Opera board still looking for donors

Meets for four and a half hours today

The board of the San Diego Opera held a four-and-a-half-hour emergency meeting today (March 31). Ian Campbell, head of the opera, brought three lawyers with him. Marc Scorca of Opera America also attended. The plans to dissolve the opera remain in effect, but the board will continue to seek donors so that those plans can be canceled and the organization can hold its 50th anniversary season in 2015. If the opera closes as scheduled, Ian and his ex-wife Ann Campbell, second in command, will get "zero dollars — no payment, nothing," according to my source.

This is consistent with what the chairwoman of the board, Karen Cohn, told me several days ago. All the assets of the company will be turned over to assignees. The first group of creditors will be singers signed up for the 2015 season. The second group will be those singers signed up for 2016. "Ian signs contracts two years in advance," says this source. "When the opera stops functioning and does not make a performance, there are negotiations with singers and agents [who have already been signed up]." Apparently, answers to some of the questions posed by eight board members were answered, although they asked for detailed records that should have to be produced.

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Three lawyers. Is it terrible for me to ask if they arranged for payment in advance?

I can only hope that information requested is forthcoming, and that somehow all the voices will be heard.

I'd also really like to know what Opera America has to say about all this, as it sounds like last year they tried to figure things out and come up with solutions, but were dismissed.

eastlaker: The three lawyers were actually representing the board. My first source had said they were representing Ian Campbell, but I believe the second source. One was a personnel lawyer and two were representing the board generally. Ian and Ann Campbell have legal representation, but they were not at the meeting. Best, Don Bauder

DISSOLUTION PUT OFF UNTIL APRIL 29. According to a second source, the dissolution decision on San Diego Opera has been put off until April 29. The opera is attempting to raise $10 million, which would get it through the 2015 season, which is to be its 50th anniversary season if the money can be raised. But if the opera can't get more than $10 million, it will have to revisit dissolution next year. There were only four votes against the delaying of the dissolution.

Some pledges have already been canceled. Those people will be contacted again. The opera does not have an accurate appraisal of some of the assets.

If the company chooses bankruptcy, it will be given more time than the earlier-announced plans to liquidate. But liquidation is more amicable.

Board members asked a number of questions, but "only one or two" could not be answered because of confidentiality, according to this source. One person asked about the fact that dissolution was not on the agenda at the first meeting, "but it was not a hot issue; it was procedural," says the source.

A question came up about the generosity of Ian and Ann Campbell's salaries. A salary-setting committee makes the decision, based on what others in the arts make. Apparently, the board accepted Ian Campbell's strategy of being paid for being administrator as well as artistic director.

The Campbells were praised at the meeting. Best, Don Bauder

This suggests that most of those who were stampeded into voting for dissolution have done an about-face, if only a temporary one. What does that say about those board members? Not much. It appears as if, although this is still phrased as requiring the $10 million which they will have a very hard time in raising, it does mean that the board is starting to awaken from its torpor. My take is that there was enough outcry to get the board on the job, no longer acting as Campbell puppets, and that this unwise and unjustified dissolution will be reversed.

The long range outlook for opera in San Diego is bleak, but not so bleak as to shut down abruptly, and under highly questionable circumstances.

Visduh: Without a doubt, the abruptness of the action, and then the silence of Ian Campbell and, later, the chairwoman, raised suspicions. There is still financial information that must be made public. The board must explain why it overpaid the Campbells over such a long period. Whether or not the Campbells will receive payments if the opera does dissolve as planned, is still not clear. There are many other questions. Best, Don Bauder

I wish you would stop asserting -- as if it were fact and not opinion -- that Ian Campbell has been "overpaid over such a long period."

In my opinion which is supported by the record, Campbell has been a hard-working genius who has delivered a fabulous product over many years.

