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The September edition of Opera News, the magazine for opera lovers published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, has a long, sizzling investigative piece on the demise and (hopefully) rebirth of San Diego Opera.

Ian Campbell, former executive director, comes out looking very bad, as does his ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell, the former number-two person at San Diego Opera. Both are now gone and what they were paid on departure is still a secret that the Opera News story does not penetrate.

The gist of the article was covered by San Diego media, including the Reader. But this is a very comprehensive, well-written summary. One paragraph is revealing. After media revealed that Ian Campbell would be paid through 2017, the Campbells hired Mark Fabiani, flack for Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky imbroglio, Lance Armstrong in his troubles, and the Chargers in their attempt to squeeze money out of San Diego taxpayers. Says Opera News, "As outrage [about Ian Campbell's retirement pay] escalated, the Campbells brought in Mark Fabiani, the crisis control expert.... Weeks later, an amendment to Ian Campbell's contract, dated from 2010, surfaced, limiting his payout to the end of the calendar year of his termination. Strangely, the amendment — which seemed to address the ugliest rumors about Campbell's motives in the shutdown — had not come to light during the initial firestorm over compensation. It had been printed on a free-floating piece of paper, reportedly discovered in the back of Campbell's personnel file."


The article slams both Campbells' pay. For example, in 2009, Ian Campbell brought home $414,500 on a $17.5 million budget; the head of Florida Grand Opera made $215,000 on a $17 million budget. Ann Campbell was paid $300,000 when fundraising, which she headed, was doing poorly. Ian Campbell's insistence on staging expensive operas with big-name casts, was "probably unsustainable," says the article.

The article says that Houston Grand Opera is loaning next year's production of Nixon in China for free. I did not know that. The California attorney general's office is auditing the company's finances; that is not complete.

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eastlaker Aug. 14, 2014 @ 6:03 p.m.

On the one hand, we in San Diego are very fortunate that there is a turnaround underway with the SD Opera, that the true opera lovers have stepped up to ensure this art form will survive here.

On the other hand, I believe it is good that the truth about the Campbells is being heard--so that other arts organizations will know better than to hand over all the power to a "power couple".

Never hand over all the power, especially when the purse-strings go along with it!

And about that amendment...hmm is right.


Don Bauder Aug. 14, 2014 @ 6:56 p.m.

eastlaker: Among the poignant observations in this article are "the board functioned more like an elite social club than a governance body," and Ian Campbell had a "top down" management strategy that "allowed for little input from his staff."

The article goes into how Stacy Rosenberg became president, wanted to make some reforms including cutting costs, and was told to step down, which she did after only a brief time as head. I reported on that, as did others in the San Diego media, but I could never get Rosenberg to call me back. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 14, 2014 @ 7:41 p.m.

Do you think the amendment was more of a face-saving mechanism?


Don Bauder Aug. 14, 2014 @ 9:58 p.m.

eastlaker: Worse. I suspect the amendment was invented because of the strong community sentiment against his original deal. I don't know this; I suspect it. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 14, 2014 @ 10:02 p.m.

eastlaker: Let me add a thought. We still don't know what Campbell was ACTUALLY paid upon his departure. Both sides have pledged to keep it quiet. So was he paid one year of salary, as the so-called 2010 amendment indicated, or was he paid through 2017? We don't know. The fact that we don't know will hurt the opera in fundraising. The same applies to Ann Spira Campbell's retirement deal. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Aug. 14, 2014 @ 7:52 p.m.

If this magazine had not blasted him, what credibility would it have among opera lovers? Oh, the poor Aussie tried and tried and tried, but ultimately failed? If he'd been living on a meager salary of, say, $50K a year while he led the opera, that would have been one thing, but that was not the case at all. Opera lovers may be at a crossroads having to do with funding, the operas themselves, and getting a wider swath of the public to appreciate the art form.


Don Bauder Aug. 14, 2014 @ 10:05 p.m.

Visduh: Ian Campbell put on some magnificent opera. But he kept spending money irresponsibly long after it was obvious the opera couldn't afford it. I suspect he thought he would make a reputation for putting on great opera, and would be hired by some other company when he left San Diego's broke opera company. Instead, the reverse happened. I don't think anybody would have him now. Best, Don Bauder


sandiegocynic Aug. 14, 2014 @ 8:58 p.m.

