More clouds gather

Here’s a classical music leader pointing at dark clouds hovering over our field. I’m talking about an admission of serious trouble, in an extraordinary — extraordinarily honest and forceful — statement by David Gockley, General Manager of the San Francisco Opera, and (I’d think by more or less unanimous acclaim) one of the top arts managers in the US.

David says that his company is in serious trouble, because of factors that affect all arts organizations like it. He wrote this in the Opera’s program book, in November 2010. A friend sent me quotes, and the company very kindly gave me the full text. The link takes you to a PDF of the published statement, which is well worth reading.

Here are some excerpts:

The economy has plunged the arts into a state of turmoil. Every week there is news of a company facing bankruptcy, laying off employees, cutting programming, or reorganizing. Some simply have no choice but to cease operations. Slashed endowments to cover deficits, behavioral changes in donors and ticket buyers, ever sky-rocketing healthcare, and workers compensation costs, among other factors, are taking a gut-wrenching toll on our industry.


This reality has pushed most companies towards a precipice, forcing incredibly hard decisions. San Francisco opera is, however, already there. Exacerbating the general economic pain facing all companies are a unique set of factors that this company has languished under for many years, if not decades.

Here are three of the factors he lists:

We have a donor model that keeps me up at night—we rely on 12 families for 50% of our contributed income, and the majority of these donors are over 70 years old!

We are close to maxing out our ticket sales potential—we have a fixed number of nights in the theater, and our top ticket price has already doubled over the last ten years.

Our cost obligations are so fixed from year to year that it’s almost impossible to nimbly navigate challenges. It can take years to change the structure, culture and mindset of a behemoth like san Francisco opera, and by that time it can be too late.

He then goes on to say:

We have a major cash problem. During our last audit, our auditors started talking to us about a “going concern” possibility. “Going concern” is an accounting designation that a company may not have the resources to meet its obligations, and is typically an indication that insolvency is just around the corner.…

The “business as usual” model will cripple San Francisco opera in the next two years if there is not major change. And I mean major. I don’t just mean trimming a rehearsal here or there or squeezing line-item budgets. i mean a major reconceptualization of the company, how we do business, and what our seasons look like. How many productions do we do? Is a summer season viable? What kind of productions can we afford to put on stage? Can we remain an international level company?

As I said, this is extraordinarily honest. I’ve known people in David’s position who’d rather keep quiet about serious problems, so they won’t scare away donors. I think it’s better to be honest, so donors — when the problems finally are revealed — won’t feel they’ve been misled. (Caveat: This is easy for me to say, since I’ve never had to raise funds. I understand that my idea might not be easy to put in practice.)

And I see that this is more conservative than statements I might make. There’s almost nothing about classical music falling out of touch with current culture, and the need for large changes in programming and presentation, in order to find a contemporary audience. Though two things David says may point in that direction: the “behavioral changes in donors and ticket buyers” he talks about, and the age of his most important donors.

But the cost squeeze he talks about is a huge, huge problem, not just for him, but for all large performing arts institutions. There’s a principle of economics David doesn’t mention, the famous “cost disease” — an opera company can’t increase its productivity the way a manufacturing company can, but still has to pay rising, competitive wages (and meet other rising costs). So it’s always falling behind financially. (That’s true of orchestras, too, of course.)

Still, what David says is powerful, and stark. I’ll check in to find how the company has dealt with this crisis, but one thing we can be sure of — other classical music institutions, whether they talk this way or not, are in the same boat.

[I’ve revised the beginning of this. In my first version, I said that David’s statement was a dark cloud over classical music. And that’s really not right. It’s greatly unfair to him, since the whole point of what he said was to start fixing the problems. What I meant is that he pointed to dark clouds, and I hope I’ve made that clearer now.]

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  1. says

    I can’t agree more and Mr; Gockley’s candor is refreshing. It reminds me of Ernest Fleischmann’s statement about the orchestra world some years back. Even here in Europe orchestras and opera companies are struggling to justify the expense on society of these institutions. It is becoming easier to cut sacrosanct institutions these days. In the states, (I just left California) the problem is beyond belief. There are bright spots where orchestras and operas (and museums, dance companies, etc..) have evolved through enlightened leadership, flexible artists and donors willing to give the artists the benefit of the creative doubt and not give money for pet projects that actually cost more money than they bring in. I hope that every level of our business can be spoken about… from soloist pay to the way musicians are recruited. I know this is controversial but it is part of the crux of our problems. Example, when soloists or music directors get paid as much as the whole orchestra for an evening how does an executive make things work.?