Just this morning the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a public school superintendent in a poor area with only five high schools and 6000 students. He takes home more than $600,000 a year.

monaghan: I believe Ian Campbell is a hard-working genius. But there are a lot of hard-working geniuses around. There is simply no excuse for the opera paying Ian and his wife, now ex-wife, more than $1 million in one year -- down to a combined $800,000-plus later -- when the administrative head of the Metropolitan Opera in New York was making around $1.3 million. Assets and revenue of the Met are about 13 times the assets and revenue of San Diego Opera. Best, Don Bauder

I understand the use of such comparisons as a gauge for compensation in the world of business, but there is much to be said for an unusually gifted artist's intrinsic worth. You will say the Opera IS a business, and I understand that too, but Ian Campbell delivered a perfect artistic product, the equal of anything I have ever seen in New York. It is the San Diego Opera Board that failed in its job to keep the magic happening.

He drove the company to disaster, by cooking the books most likely, it's not defensible. The Board was swindled.

Psycholizard: It seems clear at this point that the opera administration is sitting on those books, not providing information to board members who requested it. But we don't know if books were cooked. Best, Don Bauder

monaghan: Opera is a nonprofit business, but like for-profit enterprises, it has an obligation to try new strategies to survive. Ian Campbell started seeing attendance drop in 2006. Donations plunged with the Great Recession, which began in 2007. He and the board had plenty of time to consider many alternative strategies. He dominated the board. I have loved San Diego Opera for 40 years. But something has been very wrong in the last eight years. Best, Don Bauder

One has to wonder about this board. Clearly, there has been mismanagement by the leadership. And after all that has come out, surely some major donors will hang back with commitments unless the Campbell's go. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again." This opera company desperately needs new leadership to take it forward--not the ones who were so ready to dump everything when it got "too difficult."

I would willingly donate but not as long as the Campbell's are running the show. I suspect I'm not alone.

Anon92067: There is certainly a lot of skepticism about the Campbells, and how they pulled off this attempted dissolution. Whether this has deterred some possible major donors, I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised if that is correct. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: I can't run for political office in a city in which I do not live. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: No. I would make a horrible politician. Best. Don Bauder

The Save San Diego Opera website has about 19,500 signatures now--and I love reading the comments from all over, from opera singers, to instrumental musicians, to students hoping to find careers in opera, to those who travel to San Diego for the opera---so many comments regarding how important opera is as an expression from the heart, combining all of the humanities into one art form.

So many pleas.

I hope that those who will make these momentous decisions will consider all the larger issues and not simply think about what suits them, or what is easiest. I hope that there will be no metaphoric bloodletting, just people setting to the task of figuring things out.

eastlaker: I think it is wonderful that 19,500 people have signed that petition. That should send a message to the board -- and to some potential donors who may be sitting on the fence. Best, Don Bauder

Don, First off, great coverage. Much appreciated.

I'd go back to your source - recent KPBS report revealed the Campbell's contract. There is no severance package for them but I believe (perhaps incorrectly) San Diego Opera will be legally obligated to pay them through to the end of their contracts if they vote to shut down. The Campbells would just need to get in line like everyone else with a contract with the opera house. But would they be in front of the singers, or behind them?

OperaBuff: They would be behind the singers who have contracts, and also behind others, such as ones represented by labor unions, who have contracts. That's what I have been told. It's my understanding that their contracts contain nothing about what they would receive in the case of a shutdown. They would, however, get in line with other creditors, but people are assuming they would be so far behind that they would get nothing. We will have to see what happens. Best, Don Bauder

WHITE KNIGHT COMMITTEE FORMED TO SAVE OPERA: A committee made of of staff from the opera's administrative local, plus six union locals and seasonal employees, has formed a group to save San Diego Opera.

The goal is to create a grassroots movement to to encourage the opera board to rescind its vote to shut down the opera. Today (March 31), the board, while sticking to the decision to disband, extended the deadline for fundraising to April 29.

The committee says any shutdown would cost San Diego 400 jobs, as well as tourism income. The committee plans to address the city council on April 8.

Here are sone key addresses: Online http://savesandiegoopera.org/ On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/savesandiegoopera On Twitter: @savesdopera

Best, Don Bauder

If I recall correctly Ian's contract is thru 2017 - nice chunk of change. Explains why friends received a letter collecting on their future pledge - they need $ in the bank to pay everyone. But the comment "zero dollars — no payment, nothing," - is not entirely true then.

