Designer Zandra Rhodes says, "Opera is really, really important to San Diego." (Wikipedia/Phil Konstantin photo)
If the San Diego Opera closes down after this season, as administrative and artistic director Ian Campbell desires, Campbell and his ex-wife Ann could make $2.5 million to $3 million after their work is over, according to new information given to board members. I have interviewed several who are critical of the abrupt shutdown, and one who is not.
The post-shutdown subject had been up in the air. Chairwoman Karen Cohn initially said the Campbells would get nothing after the opera closed; then she reversed course and said they would get in line with other creditors. The board was recently given information on who those creditors are and what they must be paid. From that data, they figured that the Campbells could get up to $3 million if the opera closes.
On March 28, a group of eight board members asked the Campbells for a lot of information, as required by company bylaws and state law. They have received some of that information. Critically, they have not received the minutes of the compensation committee. That committee had deliberations on whether the pay of the Campbells correlated with compensation of other opera companies of comparable size. (Combined, the Campbells were paid $973,000 in 2009, when the opera was already in trouble financially. The next year, they were paid over $1 million, even as various cuts were being made. The administrative head of New York's Metropolitan Opera, about 15 times larger than San Diego Opera, took an 11% pay cut to $1.3 million when the economic doldrums hit that company.)
The compensation committee was in charge of an investigation into a complaint about a hostile work environment. Seven staff members were interviewed, the board was never informed that there was such an investigation, and still has no information on it.
On Saturday night, April 5, Ian Campbell appeared before the audience prior to the opera. He was booed and heckled — but also applauded by many in the audience. Campbell was adamant that the opera was closing after this season. The audience did not know that Nicolas Reveles, director of education and outreach, was prepared to give a second speech that has been described as "inspirational, informational." It would have pleased the board members and opera fans who want the opera to fight on. But a message was delivered that only Ian Campbell could give a speech. I haven't been able to reach Reveles today (April 7).
On March 19, the board of the opera originally voted 33 to 1 to disband after the 2014 season ended. But after many board members complained that they had been kept in the dark, the board voted overwhelmingly to extend the dropoff date to April 29. Karen Cohn has not impaneled that committee, and board members who are demanding information think she is stalling for time.
I could not reach Cohn or Faye Wilson, the powerful board member who has been behind many of the decisions for a number of years. I did reach Don Cohn, Karen's husband, who is not on the board but is close to the situation.
"The opera is broke; ticket sales have diminished and there are not enough donors around," says Don Cohn. He says board members all along have been informed of the financial peril. Those I have interviewed say that is not true; only a small inside group was kept apprised of the deteriorating situation. Don Cohn says it would have been "fraudulent" for the board to go ahead with the 2015 season and then not be able to pay bills.
Don Cohn says the board members demanding information have not received what they desire because they asked for too much too soon. Another source says those board members were told they could come to the opera office and fish through the files.
Don Cohn says he, too, was not happy with the pay that the Campbells have been receiving. However, "their contracts were public information for ten years. It is done," he says, speaking of post-shutdown payments, whether called retirement, severance, or a contract extension. He says that the reason the staff was not informed about the upcoming dissolution is that the board wanted to complete the 2014 season. The agenda for the March 19 meeting did not mention a vote on dissolution. That was deliberate, says Don Cohn, because the staff would have then found out. "If they [board members who disagree with dissolution] want to keep it alive, I guarantee my wife will be first to resign. I don't want to be liable [for possible debts]."
The board members who disagree with dissolution will hold a meeting tomorrow night (April 8). The full board meets again Friday. Carol Lazier, who has given $1 million to the opera to help it continue, did not want to comment. Several others did not return calls. Zandra Rhodes, the world-famous designer who has designed costumes and sets for some San Diego Opera productions, would only say now, "Opera is really, really important to San Diego. All of us that really care are trying to handle this in a proper manner."