  2. Suzanne says

    Sounds eerily like the situation at New York City Opera – only they haven’t been nearly as honest about it.

    Their predicament is also a lesson in the harm a benefactor can inadvertently do, with the best of intentions. One of the most damaging events for NYCO was the closing of the NY State Theater for a a major renovation funded by David Koch. This forced the company to essentially miss an entire season and severely impacted both its ticket revenues and its fundraising.

  3. says

    Greg –

    I am surprised that you published this posting before you followed up to see where things stand currently.

    1. He is taking steps to consolidate SFO’s operations from around SF to Civic Center where the opera house is.

    2. Some of the above was surely saber-rattling in advance of 2011’s labor negotiations…which were concluded with signed contracts and no strikes.

    3. Someone really needs to check the 12 families / half of contributed income claim, if only because it is hard to reconcile with what’s in the program books about donors. Does that number include the huge donations by Mrs. Littlefield and John & Cynthia Gunn, for example, which total something like $60 million?

    4. Despite the claims that the opera company is on the brink, it brought in the Ring on budget, has the usual 9 operas scheduled for 2011-12 and the same 9 for 2012-13.

    5. Other comments of his that you don’t publish above point to a couple of possible changes in how SFO produces operas: 1) by changing production designs so that sets can be loaded in and out more easily and deployed on stage by fewer people 2) shifting from repertory to stagione system.

    • says

      Gosh, Lisa. You probably read, in my post, that I got the text of David’s remarks from the company itself. A friend sent me some pungent quotes from what David wrote, and — to verify them, and to get the full context — I contacted the SF Opera press office. Gave them the quotes, and asked if they’d tell me where they were from, and send me the complete text. That could have been their cue to say, well, Greg, this is an old statement, and things have changed. Especially since I told them I’d be interested in any clarification David might want to give me.

      But, without a word of comment, they sent me a PDF of the original (one of David’s columns in the program book). Which I take to mean that what he said late in 2010 still applies. Do you really think they’d circulate something which (as comments here and on Facebook show) I’m not alone in thinking is unusually searing, if they thought their situation had changed?

      Besides, as I trust I made clear, I’m posting this because it applies to many institutions. It’s an unusual public example of things that I’ve heard a number of people involved in classical music management say in private. Whether or not the San Francisco Opera has improved its situation (and I hope it has), the overall sense of David’s remarks still has force throughout the field. As he himself says, right at the start! And if the factors he talks about were in play in 2010, they’re certainly still in play. Nothing that big goes away in just a couple of years. For a trenchant analysis of similar factors involved in orchestra finances, see a forthcoming book, The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras, by Robert Flanagan.

      As for other points you make:

      (1) and (5) The changes you cite can hardly surprise anyone who reads David’s text, because he talks about doing exactly that kind of thing. Anyone who knows the budgets of these organizations, though, will also understand that such changes by themselves won’t have a giant impact on the overall financial problem. A noticeable and necessary impact, for sure, but not a game-changing one.

      (2) I love that you say “surely.” Which is to say you’re speculating. Are there other examples of top-level managers exaggerating their financial troubles, in order to help their labor negotiations? What I’ve usually seen are institutions that hide the trouble they’re in, so they won’t frighten their donors. And, whatever one thinks about hiding unpleasant truths, the effect on donors is something every nonprofit has to think about. If, as you’re speculating, David put on a Halloween fright show here, to cow the unions he deals with, the side effect on his donors might not be pleasant at all. Especially when they found out that things weren’t as bad as he said! For whatever it’s worth, the classical music institutions I’ve seen go public with serious financial problems are institutions that, beyond any dispute, really had them — the Philadelphia Orchestra, for instance, and the Detroit Symphony. Or the self-destructing New York City Opera. And when, in some cases I’ve seen (the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is an example well known inside the orchestra biz), an institution stresses its financial problems to its unions, they’re in fact being honest, the goal being to work toward cooperation, not to con anyone.

      (3) You should argue with David about this, not with me. I assumed he’s referring not to a percentage of total funding in any particular year, but to reliable _ongoing_ donors. The big gifts come and go, but it’s the steady stream of donations that keeps an institution healthy. (Or, as Peter Gelb so notably said, a season or two ago, after receiving a very large donation: This will get us through this year, but won’t help our overall problems.)