OperaBuff: Again, the chairwoman and others on the board are saying that he will not be paid through 2017 because his contract had no provision for what happens if the company goes out of business. But we have to keep watching this. Best, Don Bauder

No one should donate a penny until complete numbers are made public, except for the current board and management of course. The basic smell I had from the start, that the assets of the company are to be sold to settle the contracts the Campbells awarded, seems confirmed. The only surprise is the claim that the Campbells didn't award such a contract to themselves, an uncharacteristic oversight, if true.

Psycholizard: The revelation that they will go into line behind other creditors suggests that there is wiggle room. The board is saying the Campbells will get nothing as soon as the opera is shut down, but that is assuming that other creditors will eat up all the assets before the Campbells have a chance. This could be a false assumption. Best, Don Bauder

I think the Opera is contractually obligated to pay the Campbells about $4 million, based on my calculations. The opera will almost certainly run out of money in 2015. If the opera is not shut down now, the opera won't have enough money to pay the Campbells their due under the contract. They will take a substantial haircut if the opera goes forward with the 2015 season and might lose all. That's why there's a behind the scenes effort to shutter the opera now rather than later when remaining assets are depleted. Karen Cohn is probably expressing her opinion that the opera does not have to pay Ian, but this does not appear to be correct. If the Cambells are due money under the contracts, then the contracts should be enforced. That is the law. In a situation like this it might be better if the opera filed bankruptcy so a judge can decide who should be paid in accordance with the law.

Burwell: Again, the story being told is that those contracts do not contemplate a closure of the opera. Ergo, they become creditors, and the opera says they will get nothing because other creditors will eat up assets first. But we have to watch that carefully. Best, Don Bauder

If the Opera can't pay it's debts. it's bankrupt, and any juggling done now to change the order of payment to debtors is certainly improper, and probably illegal. Usually employees would be first in line to be paid, contracts and salary behind the wages, if I remember what lawyers tell me correctly. But management that won't produce books on proper demand, typically gets fired and sued.

Unfortunately this demand for big donors seems like an attempt to slow down seizure rather than keep the company going. If the Board came out with a pledge to personally match donations, and published the books, that would be different. The big donors that helped before got ripped off.

Psycholizard: I wonder if the fat pay of Ian and Ann Campbell turned off some potential donors. Maybe not. And you raise an excellent point. We still hear from the top of the organization that Ian and Ann will get nothing as soon as the opera dissolves. But then we hear they will be in line with other creditors. This must be clarified. It appears the board has bought the story that they will receive nothing. Best, Don Bauder

But--I did read somewhere that as part of the public record, it could be seen that the SD Opera had contributed to 401K accounts for Ian and Ann Campbell. It would surprise me if those funds could be held on to by SD Opera with other funds in a bankruptcy, but then I am no expert.

eastlaker: Yes, I did see 401(k) contributions. They generally cannot be taken away. Best, Don Bauder

eastlaker: if the opera made the 401(k) contributions for the Campbells, then it is possible they can be taken away, I believe. However, the amount the Campbells themselves paid in -- if any -- cannot be taken away, I believe. Best, Don Bauder

The stories and rumors will go wild until the books are opened. The story above neglects one truth, those singers under contract will do whatever they can to save the Opera, they don't sing for a living, they live to sing. They deserve more than a paycheck, they deserve the promised chance to perform, and their audience deserves the chance to hear them. There's a concert hall with open dates. A show could be presented with two pianos and singers for four figures. Call it watered down beer, but It would be fun, and with all this brouhaha for promotion it would make money.

Watered down beer indeed: I would not go to hear opera singers standing in front of two pianos in a recital and neither would most people who have paid to see and hear the San Diego Opera in all its glory. Less is NOT more. And also, singers DO sing for a living, and that's why they'll be paid according to their contractual obligations.

Why not make them sing for their money? If no one wants to hear them without millions in support and frippery their singing is worthless. Pop musicians with no voice put on shows for thousands with less help. "Watered down beer" is Aussie for standard American beer like Budweiser or Coors, and especially light beers. It's one thing not to drink it, it's another not to serve it at a bar.

monaghan: San Diego Opera did put on recitals in Sherwood Hall with singers then performing in operas -- Vivica Genaux and Anthony Dean Griffey, for example -- performing with piano. It's my understanding those recitals did not do well financially. Best, Don Bauder

Psycholizard: The opera did put on recitals by singers starring n their productions. There was piano accompaniment, and they recitals were in Sherwood Hall. I have heard they did not make money.

