San Diego Opera recently announced that it would close this June, after its 49th season of providing excellent music and theater to its city and the world. That sucks. What sucks even more is that they were in the black. No bankruptcy filings are happenings. No public financial scramble for donors, or kickstarter projects, or (heaven forbid!) balancing a slightly smaller budget. “Our audience has diminished greatly and our costs have gone up. And we will not compromise the quality.” This is the quote that we have grabbed onto, by soon-to-be-former board member and donor Iris Lynn Strauss. And of course, this is maddening. To suggest that only the most expensive singers are of high quality, and that there can be no fiscally responsible ways to pull off excellence is the height of arrogance and obnoxious stupidity. And it is also the reason that we absolutely cannot save San Diego Opera from itself.
I’m not saying that San Diego should not have an opera company, and that it shouldn’t be excellent, I’m just saying that these people are not the ones to do it. Do you know what it takes to create opera, or any other worthwhile art for that matter? Passion. Dedication. A willingness, nay, a need, to persevere, even when, or especially when, the going gets tough. If making opera is not the most important thing to you, you shouldn’t be doing it. If “going out on top,” “quitting while you’re ahead,” or “your legacy” is more important to you than making opera, then you should absolutely stop doing it. Close up shop, shut the doors, and go home and listen to a recording of some great singers, because apparently you think that’s preferable to hearing any current singers perform live in your city. Have you even been to one of the performances you crazy board members?
Now, what should have happened is that you disheartened people ought to have looked around the room and said to each other, “we can’t do this anymore,” and then resigned, letting some people with passion, and vision, and a few ounces of common sense step in and handle things from here on out. And I’m sorry if I seem a little angry at these people running the show over in San Diego, but, you see, because of their hubris, and their selfishness, and their overall snooty jerktitude, they have ruined it for the rest of us. It’s too late. The damage has been done. I don’t care how hard you try to rebrand yourself, you are done. The public perception is now one of a group of quitters with no rooted visionary investment in the company. And worse, the perception to donors is that things could end at any moment. Even if they changed their minds tomorrow, it’s too late. Perhaps they could get a flood of small donations from new donors who are worried about losing opera in their city, but the big guns are not going to put their money into a ship that the captain recently tried to sink. If it turns out that this was a publicity stunt in an attempt to get new donors (which it doesn’t seem to be…), then it was a bad one. Faith in the company is shaken and gone.
My hope is that, like in Baltimore, a new opera company will emerge from the ashes of the old. Perhaps a few of the players will cross over and help to form something better and more sustainable, or perhaps it will be an entirely new group of people, but there will be opera in San Diego again. I have no doubt about that. And yes, it would be waaaaaay easier to fix something that was broken than to start from scratch, but it can’t be San Diego Opera anymore. A thousand petitions aren’t going to make them care any more than they already don’t. If they want to leave, let them. There are plenty of people ready to take over where they left off, and those people want to be there.