      (4) Well, of course they brought the Ring in on budget! They’d have to, if they want to survive when they’re under horrible financial pressure. It’s important, when anyone looks at the financial health of any institution, not to assume that forbidding long-term projections mean that every financial metric is going south at every moment. I’ve sat in a room with leading orchestra managers, hearing them talk about long-term structural deficits that they thought could, if continued indefinitely, bring their institutions down. But that didn’t mean that their budgets — right then, that year, that week, that day — were hemorrhaging. These were responsible people, who knew how to manage money day to day, week to week, month to month. What they were talking about were danger signs pointing to an unfavorable long-term trend, which if anything would lead them to be even more careful day to day, until the long-term problem was solved. In David’s case, he’s talking about a worse situation, in which the long-term trend has started to do real damage. But that still doesn’t mean he can’t get through a season, just as a trend toward global warming doesn’t mean that our summers right now are unendurable.

  4. says

    Recession affects the whole world. Orchestra, Concerts, and classical music in many ways are considered a luxury by the majority. I have seen music teachers losing up to 50% of their teaching income due to this. Furthermore, the availability of internet video sharing platform, such as YouTube and Itunes are making the concert and performance much more accessible to general public.

    Consumers are watching and tightening their budget!

  5. Jerry Floyd says

    I wonder if we really have a Ring cycle, as promised, in DC in 2016? Unless the economy has improved dramatically by then (always a possibility, but not a given) it’s going to take some stellar names to sell out the three cycles.

  6. says

    Suzanne, the situation is very, very different from that of NYCO –

    1. The endowment isn’t big enough, but it’s stable. NYCO ran a $55 million endowment down to $9 million in three years.

    2. No venue issues. I note that the year SFO was out of the War Memorial while it was being renovated, the company didn’t just SHUT DOWN, which is what NYCO did. SFO put on performances in two nearby venues and came out of the experience with no damage.

    3. No management turbulence (see: Mortier, Steel)

    4. Experienced board of directors (NYCO has a lot of new members)

    5. Experienced manager (Gockley: 35+ years of balanced budgets).

    6. Gockley is an excellent fund-raiser who has gotten quite a few donations in the $1 million to $5 million range as well as the two biggies I mentioned above.

    7. SFO is not competing with the equivalent of the Metropolitan Opera and its fund-raising, as NYCO is. It is the only game in town for large-scale opera productions.

  7. says

    Gosh, Greg! I read the texts in the programs in 2010 and both John Marcher and I blogged about them at that time. I am well aware that you got them directly from the company.

    As to their failure to clarify or update, you’re making an assumption that lack of response means nothing has changed. Have you also looked at statements by Gockley and the company issued more recently? They are not anywhere near so gloom and doomy. And depending on when you asked for the texts and clarifications – their offices are short staffed for a couple of weeks around the holidays, which certainly could affect the kind of response you got.

    Regarding labor negotiations, they are negotiations. Statements made by management and by labor have strategic purposes as well as factual purposes. I would ask you in return, do you think management and labor never shade the truth, never exaggerate for effect, never set up a few straw men?

    For example, you didn’t quote Gockley’s statement in the program about needing only 40 players for Nixon in China but having to pay for 70! Presumably that’s the number of contract musicians in the orchestra. But the company did not change to a per-service payment model this year and they did reach their settlement peacefully and on time. I read Gockley’s original statement as having been strategic: He’s presented one fact somewhat out of context to influence the public’s view of salaried musicians. (Somewhat out of context because the orchestra size is somewhat different for almost every opera; they used a much smaller orchestra for Xerxes than for Turandot, for obvious reasons. And they pay for extra musicians as required, for example if two harps are needed or if extra percussion is need. The same applies to the extra chorus, I believe.)

    That’s one example of strategic use of information. Does it count as exaggeration? By me it does.

    Also, I point to every last communication coming from the Philadelphia Orchestra about their bankruptcy. There are certainly reasons to be skeptical about their communications, which talk a lot about pension obligations without mentioning a long series of bad management decisions (about pensions, real estate, etc.) and management & artisitic leadership problems that go back a good 15 years.

    Regarding assumptions, well, we’re both making some, aren’t we? Perhaps we should both be setting up interviews with Gockley.

    Two more points –

    – I think Gockley is an excellent manager. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t communicate strategically.
    – It cannot be emphasized enough that some of the “structural problems” we’re seeing right now in the arts (and elsewhere) have to do with the terrible shape of the economy for the last five years. That has had an enormous impact on fund-raising and long-term planning.

