The story behind the opera closing - is like an opera

SAN DIEGO - Conversations with numerous individuals involved with the San Diego Opera at many levels reveal a dysfunctional organization split between those who supported Director Ian Campbell and those who did not. The opera is closing down.

Sources said there is a small group that controls the opera, including Campbell and two other individuals.  The board, which is supposed to be a watchdog of the non-profit operation, did not do a good job, sources said.

The sources agreed to speak to Team 10 on the condition of anonymity, though board member David Kleinfeld did give a quote about the opera’s closing.  Here is his entire statement:

“We have a solemn responsibility as the custodians of timeless opera, the highest art form, and to our city, its future generations, and the countless families who depend on our company for our livelihoods.

The company has terrific employees who give their all, some devoting their entire working lives to San Diego Opera.  The manner in which the issue and decision were raised and executed prevented us from giving our

best to perform that solemn responsibility.  They deserve nothing short of our best. So many unanswered questions, unexhausted opportunities to seek creative solutions from fresh voices and perspectives, bringing all stakeholders and the broader community together to save and nurture a San Diego treasure. Our test now is to make something good come out of this, rebuilding out of the ashes and creating a new , more flexible, innovative and open opera community.  This will bless our city with joyful opera experiences for years to come.”

Other board members told Team 10 they are wrestling with how they performed their duty to provide oversight of the opera.  One source said a number of times, “we failed the city.” The source also said many board members wish there had been more aggressive questions asked about the organization’s financials.  Sources said the board signed off on anything presented to them by opera management with little questioning. 

Team 10 also talked with Campbell supporters, who said they had no concern about the financials as they trusted management to do the right thing.

The Opera reported a balanced budget each year, but sources said the organization covered its losses by drawing down on the $10 million dollars Joan Kroc had given them.  Sources said now that well is running dry.

Board members who supported Campbell said they had little or no concern about how he handled opera finances. They said they felt Campbell did the best job he could and the failure is because San Diego doesn’t support traditional grand opera and there are not enough wealthy donors.  

Sources also told Team 10 Stacey Rosenberg, the previous board chairperson, was “forced out” by “small clique” who controls the opera. Team 10’s calls to Rosenberg have not yet been returned.

While Rosenberg’s was the chair, sources said she formed a  strategic planning committee to review financials, and consider alternatives to current policies in order to prepare the opera for the future.  When Rosenberg was replaced by Karen Cohn, sources said the strategic planning committee was disbanded.

Six months later, the opera announced it was closing down.

Team 10 also found a hostile work environment action by employees that claimed a lack of diversity and intolerance by management.  Team 10’s attempts to reach those involved in this action are ongoing.

It appears the action never made it to court and was an internal investigation only.  Several sources said many employees were interviewed by an attorney who oversaw the investigation. The attorney has a personal relationship with upper management, said those same sources.  

Team 10 requested a comment on this from current Board Director Karen Cohn, and this was her response:

"I have no comment until we meet with the San Diego board of directors on this coming Monday. The board should be fully aware of our financial situation at present. This has been an ongoing discussion since 2007. Hopeful, with another fully transparent discussion of our depleted budget we may have them understand that we want to pay all our outstanding bills and fulfill all our obligations for the 2014 international season. We all love the San Diego opera and are heartbroken that we cannot go forward into the 50 anniversary season because of lack of subscription sales and donor contributions."

Karen Cohn

One thing everyone Team 10 talked to agree on is Campbell’s love for opera and his passion for grand opera.  However, his detractors say he was reluctant to listen to new ideas.

 

 

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