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Indy Opera planning to cut final show, sources say

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The Indianapolis Opera plans to cancel the fourth and final show of its season amid ongoing financial issues, multiple sources close to the organization said Tuesday morning.

Opera management recently informed cast members that they would cut “Albert Herring,” set for April 25 through May 4 at the Basile Opera Center, from the season’s schedule, said the sources, who spoke to IBJ on condition of anonymity.

Carol Baker, the opera’s general manager, did not respond to voicemails seeking comment.

The cancellation results from poor ticket sales and cost overruns at the 39-year-old arts organization, sources said.

Opera is often one of the most expensive performing arts because of its large casts and elaborate stage sets and costumes.

Nationwide, opera companies have struggled with finances as they reconfigure their business models. The San Diego Opera—launched in 1950 as the San Diego Opera Guild—grabbed national attention last week when it announced it would fold.

The Indianapolis Opera finished its 2011-12 fiscal year about $123,000 in the black, according to the most recently available public IRS records for the group. The year finished with about $2.08 million in revenue and $1.96 million in expenses.

Compounding concerns, the Indianapolis Opera has not hired a permanent replacement for former executive director John Pickett, who left in May 2013. The group also has an unfilled development director’s position.

Indianapolis Opera has tweaked how it operates for the past several years to adjust to the changing business.

Notably, it has downsized, shifting focus from full-scale operas staged at Clowes Hall to a mix that has included concerts, more intimate productions at the Basile Opera Center, and the inclusion of an Indiana University opera production as part of its 2012-13 subscription season.

This is not the first time the opera company called off an entire show. In 2010, the group cut its last opera of the year.

Arts observers say the cancellation is a concerning sign of what may come.

The Indianapolis Opera has gotten into financial hot water because it consistently schedules too many large, expensive shows with out-of-town names at the top of the marquee, said Charles Stanton, a consultant who has is familiar with organization.

The group needs to scale down its shows to ones more suitable for Indianapolis, which is what financially successful opera companies are doing. But that has not happened locally, said Stanton, a former vice president for the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

“I applaud the fact that Indianapolis wants to do big productions, but they’re just not successful at it,” he said.

“If they can figure out the new business model,” he later added, “then it will bring back a company with an incredible legacy.”