    • says

      Of course classical music institutions make strategic public statements. But it passes belief that anyone, purely for strategic reasons, or even largely for them, would say the searing things David said. Would you really, just to get one-up on your unions, tell the world you were on the verge of being — in your accountant’s view, no less — financially unsustainable? The collateral damage would make this a scary strategy. You’d scare away your donors. In fact, in my experience, the most common strategic statements are those that paint things (especially financial things) as better than they are. This is widespread, from everything I’ve seen, in the classical music business, or at least was until the last couple of years, when things started to get really bad. I’ve even known people high up in the business say outright that the public should never be told how bad things are.

      And to cite Philadelphia as an organization that makes strategic statements seems a bit bizarre. They’re declaring bankruptcy! So how can there be any doubt, when they say they’re in bad financial shape, that they’re telling the truth? They might posture a bit in their public statements, or spin things a particular way, but who can doubt that their finances have been disastrous?

      But quite apart from these considerations, David’s statement seems compelling because it’s exactly what I’ve been hearing for years privately from people in David’s position. Not about the SF Opera, necessarily, but about big classical music institutions, taken as a group. I think I mentioned observing a discussion among top orchestral managers about the structural deficits they’d been running for years. (Not a subject most of them enjoy bringing up in public.) You can also read or watch Jesse Rosen’s speech, as president of the League of American Orchestras, at the League’s annual conference last June. Or read Tony Woodcock’s blog post about the problems orchestras have, written with some authority, because Tony used to run (and very successfully) the Minnesota Orchestra. One of the problems Tony cites is what he and others call “donor fatigue.” Even existing donors are getting tired of giving money, because they don’t see problems being solved. Combine that with the increasing age of donors — or, to put it differently, the relative scarcity of younger ones — and you have a serious, growing problem.

      Finally, I mentioned Robert Flanagan’s upcoming book on orchestra finances. Bob looked carefully at a question which, of course, has interested other informed observers, the question of whether the problems we’re seeing now are created by the current economic decline, or have wider causes. Bob establishes two things in his book — first, that the decline in attendance between 2002 and 2008 (which is quite notable), isn’t due to economic causes. And, second, that the overall financial picture of orchestras has gotten worse in the longer picture, even if you adjust for rises and falls of the economy. Or, in other words, orchestras do better when times are good, and worse when times are bad, but that their overall trend is down. The reasons for this lie both in a well-known economic law (Baumol’s Dilemma, as it’s sometimes called), and in a long-term decline in attendance.

      David’s woes look to me like a particular case of the larger picture I put together from all the sources I’ve just named, plus many, many anecdotal accounts from people who work first-hand with the finances of classical music institutions. You can quibble with details, but David’s account, when you know the larger context, isn’t greatly surprising. The only surprise is that he gave it in public.

      And — talk about quibbles — I emailed the SF Opera last week, after the holidays. (Trying to picture a harried PR assistant, left guarding the store when everyone else is distracted by holiday joys, revealing something she shouldn’t. In all my 30+ years in this business, I don’t think I’ve encountered that.)

      ADDED LATER: The SF Opera tweeted a link to my post. They’d never have done that if they thought I’d misrepresented them, by failing to say what’s happened since David wrote what I posted. Evidently it’s still in force — enough so that they themselves call attention to it with a tweet.

      • says

        From what I recall of Flanagan’s other papers and studies (I haven’t read the book yet, but will as soon as I get my copy) he only looks at the larger budget organizations. Which can skew the data towards what might be considered bloated and unsustainably large organizations where specific types of investments (such as marketing) will yield increasingly smaller returns.

        It would be interesting to see how the totality of funds and economic activity for all the arts has actually changed because even if we assume arts funding (either through concert attendance or donations) remained constant, there’s a simple explanation for how the larger organizations may actually receive less of that constant funds especially given the astronomical rise of non-profit arts organizations (nearly 3000 new ones during the recession years of 2001-9 alone) as well as the rise of non-Western arts organizations which parallels the changing racial demographic (which would imply that their arts funds are going to their traditional Chinese Orchestras or Arabic Orchestras rather than the European Styled Orchestras).

        Basically, there are far more options for arts funding and a smaller percentage of the overall population is that interested in funneling all their discretionary and leisure funds into the mainstream and traditional arts organizations like orchestras, operas, and ballets.

        I’m not sure if the changing racial demographic and proliferation of non-prof arts organizations would fall under what Flanagan calls “climate” as opposed to “weather” but since so much of the data from various foundations, surveys, and interest groups (e.g. NEA, National Arts Index, Rand and Mellon, etc.) also tend to fail to make the kinds of distinctions between sub-populations and a plurality of “the arts” it shouldn’t be surprising that longitudinal analyses done by folks like Robert Flanagan and Brandon VanWaeyenberghe will also fail to take into account those distinctions.

