This time last summer, San Diego Opera battened down its hatches to prepare for economic rough waters as the company returned to indoor live performances amid COVID surges and mask and vaccine mandates.
Their concerns proved valid. Despite reducing ticket sales projections for the scaled-down season that ends Thursday to $2.4 million, San Diego Opera sold only $1.44 million in tickets, or 59 percent of projections for the year. That drop mirrors a trend occurring both nationally and locally, with arts presenters reporting attendance declines of up to 50 percent compared to pre-pandemic times.
But thanks to the $2.8 million in federal, state, county and city COVID relief grants the company received during the past year, the company is ending fiscal 2022 with a surplus. Instead of the projected $759,401 deficit for the year, the company is closing the books $688,836 in the black. These numbers were reported Monday afternoon at the company’s annual meeting, which was held for the third year over Zoom rather than in-person.
Company General Director David Bennett, who just completed his sixth year with San Diego Opera, told viewers and board members that while the COVID grants programs are now closed, he’s optimistic about the company’s financial future. The upcoming season, which include two Puccini opera productions and two world premieres, is off to a good start at the box office.
“Tickets are selling very well this year,” Bennett said. “If we look at where we are from the on-sale date to today, we are $150,000 ahead of where we were during our last pre-COVID season. People are buying a lot right now.”
In another sign of San Diego Opera’s financial health, Bennett said the company’s endowment has grown to $9.7 million, compared to $4.8 million when he joined the organization in 2015. The company has also established three reserve funds totaling $2.15 million to cover unexpected operating, artistic and other needs during challenging times.
The company is now one year into its three-year strategic plan to establish long-term stability, strength and growth. New employees have been hired to expand the finance and fundraising departments. The company is also planning to relocate its offices in 2023. San Diego Opera’s longtime home, the Civic Center Plaza office building, has been sold, so the company aims to relocate and consolidate its operations in one place. The company has also begun succession-planning for executive staff, launched a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artist training program and set benchmarks for diversity in hiring and casting.
On the artistic front, the 2022-23 season, will kick off with the world premiere coproduction of Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz’s “El ultimó sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego)” at the Civic Theatre Oct. 29-Nov. 6. Next up is the Puccini duo of “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi,” Feb. 11 through 19 at the Civic. The two one-acts will star mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and soprano Marina Costa-Jackson.
Puccini’s “Tosca,” starring soprano Michelle Bradley, will follow March 25-April 2, 2023, at the Civic. Next up is the world premiere of “Ghosts,” three one-act, horror-inspired operas by San Diego composer Nicolas Reveles,” playing April 14-16 at the Balboa Theatre. The season closes with “The Falling and the Rising,” a co-commissioned opera about combat trauma,” playing May 12 through 14 at the Balboa Theatre.
Also in the coming year, the company will begin distributing its first filmed opera production, “La Hija de Rappacini,” a Spanish-language opera by the late Mexican composer Daniel Catán. The film was made in partnership with an arts organization in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.