I do think something could be done which would combine the Balboa Park Centennial with opera outreach. And no one has to pay me $13,000 a month to shut things down!!!

Michael Mayer: This is not highway robbery. The Madoff analogy is not fair. But as I have said, there are questions the board and/or Ian Campbell must answer. Best, Don Bauder

Randy Umstead: 1. Revealing one's potential conflicts is good journalism, not bad journalism; 2. I clearly stated that Ian and Ann are friends, but so are their critics, Preston and Welton; 3. After I wrote the column, my comments got harsher. That said, I still say that opera, particularly grand opera, is in a death spiral, and San Diego Opera may have gotten ahead of the curve. However, there are tough questions that the board or Ian must answer. Best, Don Bauder

Keith Weber: You aren't the first one to call my writings complete and total b.s. Best, Don Bauder

Randy and Kieth - holier than thou much?

shirleyberan: Randy and Keith have a right to express their opinions. As I have said, I act as a pin cushion for a living. Best, Don Bauder

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I'm a native San Diegan who has been gone for too many years. I saw my first opera in the old Russ Auditorium before the San Diego Opera was incorporated. My late parents were long time subscribers and supporters of the opera. The blunt fact is that opera is incredibly expensive to produce and the company manager either has to continually fund raise or reduce the audience's expectations. We had a similar struggle here in DC with the Washington Opera which was driven into the ground by Placido Domingo's mismanagement and had to be taken over by the Kennedy Center. The opera season was reduced in terms of productions and performances of each one. Even with this attendance was on a downward spiral. I gave up my season tickets several years ago because the same operas were being repeated and I didn't want to see them again.

I agree with Mr. Bauder's assessment that 'grand' opera is on the decline and it's a pity. I see no real good solution. Opera nights at the symphony and concert opera are poor substitutes. We will have the Met in the theater performances and there will be enterprising small companies crop up from time to time to make a go of it.

By my reading, Ian Campbell did a good job of running the San Diego company. Whether he was over paid or has some form of golden parachute is still to be determined. The company really needed a nice size opera theater but that's an expensive proposition (we went through the same thing here in Washington and even had property donated from a wealthy benefactor but it proved to be illusionary). I'm saddened to see the demise of the opera.

AlanG: Ian and Ann Campbell did a great job for many years. Yes, they were overpaid for the size of the market. Ann should never have been named second in command, and paid as much as she was...clear conflict. Staff morale was very low, as would be natural when a married couple dominates everything.

Their big mistake is how they handled the closure. Their strategy, from Macbeth (both Shakespeare's and Verdi's): "If it were done, when 'tis done, then "twere well it were done quickly." San Diego cannot let them or the board get away with this. There has to be full disclosure of deliberations, the retirement packages and how bankruptcy would affect them, why there was no survival plan laid out when it was considered three years, etc. etc. If they won't say, then there has to be a lawsuit demanding information, a City investigation, or something of that nature. They can't get away with this. Best, Don Bauder

Don - you are a Great Educator, not a pin cushion.

shirleyberan: How about this: I am a punching bag. Best, Don Bauder

Paul Curran; Sorry. I have been in financial journalism for 50 years. To me, full disclosure is almost a sacred obligation. I felt I had to reveal these personal relationships. Keep in mind that while Ian and Ann are (or were) two of my friends, their critics, Preston and Welton, are also friends -- closer friends, actually. Best, Don Bauder

Don - not literally, pin cushion or punching bag, they're still dummies.

Here is the latest...I just received an email from San Francisco Opera: "Join us for Must-See Operas at up to 30% off!


Be a part of our 2014 - 15 Season!...then the season is listed and described.

Have to admit, when I first saw it, I assumed it was from the SD Opera, and the PR dept had forgotten to notify the people who send out emails...

They are doing La Boheme, Tosca, Cinderella and The Marriage of Figaro.

I hope the petition will get enough interest going so that there will be something left of the SD opera.

Peter Berling: Uniformed statement? I think you meant uninformed. And I'm not sure whose statement you are alluding to: mine, or the young lady's right above yours. I think you are denouncing the young lady. I understand both views. I can see why many think Ian and Ann were using the company as a personal ATM, and I understand those who believe Grand Opera is over the hill and San Diego is getting ahead of the curve.

