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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Opera Is NOT A Tool for Rich People to Look Good

The title of this post may have already resonated with you, but I was so moved by reading another article that I found in Opera America's Newsletter (yes, again!), that I felt I needed to share more details.  Perhaps you yourself have read the article (called "Amid Choruses of Despair, An Aria of Hope" in the New York Times) already?

At any rate, it might have been obvious to you too that this article was a good one, though it brought up a practice that is all too common among Opera fans who mean to do something good for the art form.  For those of you who haven't read the article, it basically talks about the great resurrection of the San Diego Opera, which is back up and running and indeed hasn't been sucked into the abyss with other opera companies that are no longer existing. To this I say- wonderful! A triumph! Another established and important cultural bastion is saved! However, the author goes on to examine some of the problems that were contributing to the SDO's near death, such as having 57 board members, offices which were $400,000 more than they needed to cost because of a nice view, and 13 Staff Members who weren't absolutely essential to daily operations.  Needless to say that now with a board of only 26 people, offices in a less swanky part of town, 13 less people in the office and one expensive production cut from the upcoming season (Tannhaeuser), they are saving a lot of money and operating more efficiently than ever before. So, I applaud them and agree that these measures were necessary to keep an important opera house alive.  The funny part is, you'd think that those people who left, Opera fans as they are, would be equally happy that the company found a solution to staying afloat and will not have to close its doors. Well, you will be shocked then to note that the woman who was the president of the board, Karen S. Cohn, (who resigned, conveniently) was quoted in the article saying: 
"I cannot support what is going on. This is a group of people who are not focusing on going forward. They are focusing on ruining people who spent 31 years doing wonderful things for San Diego. I don't want to ruin their chance of going forward, but I don't appreciate how they have handled this."
Ironically then, in contrast to her sentiment that she doesn't "...want to ruin their chance of going forward...", she goes on to say the following when asked whether or not she'll be in attendance for the coming season at San Diego Opera:
"I'm going to Los Angeles, or I'm going to New York. Not here."
Pretty hypocritical, right? It sounds to me like the only thing she's saving is face. But, it's not the first time that I've witnessed so-called Opera fans who have become board members or donors simply to look good and push their private agendas. Though, we all know that if they were truly interested in the health and well-being of these institutions they'd have sucked up their pride, admitted their mistakes, and still done everything they could to help.  However, thus you can see the benefits of dire financial circumstances and poor management forcing companies to the brink of extinction and thereby flushing out these phonies to make room for more flexible and selfless stewards. Let's face it, if she had remained President of the Board at San Diego Opera, they'd be permanently closed by now. So I say let her go see operas in Los Angeles or New York- but whatever you do, don't let her, or people like her, on any more boards!

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