Opera Boston Board Chair Winifred P. Gray and Board President Gregory E. Bulger announced today, two days before Christmas and halfway through Hanukkah, that the company, facing an insurmountable budget deficit, is closing its doors on Jan. 1, 2012. The news has stunned the Boston opera-loving community, as it was widely believed that Opera Boston always managed to balance the budget by the end of the year. And as recently as 2010, when former General Director Carole Charnow left, the company had zero debt.
“Over the years, we have never had a big loss; we have raised enough money,” explained Bulger. “Unfortunately, in the last fiscal year that ended in July, we had the biggest budget deficit in our history — over $200,000. Normally, we have an end-of-the-year campaign which in this year did not go well. Some donors just didn’t come through.”
Also, Bulger said, a donation from a major foundation, which had been a major regular supporter, was denied this year. Boston Musical Intelligencer was told that it is believed to have been a company that moved some of its facilities and therefore some of its allegiances, to New Hampshire. That seems to spell Fidelity.
According to another reliable source, however, that is not the full picture. Special funding last year in two cases came as a one-time extra gift so that the new director could come on board with no debt. For both donors, those gifts were “emergency, supplemental,” and “in no way had the donors later withdrawn their regular support.”
Opera Boston has its origins in the Boston Academy of Music “re-founded” by Richard Conrad in 1980. He was ousted in 2003, and Carole Charnow, who had run Glimmerglass Opera, was hired with the mandate to revivify Conrad’s organization. The name was changed to Opera Boston, Gil Rose was hired as artistic director, and a strong board was developed under the chair of Bulger. Under Charnnow’s leadership, Opera Boston had a spectacular growth. When she left in the summer of 2010 to become director of the Children’s Museum, Lesley Koenig was hired as general director, but never got the chance to lead.
Repertoire under Charnow and Rose has been adventurous and challenging; some productions were successful, some less so. BMInt, since its inception in the fall of 2009, has reviewed eight:
Although there was “bel canto in abbondanza at Opera Boston’s production of Rossini’s Tancredi in the fall of 2009,” the review noted, the staging was “park and bark.” In March 2010, “Opera Boston now has to its credit Boston’s first operatic world premiere in two decades, Zhou Long’s attractively scored Madame White Snake, … a huge undertaking, not least in diplomacy and marketing, and if the work finally proved interesting rather than deeply memorable, it was a worthwhile effort, well led by Music Director Gil Rose.” Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, reviewed in May, 2010, was a “generally satisfying and wholly entertaining performance successfully [that] avoided the pit-and pratfalls often associated with this genre.” Cardillac, reviewed in February 2011, “is a troublesome work, a richly kaleidoscopic, multi-layered feast of the fraught that requires equally varied music that the young Hindemith was unable to deliver.” Maria Padilla, reviewed in May 2011, “is a troubled work, riddled with beautiful music and a single damning flaw — an opera whose entire dramatic impetus is a setup for a tragedy that never occurs.” For Beethhoven’s Fidelio, reviewed on October 22, the audience “was treated to some superb singing and playing. The cast was excellent throughout,…” and Béatrice et Bénédict had many fine elements, although “[a] work like this, however, needs a bit more daring for it fully to come to life.”
Yet that opera left Opera Boston with a $30,000 shortfall. The production slated for this coming February, Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage, was to have cost $500,000. “We just didn’t see enough money coming in to pay the bills,” Bulger said.
Paul Buttenwieser, whose Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Foundation has been a major supporter of the opera company “under its different incarnations since the beginning,” had not yet learned of the closure when contacted. “I’m saddened by the loss of this wonderful company,” he stated.
Neither the current General Director Lesley Koenig, nor Artistic Director Gil Rose could be reached for comment.
In the closing days of this holiday season, Opera Boston is offering its final presentation, Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, featuring some of the company’s younger singers, for First Night on December 31.