San Diego Opera Gone, Art Is Worth Saving

San Diego(Photo: sdcoastcutterdotcom)
San Diego(Photo: sdcoastcutterdotcom)

Yesterday, the San Diego Opera announced it was going out of business June 30, after 49 years. Director Ian Campbell used a “better get out before it’s to late” card to explain the company’s sudden and perhaps unnecessary demise. In fact, the San Diego Opera is fiscally secure at present, and is located on one of America’ wealthiest and most attractive cities. Why bail at 49? After fifty it’s a piece of cake.

Campbell’s board predicted a paucity of support in the immediate future. The usual song and dance (HA!). Audiences aging out and not being replaced. Opera is irrelevant anyway. Children are starving. The Met in HD is robbing audiences.

It has always been easy to excuse not supporting the arts and it has always been difficult to keep the Verdi- Mozart- Strauss -Wagner ship afloat. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t  be done. The visceral thrill of a fine chorus, orchestra and soloists telling a story amid splendid sets is as powerful today as it was 200 years ago.

But our senses are not what they were: deadened by electronic media.

Sutherland, Sills, Pavarotti, Siepi, Merrill, Price, Caballe, Callas are all dead or retired. Star power is rare: Juan Diego Florez and Renee Fleming come to mind. The Sutherland et al group sang frequently in San Diego. Their fees topped the national debt but nobody cared. They sold out the house three times over every night.  When was the last time you stood in line for five hours for standing room. I did it regularly-you HAD to-up until 1990.

What we have here folks is a board that doesn’t want to be bothered. You’ll never convince me that support has died up in San Diego (Omaha maybe and Opera Omaha thrives!)

It’s not that people can’t make that phone call,  it’s that people no longer want to. Hustling support for the arts has never been easy and it isn’t easy now. But a full theater equals restaurant meals, taxes, garage parking fees and a whole lot of money flowing into a city providing an evening’s entertainment. People should think before again.

The Met in HD presentations sell briskly and they are wonderful. Yes, they are largely attended by the elderly. Live opera, on the other hand attracts quite the hot date night crowd here in Columbus and in every other mid-sized city where I’ve been in the audience (older and without a date) Young people are NOT staying away. They like the all -enveloping sound, they like the visual, they like being dressy (or not) and the love, blood, sex and death aren’t bad either. Work hard. The art form is worth saving, and serving.

  • Robert S.

    Christopher, thank you for a thought-provoking article. One thought: I am a long-time listener to the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. This past Wednesday night I went to my first Met HD Live (encore) in-theater presentation, to see Werther, and enjoyed it very much. I would submit that, rather than syphoning off support from local opera production companies, the Met broadcasts/theatre presentations are a gateway to expose us to and heighten our interest in opera and send us in search of local productions to then enjoy and support. I may be wrong, but my impression is that our local opera productions are largely light opera, which does not interest me as much, and I will also say that I experienced a bit of “sticker shock” when I checked out tickets for our local opera productions in the last year or so. Also, some of our productions seem to be in conjunction with non-opera companies, in non-traditional performance settings, etc. Perhaps this may be my own provincialism, but I would prefer it to be otherwise. I only say this to suggest that if some blame the Met HD live performances as a primary reason for difficulties in gaining a critical mass of public support for the local companies, that may, in fact, be a self-serving copout.