  8. says

    A follow-up to my previous comment – I see from the press release Marc links to that there’s now a relationship between work schedule and compensation:

    – A new structural model for compensation that ties annual compensation to the work schedule.

    This presumably has something to do with the item I cited above about the number of musicians playing in a particular opera.

  9. says

    Over a hundred years ago the talk was “prima la musica, dopo la parola”. Now its all about the preposterously expensive productions. Why did SFO waste so much money on a new ring? They had what was probably the best romantic ring cycle undoubtedly now stored away somewhere south of market, a legacy of Terry McEwen as I recall. It would appear to me that Gockley as, well as the Met have not kept “production” costs on a much tighter leach. Francesca Zambello appears to get what she wants, not only her so-so ring production but the disasterous fiasco of “A soldier’s tale”.Last fall San Jose Opera managed a gorgeous production of Idomeneo which was truly of international standards. All this for a cost of a couple of million dollars, a lot for SJO but barely chump change for SFO or the Met. At Sand City Opera we ignore production completely. Just concert versions of operas as a venue for young singers to help get parts under their belts, as it were. Last Saturday we presented LaBoheme/La Boheme, a concert featuring scenes from both Puccini’s iconic masterpiece as well as Leoncavallo’s superb, more authentic opera.
    Maybe the big opera companies should consider minimizing production costs like SFO did a number of years ago with a concert version of Strauss’s “Daphne”.

  10. says

    Greg. Lots of people have doubts about the PO’s bankruptcy and the reasons for it. This is all over the press. Of course there are reasons to doubt what their management says, given the terrible management history there. Peter Dobrin and Drew McManus have both published articles about this.

    As far as Gockley’s statements go, well, there does not seem to have been any collateral damage. Somehow the big donors have not gotten scared away – there’ve been several large donations made in the last year.

    I can also tell you that at least one statement he made in Notes from the General Director turned out to be overly pessimistic: “we must reduce the season to eight productions beginning in 2012-13.” SFS has stated on Facebook that they are announcing a nine-production season for 12-13. One wonders what has changed. You’ll notice that they didn’t update or clarify this for you, so one wonders what else they didn’t clarify.

    I’m forwarding to you email from SF Opera about staffing during the holidays.

    • says

      Re collateral damage — you’re not understanding me. So let me spell it out, one step at a time. You think that David might be exaggerating his company’s problems, as a way to frighten his unions. I said I doubted anyone in David’s position would make such large, sweeping, searing statements — even going so far as to say his finances might not be viable — simply to frighten unions. And why not? Because the collateral damage with donors would be too great.

      So why wasn’t there collateral damage of this kind from David’s statement? Because it’s become David’s strategy to speak honestly. His audience for that goes far beyond his unions. It’s his staff, his donors, corporate funders, foundations, the entire community. Not to mention his staff and board, who presumably were consulted — and in other ways brought on board — before he made the statement. But who now have to get behind him even more strongly, now that he’s gone public.

      He’s decided, in other words, to be honest about what he faces, instead of hiding it, as many people in his position would do. If you’re going to do that, you probably prepare the ground very carefully, talking to the donors in advance.

      And yes, he could, conceivably, make a statement like this, exaggerating everything, for strategic effect. And warn the donors. “Look, you’re going to hear me say some shocking things. But I don’t really mean it! I’m just saying this to scare the unions. So don’t take me seriously, and please, keep on giving us money. We’re not about to vanish, no matter what you hear me say.”

      At this point, I think anyone with some imagination — and, above all, some experience of the world — will see a large problem looming. “You’re doing WHAT???” the donors exclaim. “You’re telling shocking lies about the company you run, the company we’ve given so much money to? Is this wise? Is this ethical? Is this something we want to support?”

      For background, Lisa, let me tell you about a conversation I was part of some years ago, before the crisis became as intense as it currently is. Backstage, inside big classical music organizations, people pretty much knew that the future looked very troubled. They didn’t say so in public, and of course there were some who didn’t think so. But many of them knew a crisis was coming. This was a time, just for example, when I used to hear the CEO of one of the largest US orchestras saying, over and over again, in what sounded to me like a puzzled, almost desperate voice, “We have to do something!” While meanwhile his orchestra presented a happy face to the outside world.

