The San Diego Opera may close at the end of the month — unlike Chicago’s Lyric Opera, above, which is thriving. (Reuters/Jim Young)

After years of floundering ticket sales, the San Diego Opera performed to a sold-out matinee crowd Sunday afternoon, but it may have been too little, too late.

The Southern California institution is on the brink of becoming a cultural mastodon.

Sunday afternoon’s sold-performance of “Don Quixote,” marked by a candlelight vigil, may well be the opera company’s last. In March, the opera’s board voted 33-1 to close, citing financial problems. After public protest, board members voted to postpone closing the opera until April 29 to give the company time to try to raise $10 million needed for the opera to to see its 50th season. If the money isn’t raised by April 29, the opera will close for good and more than 400 seasonal and full-time employees will lose their jobs.

“During the curtain call to an extended standing ovation, more than 100 employees and backstage crew, many with tears streaming down their cheeks, joined the cast onstage, and many pointed up at the supertitles screen above the stage that read: ‘We are not giving up!'” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Longtime board member Carol Lazier contributed $1 million to help save the moribund opera, the L.A. Times reported. Lazier will present a reorganization plan, authored by trade group Opera America, to the board Thursday. The company should be able to function with some restructuring, because it still has large assets, and no debt, said the Union-Tribune. Financial troubles have exposed fractures within the company and its board. General and artistic director Ian Campbell and his ex-wife Ann Spira Campbell, the opera’s deputy general director, have been accused of mismanagement, and some say the pair make too much money. Their combined salaries were more than $1 million in 2010. They would also see a windfall of cash if the company is liquidated. The perception is that they did not fight hard enough to save the company. 

Said the Union-Tribune:

At the opening performance of “Don Quixote” on April 5, Campbell was jeered during a preshow curtain speech. He didn’t speak Sunday and stayed backstage during and after the performance. Italian conductor Edoardo Müller, whose 31-year association with San Diego Opera ended in 2011, sent a letter to board members Sunday morning describing Campbell as self-serving.

“When a ship is to be wrecked, the captain should be the last one to leave and save himself,” Müller wrote. “The general director, unable to solve a difficult situation, decides to murder San Diego Opera with all its employees, in order to save his honor?”

The San Diego Opera company is hardly the only one to face dire financial circumstances: the New York City Opera, Opera Boston and Opera Pacific, the San Diego’s closest competitor based in Orange County, have all closed as the art form’s supporters grow older and aren’t replaced with young fans with the same enthusiasm or resources.

“A lot of opera companies face the same challenges,” Marc A. Scorca, president of Opera America, told the New York Times. “But other opera companies have soldiered on through creative reinvention, cutbacks in order to stabilize. They are going forward with a more diverse public program and a more diverse audience. I think this is a story about one opera company. It describes not the state of opera but the state of the company.”

Young people still appreciate opera, but they’re consuming it in different — and often less expensive — ways, as is the case with the Brooklyn start-up LoftOpera.

Crisis manager Mark Fabiani, the former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and former special counsel to former president Bill Clinton, has offered his services, free of charge, to San Diego. The company’s Twitter account confirmed its uncertain fate and the grief many feel at its likely shuttering.

“Even if we sold out, the tickets are only covering 38 percent of the cost,” Karen Cohn, chairwoman of the San Diego Opera, told the New York Times.”Our donors are passing away; I don’t know if people are not being raised with opera in the United States any longer, but we are not selling out the operas anymore. Not even close.”



h/t NBC San Diego