The opera world is small, and plenty of San Diegans shared the local reporting (which was excellent: Angela Carone at KPBS; Kinsee Morlan at Citybeat; James Chute at the U-T; and Don Bauder here) with fans around the world, via social media. I don't think Nic Reveles has been given enough credit for coming forward. He was the first staffer to break the silence following the news of the closure about attempts to reduce the budget after the 2008 meltdown, attempts Campbell waved away according to Reveles. His version of the frustration behind the scenes had a huge impact on the community and, I suspect, elsewhere. The reporting from the L.A. Times and the NY Times was not investigative; indeed, the NY Times seemed dismissive of the grassroots attempt to save our opera.

The amendment Cohn reports was a nice catch. I agree, really wonderful story by the Opera News.


Don Bauder Aug. 14, 2014 @ 10:07 p.m.

sandiegocynic: I agree. The story breaks little new ground, but it is very well put together and written. I used to get Opera News, but no longer do. I wonder how well the publication is covering the mess at the Metropolitan Opera. Best, Don Bauder


Psycholizard Aug. 15, 2014 @ 3:48 p.m.

I'll confess to some self congratulation. While painting an apartment years ago, the paint spattered on a UT article that discussed the Campbell's long term contract. When I heard the Opera was being shuttered with money in the bank, the two facts seem connected, which I noted on this blog first day. The uproar followed, but of course it followed the facts, not me. Smug is so delicious however, I think I'll order another plate.


Don Bauder Aug. 15, 2014 @ 4:34 p.m.

Psycholizard: That paint probably spilled on an excellent article by Preston Turegano, long-time arts reporter for the Union-Tribune, and one of the most thorough, toughest journalists the publication has had.

Now I will make a confession. When that article came out, I was on the opera's advisory board. I was stunned to know how much Ian and Ann were being paid, but I never said a word. My wife and I did tell Ian he was making a mistake when he plunged excessively into contemporary and modern opera in the early 1990s. He later admitted we were right: ticket sales told the story. Best, Don Bauder


Psycholizard Aug. 15, 2014 @ 8:52 p.m.

The right contemporary opera might hit big, but there would have to be concessions to popular taste. I would try popular genres that hit in the movies, and find composers with a popular touch, better yet, star power. Make it fun. J. K. Rowling and Paul McCartney come to mind. These names aren't likely to be available, but I there are names that could sell out our Civic Theater, and make tunes you can whistle while leaving the theater.


Don Bauder Aug. 16, 2014 @ 7:01 a.m.

Psycholizard: I have been to a number of modern and contemporary operas. The ones I enjoyed the most were ones based on great works of literature: Streetcar Named Desire and Of Mice and Men. However, I did not find the music pleasing in either.

I think opera companies, including San Diego, would be wise to put on musicals, such as Chicago's Lyric Opera and many other companies are doing -- Showboat, Sound of Music, Oklahoma! etc. Also, I think it is high time to disinter some Gilbert & Sullivan masterworks. There is light fare such as Fledermaus, Merry Widow, and works by Offenbach (along with other Lehar) that could appeal to today's audiences. We saw Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld a couple of years ago and loved it. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 16, 2014 @ 8:22 a.m.

Exactly!! Wouldn't it be great to have some Gilbert & Sullivan in the summer, along with a couple of other lighter works!

(And, maybe it is just me, but if the Civic Center Plaza could be steam cleaned once every 20 years, it might be a great deal more pleasant. There is so much grime that you might as well be riding the New York subway in the 1970's. But, I digress...)


Don Bauder Aug. 16, 2014 @ 8:47 a.m.

eastlaker: The music in Gilbert & Sullivan is pleasant, often very good, and the librettos are magnificent. Gilbert was a master with the English language. As to the Civic Center, I agree: it could use a cleaning, although I do not find it unpleasant. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 15, 2014 @ 8:59 p.m.

I tracked down and read the article, and must say that reading about Faye Wilson yelling, "Idiots!" (when leaving the meeting that resulted in the opera's stay of execution) really made me wonder.

So she thought that everyone who wanted to save SD Opera was an idiot?

Or was it that anyone who had the temerity to disagree with her was an idiot?

Somehow I get the feeling that the California AG's office might be able to find out who the idiots are, if indeed there are any. I hope they have their best people on the case.


Don Bauder Aug. 16, 2014 @ 7:11 a.m.

eastlaker: Yes, Faye Wilson's outburst was disgusting, and was reported locally at the time it happened. I have always liked Faye, but I suspect she gets much of the blame for the ridiculously outsized pay and fringes given to the Campbells.