      It was at that time that the conversation I mentioned happened. I was at a private conference, attended by several leaders in the orchestra world. During a break, I was talking to one of them, a CEO of a large and apparently successful orchestra. “The public must never be told!” this person said to me, as if a statement like that was the most natural thing in the world. “The public must never be told how bad our situation really is.” Because, of course, donors would be frightened if they knew the truth.

      At which point someone who at that time was one the ruling powers of the orchestra world came over and said, “No, I think that now we have to start telling the truth.” And why? Because things were so bad that the truth would inevitably come out.

      So here we have a battle, so to speak, taking place some years ago, before the current crisis hit, between secrecy and transparency. This discussion has continued, inside the orchestra world, ever since. But as things have gotten worse, more and more people shift to the side of transparency. David, clearly, is one of those people. As was Jesse Rosen, the president of the League, giving the keynote address at their last national conference. He painted, though in calmer words, just as dire a picture as David paints, though in this case covering the entire orchestra industry, not just a single institution.

      This helps explain how David can say what he says without collateral damage. The tides have shifted. People in his position are starting to speak honestly about things they didn’t want to reveal in past years. But to do that, you need total conviction. Which is why I don’t think someone would go to such lengths simply to awe some unions. You’d have to do so much preparation, inside your organization and outside, that by the time you finished, your union problems wouldn’t loom very large at all. By necessity, you’d be dealing with the entire situation, in all its dire splendor.

      As for Philadelphia, of course the institution had problems. (With its board, even more than with its management.) And that’s one of two reasons I can think of why Philly was the first of the big orchestras to head toward bankruptcy. If, in the years before that, you talked to people inside the field, people, for instance, who ran other orchestras, or otherwise had high positions in the business, you’d have heard them saying that, very likely, one of the big orchestras was going to fail, or at least have a near-death experience.

      The ones usually mentioned were Cleveland, Detroit, and Philly. Cleveland, because the city has shrunk, and no longer could support an orchestra with that high a budget. (That’s why they started the Florida residency — to raise money they could no longer get at home.) Detroit, for all the obvious reasons. And Philly, because of ongoing institutional problems, but also because that city, too, has had a decline in population.

      When Robert Flanagan’s book is published, you’ll see (if you read it) that he looks at various measures of city life, to see which ones correlate with financial trouble for the local orchestra. The factor with the strongest correlation is loss of population. He mentions Detroit and Philadelphia as two cities where the population loss was particularly great.

      So that’s a larger look at the Philadelphia story. Many people don’t want to believe that the bankruptcy comes from truly serious problems, because (1) they may not want to believe that classical music institutions are in truly serious trouble, and (2) they may not want to believe that orchestras are now in such financial trouble that the musicians won’t be able to have the lives they had in the past. So people point both to the economy, and to management/board troubles in Philly, and blame these things, rather than any larger troubles that might afflict the whole industry.

      But I think the larger troubles are ultimately to blame. Things are moving to the point where the entire industry — at least the big-orchestra part of it — is getting unsustainable. Slowly, slowly, year by year, the structural deficits get worse and worse. For everyone. And then, in recent years, we’ve had some extra strains arriving from the outside. The economy, for sure. Loss of population in some cities.

      So now the weaker orchestras really start to suffer. The weaker ones are those with troubled management, pre-existing financial problems, and declining cities. Add the economy, and suddenly you’ve got serious red flags flying in Philadelphia and Detroit. But if the long-term situation hadn’t been bad to begin with, the problems caused by management and the economy wouldn’t have been bad enough to threaten these orchestras’ survival.

  11. says

    SFO used to have an old retired CPA, like me, on the board. Production costs need much better control. Most symphonies, and certainly opera companies, need somebody with a firm hand who really understands finances and can talk “reality” to the “creative” people. I see no future for live presentations of new large scale operas like ” The First Emperor” or “Dr. Atomic”. For that matter little future for any large scale work like “The Trojans” or SFOs magnificent “St. Francois “. These works will be relegated to the screen, shown in art movie houses for a period and then be available for home viewing. A situation not that different from that faced by Benjamin Britten 60 years ago. Undoubtedly the problem will be worse in Europe where the arts have traditionally received substantially more government support than they do here,

  12. says

    Alfred, maybe you missed San Francisco Opera’s plan to stage “Les Troyens” within the next few years. There’s a co-production with Covent Garden. The ROH is going to present it this June. This was in SFCV’s Music News within the last few months.

    Where do you see production costs being “out of hand” just now, other than the Met’s disastrously expensive new Ring production? Is SF Opera showing any signs of NOT having a firm hand on the money?