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Because one opera company isn't enough

San Diego City Opera to launch its season in October

Last year, San Diego almost had no opera company. Now it has two. This is a feat New York City couldn't pull off. New York City Opera closed down in 2013, leaving that city with only its world-renowned but troubled Metropolitan Opera.

San Diego City Opera, formed by two former employees of San Diego Opera, will launch its season October 9-11 on the UCSD campus, as part of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls Festival. It will present a "reimagining" of Henry Purcell's baroque opera Dido & Aeneas. On December 11-13, the new company will present its operatic version of a song cycle by Dominick Argento, to be called Andree Expedition. That will be staged at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan. In the spring, at a time and location to be announced, the company will present the opera La Curandera, by Robert X. Rodriguez.

The company is headed by Cory Hibbs, who teaches music at San Diego State University and has a PhD from Peabody Conservatory; and Cynthia Stokes, who has staged operatic productions in various venues.

"We are focused on American composers, works in English, contemporary works, and reinterpretations of traditional works," says Hibbs.

The highest price at an opera will be $100, and many seats will go well below that level, he says.

"The reason opera is a dying art form is that people still insist on doing operas 300-400 years old, that are not relevant to audiences today," says Hibbs. The new company will do works appealing to the Hispanic community, as well as younger people, in smaller venues, he says.

Trouble is, San Diego Opera is also trying to appeal to the Hispanic audience and do productions in smaller theaters. Hibbs thinks the two companies will complement each other.

"We believe San Diego is an artistically vibrant community that can support two companies," he says.

Carol Lazier, president of San Diego Opera and its major savior, having given two $1 million donations, agrees that the two companies won't cannibalize each other.

"In my opinion, the more opera, the better," Lazier says. "I hope they succeed."

City Opera will be more experimental, Hibbs says, so will be appealing to a niche audience, at least initially. But San Diego Opera is also going after that market. Last season, it put on a contemporary opera, Nixon in China. The opera was shooting for attendance of 93 percent, but only got 71 percent. Lazier says she was disappointed by the turnout: "It didn't sell out, but it was a fabulous performance," she says.

San Diego Opera has had trouble for many years filling the seats for modern and contemporary opera. It's possible that the move to modern, dissonant music will not work, except perhaps in the smaller venues. Now, with another company stressing the same kind of opera, there may be a lot of empty seats for both companies.

The new company has financial support from the San Diego office of Allianz Global Investors. One San Diego Opera staff member wonders if the former major donors such as Faye Wilson, Iris Strauss, and Karen Cohn, who have not returned to the fold, are supporting the new company. Hibbs is not aware that they are but would welcome their donations.

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Last year, San Diego almost had no opera company. Now it has two. This is a feat New York City couldn't pull off. New York City Opera closed down in 2013, leaving that city with only its world-renowned but troubled Metropolitan Opera.

San Diego City Opera, formed by two former employees of San Diego Opera, will launch its season October 9-11 on the UCSD campus, as part of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls Festival. It will present a "reimagining" of Henry Purcell's baroque opera Dido & Aeneas. On December 11-13, the new company will present its operatic version of a song cycle by Dominick Argento, to be called Andree Expedition. That will be staged at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan. In the spring, at a time and location to be announced, the company will present the opera La Curandera, by Robert X. Rodriguez.

The company is headed by Cory Hibbs, who teaches music at San Diego State University and has a PhD from Peabody Conservatory; and Cynthia Stokes, who has staged operatic productions in various venues.

"We are focused on American composers, works in English, contemporary works, and reinterpretations of traditional works," says Hibbs.

The highest price at an opera will be $100, and many seats will go well below that level, he says.

"The reason opera is a dying art form is that people still insist on doing operas 300-400 years old, that are not relevant to audiences today," says Hibbs. The new company will do works appealing to the Hispanic community, as well as younger people, in smaller venues, he says.

Trouble is, San Diego Opera is also trying to appeal to the Hispanic audience and do productions in smaller theaters. Hibbs thinks the two companies will complement each other.

"We believe San Diego is an artistically vibrant community that can support two companies," he says.

Carol Lazier, president of San Diego Opera and its major savior, having given two $1 million donations, agrees that the two companies won't cannibalize each other.

"In my opinion, the more opera, the better," Lazier says. "I hope they succeed."