There could be another factor in this I hope to raise today. Best, Don Bauder

John Oliver: Your agreement with Linda Regan's criticism is a view expressed a lot around San Diego. I am hearing it from a number of people. Remember, only a few years earlier, Ian and Ann were raking in more than $1 million. Best, Don Bauder

Ronald Carter: They can't take 100% of the company with them. Those assets don't belong to Ian and Ann.

The board, which apparently had little to go on when it voted the way it did, must demand more information and vote again. Or it must step aside and let other people start another company. Best, Don Bauder

Are "we" being manipulated? Is the Opera's financial plight a drama developing before our very eyes? If nothing else, it is a mystery, full of intrigue. Yes, participation number don't lie, they are down and this applies to contribution too. But with that said, this all seems very convenient, especially for Mr. Campbell and the ex Mrs. Campbell. Are they heroes or villains? Today, we find a bevy of politician clamoring, Internet petitions circulating, and patrons aghast. Simultaneously we have a sub-plot as the mysterious actions of Cambell's loaded Board that dramatically throws in the towel, unwilling, it seems, to go another round. But is something rotten in the state of Denmark? I may be too cynical these days but something just isn't or doesn't seem quite right or is this really much ado about nothing?

I don't think this is happening just to draw attention to the plight of the SD Opera. I think this is happening because Ian Campbell has felt far too much ownership of this opera company, didn't want to train anyone to take over from him, concluded that he could devise a way to really "clean up" on his way out of town, and then set about with his plan. Learning of the recent additions to the board (8 new members in the past couple of months who were NOT required to pony up the $25,000 that all the other board members had to) indicates to me that there was indeed much planning going on. Sickening.

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I've enjoyed reading an insider's perspective, and eagerly await further developments. However, regarding your comments on the failure of new pieces:

New Coke was a debacle. The expectation that a loyal, if shrinking audience will respond to new or unfamiliar works with the same enthusiasm as old favorites is a part of this problem. There are countless ways to feature new pieces at a cost lower than that associated with a Boheme or Aida. That way you engage a smaller audience at a lower cost and perhaps find some incentives to have them broaden their perspective.

Opera in America is a store that for decades has sold white button down shirts. Over the years, markets have changed, fewer people are buying. In the next 20 years opera will have divided itself between companies that say "Well, maybe we should try adding more colors. Or sell socks as well. " and the ones that say "Nope. We sell white button-downs. If the people don't want them, well, we'll just close.

While I realize this is a clumsy metaphor at best, I must say I am proud to work for a company that has decided to embrace the changing nature of the world and find a place for opera within it.

It is becoming clear that Mr. Campbell seems to have preferred the destruction of SD Opera rather than finding someone who would take over from him, even if that person would have had an uphill job in an economy that has still not fully recovered from 2008. What is that but selfishness? And narcissism. And hubris, as has been mentioned. Grand ego--not surprising for his line of work, but to destroy the entire company?

How completely out of line that is. How out of touch most of the board members must be that they meekly went along with this. I hope they have awakened from their stupor--those that actively voted to disband--and are rethinking what all of this means.

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Fact is - Didn't this lady coochi-coo the opera manager TO GET A JOB (she couldn't handle) ... I mean if you can't even bilk rich bitch trophy wives any more, what are you really good at? SO THIS POLITICAL PATRONAGE IS REALLY HER FIRST JOB! We must ponder: What will selling off of the naming rights for every building, fountain, bench, bus shelter, fire hydrant, porta potty, lunch counter, foyer, umbrella stand, atrium, LBGT center, and staircase achieve? The Ultimate. Finally. It will permanently memorialize the state of envy these phonies love to live in... And! They get paid to turn the UCSD campus into a legitimate sponsorship whorehouse...Ruining its dignity. But, as the great Ian Campbell said "I thought we could close with dignity. But then I remembered where I live".... Is New York Big enough for a water head like this? Hell . . . Gotta at least be better bars to drink at. And he's rid of her... Winner winner chicken dinner


by Breslin

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