The New York Times covered the story of the opera's "death knell"
  • The New York Times covered the story of the opera's "death knell"
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After facing months of public criticism, the San Diego Opera's general director Ian Campbell and his ex-wife, deputy general director Ann Spira Campbell, have finally parted ways with the company, opera officials announced via a release sent out Thursday evening.

Controversy erupted shortly after the opera's board of directors voted 33-1 to cease operations on March 19. Ian Campbell at the time said the organization "faced an insurmountable financial hurdle going forward." The New York Times soon covered the story of the opera's "death knell" and mentioned Campbell was "nearly booed off the stage" due to allegations of mismanagement.

Within days, rumors began flying that the push to hastily close shop while the opera still had significant operating funds was linked to millions in retirement benefits due the Campbells that would be at risk if the organization was to take on debt. Opera chair Karen Cohn quickly denied the validity of those claims, but defended the hefty paychecks collected by the Campbells, at times in excess of $1 million. That stance softened in recent weeks, as Cohn later said the Campbells could "get in line with other creditors" and potentially pocket $2.5 to $3 million if the closure went through.

By late April, the Campbells had been placed on paid leave, and a few days later an advisory vote by opera members recommended the pair be fired and the vote to end operations be rescinded.

The one-paragraph release on Thursday only announced that the Campbells and the opera "have ended their formal association with each other.

"The Opera acknowledges and thanks Ian and Ann for their dedication and contributions to the Opera over the past many years. At the same time, the Opera also acknowledges that current differences with them need to be resolved."

The opera and the Campbells say that they will "try and resolve their differences in an amicable manner," but declined further comment, including word on any post-departure pay.

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Scott Marks May 17, 2014 @ 8 a.m.

These two are a bigger disgrace to our city than Filner. Better an arrogant fanny pincher than a pair of unrepentant elitist a**holes.


dwbat May 17, 2014 @ 8:36 a.m.

Perhaps Ian saw "The Music Man" on Broadway way back when. And instead of the instruments/uniforms scam run by "Professor" Harold Hill, he was inspired to get paid $millions by bringing NYC-style grand opera to a backwater city in California. "Let the big con begin" was supposedly mumbled by Ian upon his arrival in SD.


eastlaker May 17, 2014 @ 8:38 a.m.

I believe people are still waiting to see the financials--expense accounts, entertainment accounts have been said to be rather large.


Visduh May 17, 2014 @ 9:55 a.m.

Those people may wait a very long time to see those financials. They may never see them. The operation has been and continues to be opaque, and the new regime may well decide to "move forward" and "put all the controversy behind" them. What that means is that they don't want to deal with, or be reminded of, the bad decisions and/or malfeasance that led to the fall.


Scott Marks May 17, 2014 @ 10:04 a.m.

We'll see "The Day the Clown Cried" before these not-for-profit-profiteers make public their financials. Deposit them in Guantanamo and blast DMX down their eardrums 24/7. That'll learn 'em!


Kookaburra May 17, 2014 @ 11:50 a.m.

I had a dream last night that Ian was the maniacle Cap`n Ahab, lashed by ropes to the huge dead carcass of poor Moby, his lifeless arm flopping back and forth in a macabre farewell to the astonished crew. Yeah, the SDO is dead in the water thanks to a self obsessed dictatorial Captain!

Anyone who thinks that he didnt plan his and his wifes payouts years ago when he saw the demise of the SDO coming, must still believe in the tooth fairy.

And it was always the" Ian Campbell Opera Company"!

Back here in Australia, even when he was young, he already had an ego bigger than the Sydney Opera House. And he didn`t resign from singing at the Australian Opera. He would never do that. He was fired by John Winther because his voice lacked beauty of tone. His voice was popularly described as like a goat with his testicles being squeezed in a garlic crusher! And his first wife was Australian. He has been married three times.


Anon92067 May 17, 2014 @ 4:23 p.m.

For all the tragic mistakes, Board mismanagement, and apparent greed of recent years, we must give credit to Ian Campbell, and also to Ann Campbell, for building a great opera company for San Diego over 31 years. When Ian came, the opera was in extreme crisis and almost bankrupt. In those years, he used his energy and his amazing talent for finding young singers early in their careers--he gave us exceptional performances that were as good as opera at any of the great houses of the world. For that, we are grateful. Like so many in the arts, he just didn't know when to get off the stage. He should have seen that his own exhaustion and pessimism about the future was impacting the opera; and he should have retired at age 65 instead of clinging on these last 3 years. Ditto for Ann Campbell--she is known around the country for her fundraising abilities. It was no small task to raise $12+ million a year for the San Diego Opera--year in, year out. She did a great job, but she, too, was exhausted. She should have resigned, and moved on to raise money for another nonprofit where she could have renewed energy and commitment.

So rather than these snarky comments (Scott Marks, dwbat, and others), try to take the more generous, constructive, optimistic stance of Carol Lazier and the "new" SDO board--we need to thank the Campbell's, acknowledge the mistakes, and move on to the future. A wonderful 50th anniversary season is ahead of us.


dwbat May 17, 2014 @ 5:59 p.m.

You forgot to mention that Ian was way OVERPAID. Obviously, someone as talented could have run SD Opera for half his outrageous salary. And most organizations would not have allowed a director/CEO/head cheese to hire his wife for an equally overpaid amount. That is unethical behavior. So there definitely IS a need for snarky comments.


Scott Marks May 17, 2014 @ 6:02 p.m.

Better snarky than an apologist for piggish behavior. 31 years later and the opera is in worse shape than it's ever been, the only difference being now greedy Campbell and his ex no longer care thanks to gobs of money they have pocketed from their endeavor. If these two are the beneficent class acts with nothing to hide that you paint, than why haven't they come forward to publicly address what is obviously just a big misunderstanding?


Kookaburra May 17, 2014 @ 6:12 p.m.

Yes, a master stroke to marry Ann...a brilliant fundraiser for his opera company and his job. Ian has always been a very calculating controlling strategist for self aggrandisement. Yes he created a lot of employment for people in the opera world..which is sorely needed......but it was always a huge ego trip that was more important for him. Now he is laughing all the way to the bank.


Visduh May 19, 2014 @ 8 a.m.

They both should have plenty of wealth stashed away in investments. With those salaries in the past five years, both should be set financially for life. But sometimes it just doesn't work out that way, and as fast as some people earn money, they spend it all (and then some.) We can only wonder where Ian will go now. Back Down Under? Probably not.

At this point, the less they say the better for them. Making any sort of attempt to justify their behavior would just further infuriate opera fans and those who provided money to the SDO. No, there's reason for them to talk or stay in the area.


eastlaker May 19, 2014 @ 3:07 p.m.

I would think there are some bequests that need sorting out.


Visduh May 21, 2014 @ 7:26 a.m.

Now the Mill reports that the attorney general is planning to audit the books of the SDO. It is hard to know just why and how this came about, but the best explanation is that someone close to the opera took some information to the AG's office and requested it. We can further assume that something(s) of questionable nature were revealed, enough to have the AG think that expending time and energy on an audit would be justified. Gee whiz, and here Ian and his lap-dog board thought the shut down would just go smoothly and generally quietly. Wrong! We haven't heard the last of this, for sure.


dwbat May 21, 2014 @ 8:35 a.m.

The U-T article reports it was Lorena Gonzalez who made the request: "Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, told KPBS News that she had complained to the attorney general about a specific issue at the opera, that is, how up front the opera was about its troubles when applying for public grants."


Visduh May 21, 2014 @ 7:27 p.m.

The UT article I saw in today's edition made no mention of Gonzalez, or much mention of anything else, for that matter.


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