It is critical to know WHEN the coterie around Ian -- including Wilson, Cohn, Iris Strauss -- concluded the opera couldn't make it financially. The story is that they decided it was hopeless only a few weeks before the board voted the first time to disband. But I have good reason not to believe that. Ian was poor-mouthing back in 2009 and even earlier. But the opera kept on staging highly expensive productions, and the Campbells did not cut their excessive pay very much.Nor did they cut other expenses sufficiently. What was going on? I hope to come up with some answers.

What really scares me is that the big givers who stormed out now have an ego stake in making sure the opera does not survive. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 16, 2014 @ 10:45 a.m.

Ok, this is important, you are right. When did the inner circle decide that it was time to fold?

In the article, Mr. Merrill said (if I am recalling correctly) that he looked at the numbers that were handed out to the group the day Mr. Campbell announced that the opera needed to be shut down.

Then, at some point, he found the numbers that had been given out some three weeks before, when things were still just ducky.

They were the exact same numbers!

So, what had happened? I sure don't know, but I am wondering if he had just been given word that some of the big donors would not be coming through? Which does seem a bit odd to me, as this year has been overall a good one in the stock market, so the Opera Divas/Angels should have been doing well, and so should the investments of the rest of the board members.

I think there is still something we do not know. Maybe it has to do with some of the law suits about creating a hostile environment, and Ian Campbell didn't want any more of that to go public?

By the way, I continue to amuse myself with visions of a golf foursome of Mr. Campbell, Larry Anderson, Ed Brand and the recently deposed head of the SD port district, whose name escapes me at the moment. Got it! Wayne Darbeau. Although he doesn't seem quite as much of an offender as the others.


Don Bauder Aug. 16, 2014 @ 2:27 p.m.

eastlaker: Yes, there was supposed to be a second hostile environment complaint. There could have been others. Ian has a girlfriend and wanted to move to New York to be with her. (She is an opera singer.)

The opera knew more than six years ago that it had cancerous troubles. But it made few cuts and Ian and Ann continued to take home ridiculous pay and perks. I believe the insiders' dubious strategy will become clear at some point. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 17, 2014 @ 7:47 a.m.

Yes, but in that three week time period, what happened? Did Ian Campbell's girlfriend issue him an ultimatum?


Don Bauder Aug. 17, 2014 @ 7:59 a.m.

eastlaker: I doubt if the girlfriend gave Ian an ultimatum, but it is certainly possible. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 17, 2014 @ 4:32 p.m.

eastlaker: Ian has a big ego and hot temper. I doubt if an ultimatum would go over well, even from a lover. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 19, 2014 @ 7:10 a.m.

eastlaker: Well.....yes, possible. Best, Don Bauder


Psycholizard Aug. 16, 2014 @ 11:20 a.m.

Ian Campbell won victories also, we shouldn't forget years of real success. I thank him for keeping my musician friends working, even if I couldn't afford the tickets. We should remember that many who approved his salary, wrote generous checks. They kept things going for years and should be thanked for that. And you'll get those donors back the same way you fill the seats; by putting on an enjoyable show.


Don Bauder Aug. 16, 2014 @ 2:28 p.m.

Psycholizard: The bitterness is so thick that, I am afraid, those former big donors will NOT be coming back. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 17, 2014 @ 1:02 p.m.

I suppose if they really miss opera, they will just go to SF or LA.


Don Bauder Aug. 17, 2014 @ 2:35 p.m.

eastlaker: Yes, both are possibilities, as well as Santa Fe and Seattle. I just don't think those former big donors will come back to San Diego Opera any time soon. There is too much bitterness, too much pride, involved. Those who stormed out thought those who wanted to save the opera idiots. That's closing the door. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 18, 2014 @ 7:01 a.m.

What continues to astonish me about the whole business is the way the board was ignoring the membership, who were supposed to vote on such items as shutting everything down. Not to mention that all the musicians, backstage people, office staff, etc., were treated as though they were valueless. Ian Campbell's massive ego might just as well have been a block of wood for all the good it did him--may he continue to learn some lessons in his remaining time on earth.


Don Bauder Aug. 18, 2014 @ 7:20 a.m.

eastlaker: Absolutely. The shutdown had to go to a vote of the membership but didn't until the point was raised. Was this an oversight or a deliberate Machiavellian ploy? Best, Don Bauder


Psycholizard Aug. 17, 2014 @ 5:03 p.m.

The someone who donates six figures to the Opera, will attend if you put on a good one, even if she has to wear the cheaters, and if you introduce the tenor at a party, she'll bat her eyelashes. Opera, every good one at least, is about idiots, and love.