Could an oratorio-style opera be put on with piano accompaniment? Or with, say, an octet accompanying? It's possibly worth a try. Best, Don Bauder

Since the singers must be paid anyway, under their contracts, I would hope they could draw enough audience to pay for the hall. I saw some Met 2nd stringers put on a Figaro at Sherwood in the 70s, eight singers, two pianos, no sets. Honestly, I never enjoyed an Opera more.

Psycholizard: San Diego Opera sent its young singers into the schools, and they did a wonderful job. Of course, school children are a different audience. But new strategies should have been considered over the eight years of decline, and San Diego Opera should have done some experimentation. Best. Don Bauder

Psycholizard: It's possible a deal could be worked out in which those singers under contract would sing for the symphony. After all, the opera owes money to the symphony because the opera used some of its players. So there is a natural connection to the symphony. Best, Don Bauder

It's important to remember the enormous team of people who really make the San Diego Opera what it is: the behind-the-scenes staff. Here are photos of just a few of them: http://instagram.com/sandiegoopera

Remember: thanks to the mismanagement and incompetency of the leadership of SDO, the entire staff will be laid off, and their insurance ended. They were informed in their termination letters that they would be able to enroll in COBRA to extend health care coverage for 18 months, but then it turned out that the lame attorney who wrote up the severance letters was in error: no COBRA will be offered after all. Just one whiplash after another for this poor staff, who have worked so hard. To see the aristocratic, well-heeled Mrs. Cohn on TV, still towing the party line and defending the Campbell's, is making a LOT of people very angry. I wonder if the Cohn's will be contributing $1,000,000 of the $10,000,000 needed?

And still, no report on that "Hostile Workplace Environment" legal matter--the staff is waiting!

Anon92067: I posted an item on the hostile work place environment -- from an interview with a senior staffer -- on the post that features the letter sent to Ian Campbell and Karen Cohn, dated March 28 (Friday). Scroll down and you will find it. It's a long post. I expect to have more details on that hostile workplace environment matter this evening. Best, Don Bauder

I wasn't meaning that you didn't report on it. I meant that inside the Opera, all the investigation went on and a report was promised. But then, nothing. I have heard that the staff is completely deflated now, and demoralized. They had hoped that the Board would begin to address leadership changes, but apparently that's off the table. All that's happened is that instead of a 5 week severance, everyone will work for 2 more weeks, then get a 3 week severance--but the result will be the same: the opera closes. Most of the biggest donors don't want to see things done in the same way--they would demand major changes. But those won't happen. Catch-22.

If the board voted delay the close once, what is to stop them from voting to delay the close again. What is to stop them from instituting some changes? Lack of imagination, initiative? Hopeless dependence on Ian and Ann Campbell?

Who are the 8 newer members of the board who didn't have to pony up $25,000, who ensured the vote to close down? Why did the board approve their membership as voting members under rules different from every other board member?

What sort of major changes would you say the biggest donors would like to see?

eastlaker: The board could certainly vote a second time to extend the closing date. I wouldn't be surprised if it did. The reason the board did not institute changes when the news turned bad in 2006 is that the board was manipulated by Ian and Ann Campbell, and a handful of their allies.

I don't know who those eight new board members that didn't have to give money are. That maneuver is one thing that should be explained, if it in fact happened.

I do not know the major changes the biggest donors desire. Best, Don Bauder

Anon92067: How could the staff be anything but deflated and demoralized? They are losing their jobs -- and their lives, because a job with an arts organization is more than simply a job. Best, Don Bauder

Don - if someone is not (all) music lover, they won't fight for new company.

shirleyberan: I agree. Opera lovers, and classical music lovers, will be the only ones to fight ferociously for the retention of opera. And that's probably 2% of the population in these days. Best, Doon Bauder

I would like to see opera survive in San Diego. While it seems important to get to the bottom of what has already happened, so we can understand how we got to this place, even more important to the survival of opera in this town, is the need for a leader to emerge who is the voice of what could be. It is painfully obvious that the current leaders, in management and on the board, cannot solve the problem, as they have not been able to do so in the three years they have been looking at the problem. Two extra weeks won't solve that. And quite honestly, the people who are upset with the decisions that have been made (and they have every right to be upset) aren't proposing any viable solutions. It isn't enough to say they want the leaders gone. Let's say you get rid of them. Then what?

