Friday, September 5, 2014

To close or not to close, that is the question (EDITED)

A recent New York Times article detailed the latest news regarding operations at the San Diego Opera. 

In March of this year, the San Diego Opera announced that it was closing following 49 years of operations.  The announcement shocked both the San Diego community and the opera world at large, particularly as no advance warning of this action was given. Following an outpouring of support, the Board of Directors - now numbering 26 instead of the 57 who voted to shut everything down in March - voted again in May to reopen.   Enough funds were raised to ensure continued operations, but not enough to continue what had previously been the status quo. Swanky offices were downsized, jobs were eliminated, the scope of the 2014-2015 program was reduced, and salaries were cut by 10%.  The current Board is cautiously optimistic that these actions will lead to fiduciary stability for the Company.

While the Company's immediate future is assured, one might assume that all parties to this situation would be happy.  That assumption would be incorrect.  Yes, the anti-closure side is happy to have achieved their goal of saving the Company.  However, the pro-closure side comes across as less than sympathetic.
Karen S. Cohn, who resigned as president of the board, said in an interview that she had no regrets about her decision to vote to close the opera, and that she was appalled at how the current opera board and staff members continued to criticize the last administration’s actions.

“I cannot support what is going on,” she said of the new coalition and its efforts. “This is a group of people who are not focusing on going forward. They are focusing on ruining people who spent 31 years doing wonderful things for San Diego. I don’t want to ruin their chance of going forward, but I don’t appreciate how they have handled this.”
Prima facie, Ms. Cohn's comments are bizarre. Should any administration (arts or otherwise) shut down operations of something that is not moribund, those who manage to keep the lights on would undoubtedly have harsh words for their predecessors. Likewise, commenting that those who saved the San Diego Opera Company from closure are "a group of people who are not focusing on going forward" seems comically obtuse.
Narrowly, the San Diego Opera's continued existence is certain as spelled out by this article.  However, the substantial question remains: what is the role of opera in American life going forward?  Is a bit belt-tightening all that is required to ensure that San Diego and other opera companies remain afloat, or is opera's fall into obscurity unstoppable over the next few generations?

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