Don Bauder Aug. 17, 2014 @ 10:11 p.m.

Psycholizard: Opera is about idiots? Yes, often, but Faust was a scientist (for his time). The characters in Marriage of Figaro plotting complex tricks on the Count are pretty clever. Hans Sachs in Meistersinger is pretty shrewd. (Beckmesser is not.) Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 17, 2014 @ 10:13 p.m.

Psycholizard: Opera is about idiots? Yes, often, but Faust was a scientist (for his time). The characters in Marriage of Figaro plotting complex tricks on the Count are pretty clever. Hans Sachs in Meistersinger is pretty shrewd. (Beckmesser is not.) FiBest, Don Bauder


eastlaker Aug. 18, 2014 @ 7:25 a.m.

Opera is about human foibles, failings and aspirations, comic as well as tragic elements of idiocy included. (I'm not arguing, just considering--it amazes me that the human imagination can be linked in such a way that opera exists. It is such a cooperative effort, which is also why Mr. Campbell's complete disregard for all who had contributed creatively is simply mind-boggling).


Don Bauder Aug. 18, 2014 @ 12:06 p.m.

eastlaker: Absolutely. Opera is about human foibles, failings and aspirations, and both tragic and comic opera reflect them. To me, opera is the greatest art form, embracing the orchestra, chorus, major and minor soloists, sets, costumes, etc. A performance in which all those elements come together perfectly is a wonderful experience. Best, Don Bauder


monaghan Aug. 18, 2014 @ 11:50 a.m.

It is easy to blame a strong-willed genius when everything is going south. I think Ian Campbell was worth every penny he was paid -- whatever his faults and shortcomings.

I attended several San Diego operas back in the pre-Ian Campbell days and found them so ridiculous I didn't darken the Civic Theater door again for twenty-five years. When I did return, I was astonished to find out what a wonderful experience opera could be -- beautiful voices, stunning stage sets and costumes, elegant dancers, excellent musicians from a live orchestra.

It would be fun to see Gilbert & Sullivan on-stage here and even some of the great American musicals like "Showboat" or "Porgy and Bess." But Ian Campbell's San Diego Opera was truly "world-class" -- a much misused phrase in this place hyperbolically called "America's Finest City." I think Campbell is due credit for what he accomplished.


Don Bauder Aug. 18, 2014 @ 12:12 p.m.

monaghan: I agree that Ian Campbell deserves credit for what he accomplished. He put on some magnificent operas. But unlike you I think he and Ann were both overpaid -- grossly overpaid, compared with other heads of operas.

I don't understand your statement that pre-Campbell operas were ridiculous. Tito Capobianco was Campbell's immediate predecessor. He put on some wonderful operas, too -- especially ones by Verdi, his specialty. He spent too much, just as Ian did, but his creative efforts were generally first-rate. Best, Don Bauder


Psycholizard Aug. 18, 2014 @ 9:08 p.m.

Ignorance drives the action in Drama, so the main characters, however wise they seem, foolishly press forward into the central predicament. If they knew what they were getting into, they would avoid the final tragedy, or feel no stress in a comedy. Opera sometimes has weakness as drama, it's really about singing, but very often the favorite songs are about frustrated passion, and poor life choices. Luckily today we have psychiatric drugs, so no one has to feel the sort of passion that makes people jump from high places, etc. etc., in the name of love.


Don Bauder Aug. 19, 2014 @ 7:18 a.m.

Psycholizard: Some operas that are very good musically have stupid plots -- Donizetti's Elixir of Love, Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, Bellini's La Sonnambula, for example. But opera is 90 percent music. So what if the plot is dumb? Best, Don Bauder


Burwell Aug. 18, 2014 @ 9:31 p.m.

Don was interviewed on radio about Ian Campbell. See link to podcast below. The radio station did an excellent job editing out the profanity.



Don Bauder Aug. 19, 2014 @ 7:42 a.m.

Burwell: Yes, I remember that interview. What impressed me was the intelligent questions and responses I got from the two interviewers. They knew their stuff. Best, Don Bauder


Psycholizard Aug. 19, 2014 @ 2 p.m.

Opera follows the drama of it's day, sometimes setting popular plays to music. The dramatic conventions of one hundred years ago seem sillier than those of today, because we haven't been trained in those conventions, not because our own conventions aren't likely to seem silly one hundred years from now. Sometimes the librettist finds a truly timeless drama, that then is turned back into a movie or play. La Traviata, for example.


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