EVEN in an arts world familiar with groups going belly-up, this one surprised people: The San Diego Opera’s board voted last week to call it a day, effective at the end of the current season. No pleading with donors or subscribers to pitch in, no Chapter 11 filing, just an abrupt, “Closed For Business” sign. Now the group’s director, Ian Campbell, has begun to speak publicly about what happened. This crisis was a long time coming, he says, telling Music News:
We are not bankrupt, owe no money, and have no creditors we believe we cannot pay if people honor pledges they made for past-season recognition, but payable over several years. Some will take it as an opportunity not to pay, I am certain, even though they have an ethical obligation to do so.
It is not an expense issue. It is a problem on the revenue side. Drops in both sales and contributions over several years now mean that we doubt we will be able to complete the next season. We will not take money from anyone we expect we may not be able to pay back, so we are not taking subscriptions and are winding down, gracefully, I hope.
The tough economy, and the fact that the opera does not have a building that allows large donations with naming rights, made it impossible to keep going, apparently. The group, by the way, had balanced its books for decades.
We’ve lost opera companies in Cleveland, Baltimore, Hartford, Orange County and elsewhere over the last few years, so in one sense this closing isn’t surprising. But San Diego is a big, rich city with more cultural life than my fellow Angelenos typically acknowledge. Even with the fuller report, a lot of us are still scratching our heads. (I’m wondering what role the city or county — famously conservative and tight-fisted for anything but the military — could have done to save this, for instance.) Stay tuned.
ALSO: Despite being a dedicated fan of noir novels, I don’t think I’ve read a “true crime” book since Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. But Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out, a memoir of sorts about the author’s longstanding relationship with the truly odd cat who called himself Clark Rockefeller, is can’t-put-down good. Part of its strength comes from the Rockefeller character (a small-town Bavarian who “reinvented” himself many times) and his simply oddness.
But part of what’s fascinating is the way Kirn struggles to explain (to himself, in part) how he could fall for a homicidal liar. He’s not the only one, of course, but Kirn sees himself as a smart guy, a skeptical journalist, etc. He turns out to be screamingly insecure, especially on issues of social class: I’m not sure I can remember a memoir in which the author is so hard on himself. And while it could have come across as strained, he summons strains of The Great Gatsby, as well. I must admit, I found the author’s profile-of-himself in Sunday’s New York Times a bit too postmodern for me. But Blood Will Out is a smart, grim good time.