ArtsAnon: You make very good points. You point to the possible insolubility of the problem. The abruptness of the decision is most disturbing. One day the staff was planning for 2015, and the next day the opera was going out of business. What happened in this short period of time? We haven't been told. Best, Don Bauder

Who pays the piper calls the tune. Once we find out the finances, we'll figure out how much local Opera must shrink.

Psycholizard: Agreed. Eight board members demanded those numbers. But they should also be provided to the San Diego public. Best, Don Bauder

The decision is only abrupt to us outsiders. When I read the minutes, posted elsewhere, for both the early March board meeting (a "normal" meeting) and then for the emergency meeting, one thing becomes very clear to me. The decision to shut down was made some time ago. The minutes clearly show that the decision to shut down was presented as a done deal to the board - the staff meeting to inform them had already been called, the press release was already written, and the UT had already been notified. (That not a single board member, as there were many who were not already privy to the decision, asked a question about why this decision was made is on them and needs its own post. The only questions were about how the dissolution would work.) Think about it this way: You are leading this organization, all you see are signs that point to the fact that you can't keep operating the company the way you know how to run it, and it seems hopeless. When would you make the announcement?

ArtsAnon: See my latest post. My source, a board member, says the decision to disband "was rammed down the throats of a board culturally conditioned to say 'yes' to leadership [Ian and Ann Campbell]." Best, Don Bauder

I don't believe they would go out with Massenet if they planned this for months. I'm ready to believe horrible things about Ian Campbell, but as with Scarpia, I don't question his taste.

Psycholizard: Agreed. Had they suspected it would be the last opera presented, they would have gone with a war horse such as La Boheme instead of a Massenet. Best, Don Bauder

SDO's seasons are planned several years in advance. It used to be 4 years in advance but now it seems to be 2-3 years out. I'm not saying they planned this for years. But months, yes. If you announce earlier in the season, you risk people not paying their pledges right away. If you announce now, you get people who might flock to see the final performance, a tough sell compared to other operas. Announce at the time you can maximize revenue to pay off expenses, and minimize the news cycle.

ArtsAnon: That is probably the legal and public relations advice Ian Campbell got. Don't tell many people -- including possible large donors -- how dire the situation is. When you decide you can't make it, don't tell the board you will be voting on that. Then announce the board agreed overwhelmingly, 33-1 (although 58 could have voted if the subject would have been on the agenda.)

The trouble with this strategy is that it enrages the staff, patrons, and the community. That, in a nutshell, is what happened. The strategy flopped. People are indignant and understandably demanding answers. Best, Don Bauder

The strategy did indeed flop. But again, it will take a lot of effort to overcome the closing of SDO and we still haven't heard about any potential alternatives for the company. We all know the weak call for $10M isn't a real strategy. Have you heard about current board members pledging $1M on the spot? Yeah, I haven't either.

The people who are angry -- staff, patrons, community -- need another vision to get behind. They can throw their energy into making the new vision succeed. Otherwise, the anger will dissipate. It always does. And then opera in San Diego will be over. Most likely, for a good long while.

ArtsAnon: The opera's administration wants this done quickly -- I suspect for bad reasons. The administration will get away with it if the story drops out of the news. Thus, there should be a public investigation of several items -- say, whether the Campbells will get any post-closing pay, and whether that had anything to do with the closing. Or, there could be lawsuits that will keep the information flowing and the story alive. Best, Don Bauder

They certainly have perpetrated a fraud on the public, taking money meant to support Opera for themselves, claiming to be millions in the black one day, and unable to make payroll the next. We haven't seen the books yet, but I can't believe the whole Opera Board was in on the scam. I'm still ready to believe that the Campbells just mishandled the money without criminal intent, though every day they don't show the books makes me more skeptical.

The board must have the power to create a committee that could look into this, if it wanted to.