City Opera will be more experimental, Hibbs says, so will be appealing to a niche audience, at least initially. But San Diego Opera is also going after that market. Last season, it put on a contemporary opera, Nixon in China. The opera was shooting for attendance of 93 percent, but only got 71 percent. Lazier says she was disappointed by the turnout: "It didn't sell out, but it was a fabulous performance," she says.

San Diego Opera has had trouble for many years filling the seats for modern and contemporary opera. It's possible that the move to modern, dissonant music will not work, except perhaps in the smaller venues. Now, with another company stressing the same kind of opera, there may be a lot of empty seats for both companies.

The new company has financial support from the San Diego office of Allianz Global Investors. One San Diego Opera staff member wonders if the former major donors such as Faye Wilson, Iris Strauss, and Karen Cohn, who have not returned to the fold, are supporting the new company. Hibbs is not aware that they are but would welcome their donations.

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Comments
16

This splitting of audiences and support doesn't suggest a healthy situation at all. What is conjures up is two underfunded and under-attended companies fighting for a small slice of pie. How two competitive companies can complement each other with both prospering is a mystery. No, the supporters of opera are just setting themselves up for failure and disappointment.

July 9, 2015

Visduh: The new company will be going after a market that, right now, would be considered on the fringes of San Diego Opera's current market. However, San Diego Opera is trying to reach that market, too.

That market is pretty small in San Diego. At the time when valiant people were trying to save San Diego Opera, a representative of the opera company in Philadelphia came to San Diego and told how he had attracted audiences in Philly. He had taken, by and large, a modern approach. But Philadelphia has the Curtis Institute of Music, a built-in market for contemporary opera. San Diego doesn't have such a thing.

I think both San Diego companies are wise to go after the Hispanic market. It appears San Diego Opera will do more conventional zarzuelas and mariachis, and the new company will go after a more experimental market. (La Curandera opened in 2006.) If that's true, they shouldn't be devouring each other.

The group of affluent donors who bolted San Diego Opera aren't coming back. They may help finance the new company. Best, Don Bauder

July 10, 2015

There used to be a restaurant in Banker's Hill where the wait staff sang opera at will--not "perfect," perhaps, but full of heart. Maybe something like this is what opera is coming to?

Der Rheinlander Haus in La Jolla Shores used to be a hang out for some singers who would sometimes just "give us a song" at will. Happy, unstuffy, unpretentious times. ?Quien sabe?

July 10, 2015

Twister: I didn't know about either restaurant. The question is whether the grand operas of yore still sell. They do. San Diego Opera is doing both Tosca and Madama Butterfly in its next season. Good strategy. Opera companies are sticking with the war horses -- Aida, Boheme, Carmen, Butterfly, Barber of Seville, Tosca, Traviata, Rigoletto and some Mozart (Figaro, Giovanni, Flute, Cosi) -- to fill the house.

Other companies such as Chicago Lyric are also doing musicals -- Oklahoma, Showboat, Carousel, etc. -- and that's a good idea.

Will dissonant opera sell in San Diego? It never has. Best, Don Bauder

July 10, 2015

They sell because they are good.

I embarrassed my wife many years ago when I stayed seated and booed whilst the rest were giving the SD Symp a standing ovation for some &[email protected]&d atonal "music." I usually remain silent, and this is the only time I have ever booed anything. Clearly, I have no taste.

I wanted to get my money back and sue for my time and expense of getting there and pain and suffering, but my sensible wife (oh! miracles do happen) dissuaded me. I would have lost, of course, but as John Kennedy said when chastised for calling the steel industry magnates sonsabitches, "I know it was wrong, but IT FELT SO GOOD!"

July 10, 2015

Twister: Your description of atonal music fits mine, in most cases: @#%&*! I feel that way, in particular, about most modern and atonal operas, but I have sat through many of them, mainly out of loyalty to San Diego Opera. And I have enjoyed those based on a great piece of literature ("Streetcar Named Desire," "Of Mice and Men.")

I realize an opera company can't do only the war horses over and over again. But there are a lot of wonderful operas that are not considered war horses: Gluck's "Alceste," Dvorak's "Rusalka," Bizet's "Pearl Fishers," Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," Verdi's "I Lombardi." and at least 20 of Handel's operas. Those are just a few. SD Opera has done most of those I named. It did some Handel operas -- "Ariodante," "Julius Caesar in Egypt" "-- but they didn't do well at the box office.

