A New Voice Emerges In The San Diego Opera Saga

The 4/15/2014 edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune published an article by Pam Kragen that examines recent developments at the San Diego Opera (SDO). Of particular interest is news of a new voice in the discussion that may be just what the situation needs to embrace a new plan capable of keeping the company going.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-011Worth noting is the introduction of Opera America (OA), the national service organization for opera, into the mix as a very active facilitator. According to Kragen’s article, OA has been involved by studying SDO’s financial records and has prepared a report, which will be presented to the company board today (4/17/14). Moreover, Kragen quotes OA President Marc Scorca as characterizing the SDO’s financial position as stronger than previously reported.

The decision to close the company was abrupt, though [SDO General and Artistic Director Ian] Campbell has said that the board was well aware of the looming problems for years. But in a letter to the board on April 10, Opera America President Marc Scorca said the company’s financial situation — it has $15 million in assets and is debt-free — “does not fit the profile of an opera company preparing to close.”

The article also reports that on the same day as the SDO board meeting, Scorca will be participating in a San Diego based panel discussion along with Opera Philadelphia General Director, David Devan. Outcomes from the SDO board meeting are expected to be presented during the public meeting.

OA’s inclusion in this process is a bold move and it is good to see a service organization like this take an active and positive role as an independent, yet knowledgeable, resource in helping to mitigate what would otherwise become a very contentious situation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it would be easier for a service organization such as OA to justify limited involvement driven more by fear over how its constituents may react rather than shouldering the potential risk related to leveraging its expertise in a genuinely impartial, yet decidedly involved, fashion.

Fortunately for the San Diego cultural community and opera in general, OA is adapting to current challenges by enhancing its role and becoming a responsible and active participant unlike recent actions by the American Alliance of Museums (details).

What seems increasingly apparent here is that OA is doing an excellent job at translating the principles demonstrated by the American Alliance of Museums to help prevent a crisis within their field from unnecessarily escalating.

It will be fascinating to witness what unfolds over the next 48 hours; moreover, it will be fascinating to see if OA’s actions have a positive influence on other nonprofit performing arts service organizations.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “A New Voice Emerges In The San Diego Opera Saga”

  1. Opera America’s involvement with San Diego Opera predates this crisis. Last year, Marc Scorca held a workshop with a newly convened Strategic Planning Committee to look at ways to keep San Diego Opera solvent. After the workshop, the head of the Committee, who was also the President of the Board, mysteriously resigned, and the SPC was disbanded. The former President has remained quiet, but an email following the workshop by another SPC member came to light this week:


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