I would like to know more about Opera America, why they were called in last year, what they suggested, and why they were dismissed. My guess is that they saw something that needed to be addressed/corrected and that Campbell felt threatened somehow by suggestions. Maybe a key is there somewhere.

eastlaker: At its most recent emergency board meeting Monday, the board did create a special committee to look into how all this happened. I do not know if that committee is packed with toadies who accept everything Ian says. Best, Don Bauder

Psycholizard: I see no criminality. But until the opera comes clean with the public, there will be such suspicions. If we find that Ian and Ann DO get a bundle of money from their positions as creditors, then there should be an investigation. By then, they will be out of town. Best, Don Bauder

I think the only hope at this point is that the board members who are not in the inner circle are really mad -- let's face it, no one on the board looks good right now and they have their reputations to protect if they want to stay in this town -- and they try to make it right. I don't trust that anyone on the board knows what to do yet, though. They only started to think about it when the petition numbers went up and there was a media storm. Perhaps that is where the Opera America folk can be most helpful. Talking to that group outside of the full board meeting.

Don, if you can find out who on the board is now part of this special committee, that would be great. There are a few names that I don't think anyone wants to see on that committee.

ArtsAnon: I know who signed that letter, but for journalistic ethics reasons, I haven't revealed the names. Trouble is, some board members are blaming those in the media (particularly me) and bloggers for hurting the opera and perhaps deterring possible donors.

I've been through this for 50 years in this business. It's called "kill the messenger." Best, Don Bauder

I believe it. I find it interesting that board members say the media is hurting the San Diego Opera. Why would they care if they are shutting down the opera for good? Sounds like they don't like their reputations getting dinged. I say, good. Maybe it will spur them on to do something right for a change. Stop worrying about the mess you are desperately hanging on to -- it can't be saved in its current form. Go be a hero by making drastic changes and saving opera in this town.

ArtsAnon: See my latest post, which went up late this afternoon. The source told me that in his business, when planning for a critical matter, he wants his teammates to hit him with every tough question they can throw at him. That is the only M.O. that makes sense in a well-run organization. Best, Don Bauder

Agreed. It doesn't sound like that has happened at SDO for a long while.

ArtsAnon: That may be the heart of the matter. Ian and Ann Campbell, and a handful of their intimates, completely ruled the board, which did not ask questions. Had board members asked the right questions, the opera may have gone in a new and healthy direction.

This was true of San Diego Opera when it was headed by Tito Capobianco. Tito and a small group ruled the roost. But when the losses mounted, a new president, Elsie Weston, who knew the ins and outs of accounting, stepped in and demanded that things change. The opera was almost broke and she saw it. Capobianco couldn't stand taking orders from her. He was especially perturbed when the Verdi Festival was ultimately canceled. But it was only drawing 40% of the house, These moves were necessary. He quit in a huff and Ian Campbell came in and straightened things out. Best, Don Bauder

Tar and feathers? This mess has made me think that someone was up to no good, and not just an unfortunate series of events. Campbell and (ex-)wife hoped to ride out of SD with a reputation of being self-sacrificing geniuses. If they pulled that off, why, some other opera company in the wide, wide world would want to snap them up. That strategy flopped, and badly. So, now with all this outcry, can either of them expect to work in opera again? Maybe they can, as stage hands or janitors, but not as the big-bucks bosses.

If this goes in the direction it is currently headed, Ian-boy and (ex-)wifey are going to be "persona non-grata" all round the world, and the tar and feathers may stick to them for life, as should be the case.

The whole picture of a board that is manipulated by the employee, one that votes one way one day, and just about the opposite way a few days later, is sad and sickening. And there is nothing in this story that reflects well upon SD, city or county, or that makes it sound as if this is a big-time city. The whole situation screams bush league, something that a city like Boise or San Bernardino might do, but not in any way "America's Finest City." America's Flakiest City would be far more descriptive.

Visduh: Yes, the opera's administration must now admit that its attempt to kill the baby quickly and slip out of town has failed. The board must now rise up overwhelmingly and demand complete information, and vote to rescind the March 19 vote to disband. Then it should decide if it needs new leadership to go ahead. I suspect it does, and I never thought I would say this.

You are right: this is a stain not only on the arts, but on San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

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