I am all for he mariachis and zarzuelas and the recitals by opera singers -- plus, of course, the Verdi Requiem, which SDO has done several times, and should continue to do.

I hope I am wrong. I hope the modern operas go over well -- which would have to be better than 71 percent of capacity. Best, Don Bauder

The problem is that critics profess to love the atonal works, and blast any symphonic, chamber music, or opera company that doesn't stress them. Over and over, I have seen general directors cave in to the critics' demands and put too many such works on the season roster. They find out they erred when they look at receipts. It happened over many years at San Diego Opera. Best, Don Bauder

July 10, 2015

What we have here is the worst kind of authoritarianism--that permeates the arts above the local level. If an artist wants to "make it," she or he must kow-tow to a system of mindless bull$hit. "Name" and "image" count among the "upper-crust" (You got dat right! "Crust" indeed.) more than substance and talent.

A local composer was doing beautiful stuff in the seventies, about when I first started hearing of atonal "music," and he couldn't get it played anywhere. He moved to the east coast and kept writing because it was an imperative.

A few years ago some friends took us to their favorite Italian restaurant in the Gaslamp "Quarter." As we got out of the car there was a man in his thirties or forties sitting on the sidewalk playing classical guitar fully as well as John Williams. The others didn't notice, but I couldn't dump enough money into his case fast enough before rushing to catch up. He was gone when we came out.

One time I managed to convince a man working across the street who came highly recommended to do some work on our house. He did excellent work; a highly-skilled craftsman. The neighbor had mentioned that the man also was a musician. I asked him to help me move our Yamaha piano from the living room to a bedroom, and when we plugged it in, I asked if he would like to play something. He demurred, saying that he had to keep working. I told him that he didn't have to go off the clock, and reassured, he began to play. The most beautiful piano concerto I had never heard. "What was that!" I said. "I haven't decided what to call it," he said, and went back to work on the house. He lived on the street, and used his earnings to buy food and medicine for those less fortunate than he. He had five bullet wound scars on his torso, put there during a protest in Los Angeles. He was "an illegal."

I have magnificent paintings by unknown artists that aren't worth a sou, because "the authorities" have never heard of the artists. This is why I love art "forgers."

July 11, 2015

Twister: You are touching on one of the great paradoxes of the arts. Why does one performer/artist become a star, and another -- as good or better -- does not? It's a mystery. Best, Don Bauder

July 11, 2015

Why, indeed! But to me, it's no mystery. It's a simple as "style" over substance. "The Authorities" fall into the "them as can, do; them as can't, critique." "Style" is an artistic rut. Take Wagner. Then Bizet. Compare.

Uh, oh . . . I think I stepped into something sticky . . .

July 24, 2015

OOPS. San Diego Opera says the opera "Nixon in China" got 71 percent of capacity, which was 93 percent of its goal -- not that it expected 93 percent. I am sorry for the misinterpretation, but would add that the expectation was very low. Best, Don Bauder

July 10, 2015

Someone should do an opera on "Mao to Mozart."

July 11, 2015

Twister: We have the DVD of Isaac Stern playing in China. It is excellent. It wouldn't make an opera, though. It is amazing to see how many great performers these days have an Asian background. Best, Don Bauder

July 11, 2015

So long as the two companies don't perform on the same night, they should help each other's attendance. This is great news. Both companies will doubtless bleed tons of money, but Opera isn't about money, it's about love.

July 11, 2015

Psycholizard: San Diego Opera has always competed against small, amateur opera organizations that charge little for tickets, and present local talent. There have long been groups presenting outre and/or modern opera. The competition got more intense as SDO tickets kept rising in price.

Will the companies actually bolster each other? I'm not sure of that, since the new company will be concentrating on unusual works that draw a niche audience. Best, Don Bauder

July 11, 2015

No matter how you look at it the opera market in San Diego is small therefore there is a finite number of people who understand, appreciate and enjoy opera. The unwashed masses, which is the vast majority of us, think of opera as a bunch of overdressed clown screaming at each other.

July 11, 2015

AlexClarke: Obviously, I disagree vehemently, but there is no sense debating the point.

It does remind me of a conversation I had with our younger son when he was about 12 years old. I was teasing him about rock music. "It's just a bunch of people screaming," I said.

His rejoinder: "What about opera?" Best, Don Bauder

July 11, 2015

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