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  • Agreed
    You are correct, "ASC", I absolutely should not have mentioned my prior role either. Despite it having already been brought into the conversation that part of my history is not (and was not) relevant to my opinions or to the article. Regarding quality or quantity of opinions, everyone has suggestions as to how something can and/or should be done. Again, I am not claiming that my stance is the right one. I was asked my opinion and I gave it honestly. It was presented (partially) in the article above. There are, surely, others who would have been willing to have the same discussion and would have either agreed with or contrasted my thoughts. I thoroughly agree that more people's ideas included would have been a great help and a fairer depiction. I would have certainly liked to have not been the only name attached to opinions or concerns that are not exclusively mine. I assumed that numerous other folks would be contacted and quoted as well. Regarding my giving, like most families, my partner and I support many organizations we believe in. Our choices rotate and this year have included community health organizations, animal welfare groups, women's rights organizations, as well as programs for education and development of underserved children. We focus on those organizations that we see as being good investments of our resources and where we feel our financial contribution would be used well. I wish I knew who all you anonymous and initial-using folks are but thank for asking and for some insightful comments. Best regards- Charles
  • ACI
    Mr. Stanton, Didn't you yourself bring up the ACI as a credential in a previous comment? "...I do have direct knowledge of your operations having seen your grant applications from serving as a Vice President of the Arts Council." At the end of the day, until you've served on the board, or as a staff member, it's hard to speak accurately about an organizations management or finances. It's disappointing the reporter did not seek out more knowledgable and credible sources. It is very kind that you wish the opera well and obviously have a desire to see it succeed. Have you considered a monetary donation?
  • my two cents
    Having watched this conversation unfold and having recently spoken to one of the people posting here, I would like to clarify on both sides since I am pretty darn sure I know who both Steve and "anonymous" are and where they are coming from in their statements. I have also done a good bit of soul-searching and feel the need to clear the air. First off, my being at the Arts Council is irrelevant and should have not been included as though that was a relevant credential. The Arts Council makes every effort to be supportive and objective of the organizations they serve and should not have been insinuated in any way. The writer including my previous employer was ill-advised. Sorry, Dan, I appreciated your call and questions but including ACI was wrong as they have nothing to do with my views. Regarding these posts, the opera has not been closing its years with deficits on their 990s and I never indicated such. My statements were more about budgeting conservatively in order to not have to cancel a show; working smart and efficiently. That is a subjective statement though I do I know how to make lean budgets well and I imagine the opera continues to look at how they can make things work even better. While I think there are some cost-saving measures that could have been (and could still be) taken, the opera, to my knowledge was not operating in deficit based on the publicly accessible knowledge of 990s. On the other hand, I understand the statements regarding planned gifts and regarding that not being the same thing as sustainability. If that is the point, then yes, I get it. You aren't going to get planned gifts every year so if that money was necessary to keep the organization "in the black" then there is an underlying budgetary concern but I have zero doubt that the opera staff and board are looking at that right now. There is more than one way to run any business - so my way certainly is not the only way. I have made many positive statements about the opera to many people (including when I was contacted by this reporter) and I love opera. Most of my positive statements were not included and I, too, was very sorry to see that. Likewise, I never referred to myself as an advisor to the opera which is why that was removed from the article. I have also never used the term "top of the marquee" but I won't take issue with that bit of creative writing. My point is, it is important to note that the opera IS a wonderful addition to our cultural community- whether in financial strain or not. My comments, while not having the positive statements included, were intended to only underscore what I think is a need to focus attention on reducing cost rather than increasing income. Opera can be and needs to be affordable for the company producing it and the community seeing it. I worry that large-scale productions are not sustainable in our city as I see larger and wealthier cities with more interest in opera that have companies closing. I want our company to survive. All that is to say, my comments came across as stone throwing and mean-spirited and that was never ever my intention. The avalanche of negative comments (on here and elsewhere) is inappropriate and, in some cases mis-stated. I have reasons for my opinions and I have always believed that honesty is best, even if it means you won't be liked by some. However, not seeing any of my positive statements make it into the article leaves me seeming less polite, less supportive, and less of who I am- a lover of opera who wants to encourage positive change. I support the opera's turn-around. I love the art form. In fact, IO's Faust with Gran Wilson was one of my favorite productions of the work yet was, no doubt, a pricy one. I hope that caliber of production continues to be possible at an affordable and sustainable scale. In the meantime, name-calling and mudslinging is beneath all of us and beneath the arts. We are all grown up enough to be direct and candid without insulting one another. At the end of the day, we want the same thing- for the arts to survive and flourish. Kindest regards, Charles
  • Time for elementary fairness
    This forum has enabled certain persons to post false and defamatory comments anonymously, besmirching people's reputations, while claiming to have been members of the Indianapolis Opera board. The IBJ is clear that one's anonymity is not guaranteed when posting here and I call upon the editors to prevent the person or persons making these slanderous accusations from continuing to do so unless they are willing to reveal their true identities. The public cannot assess the truth of this situation as long as there are people able to hide in the shadows and make accusations that are demonstrably false.
  • Deficit? II
    "FORMER", you didn't answer the question. When did the Opera last end a season with a deficit? You toss that word around with no regard to its meaning, just as you throw around the phrase "staying on budget" as if it were true. In addition, there's a 90% probability that you know who I am while I don't know who you are, and you continue to hide in the shadows throwing verbal Molotov cocktails that are untrue. If you want to have a meaningful discussion you need to stick to facts, not the vague accusations that have no basis in fact.
  • Planned Gifts
    I am no longer a board member but stay updated on things like planned gifts being realized as with last year. That is not the same thing as fundraising or the same as staying on budget.
    • Deficit?
      If you, "just responding", are a current or former Indianapolis Opera board member you know, or should know, that it has been years since the Opera ended a season with a deficit. It is time that people stop posting anonymously, trying to sound as if they know something that they don't.
      • semantics
        That sounds just like most of the board I knew and know. "We aren't overspending, we are under-raising" That is the same thing. If you aren't raising enough money, you spend what you have and not what you wish you had. That is just good business. You say we don't fundraise enough, I say we spend too much for the money we raise. Deficit is deficit.
        • Girl of the West
          The company has taken a huge fall since their director left.It was very apparent in the Friday performance. Too many mistakes and an unprofessional opening speech by the general manager. Its not Puccinis best opera to begin with, but the singer portraying Minnie was very dry and inexpressive or expressed her character very awkwardly.
        • Now I must reply
          The expense side of the Opera budget was never a black hole. I wish you hadn't chosen to hide behind "Anonymous." The problem was always on the income side. Anyone who was on the inside of the company knew that the financial problem was income. Expenses were extraordinarily well controlled. If you think the problem was expenditures you are just wrong.
          • It's not just one
            I was surprised to see the post from Barbara. I actually know who this is. The surprise is not only the fact that the response seems like a tacky insult, but also the fact that I served on the board of the Opera more than a decade ago and I was making these exact statements back then. those of us who know the company well have been begging for change for quite some time. I do think stanton seems a bit heavy-handed in his responses but honestly I'm glad that somebody has the guts to say out loud what most of the community has been thinking for a long long time.I continue to support the Opera and continue to be baffled by the neverending black hole that is the expense side of their budget. It is time for change.
            • Don't shoot the messenger
              Ms. Gibbs, When a major area arts organization cancels a show in its season, it is not sensationalism to report it, it is legitimate news. The author cited numerous sources in his story and that he had left several voicemails with the opera's general manager giving her a chance to give the company's side. I'm glad other commenters liked the last show and its quality but it didn't sell enough tickets. Period. I'm also glad the board is being proactive facing the company's issues but those issues have been known by many Hoosiers for several years and you all are addressing them very very late. Let's all just hope it's not TOO late.
            • Indy Opera Is a Class Operation
              The proof is in the pudding that patrons see and hear: IO productions are top notch. The recent La Fanciulla del West was excellent. A company that has the guts to stage an opera that many others find too difficult to perform has a lot going for it. My hat is off to them.
            • Fan
              I attended the recent Girl of the Golden West and it was phenomenal. From what I have seen they seemed to have kept an eye on the bottom line and mixing in more smaller budget productions with the old stand bys. I wish this company all the best and hope they are around another 39 years and some strategic planning along the way will get them there! All my best to I/O!
              • IO Board is on the right track!
                Dan, your article is a bit premature and obviously IBJ does not have fact checkers. Not only have you printed a piece of yellow journalism, but successfully embarrassed people and cultural institutions. The IO is working diligently to maintain a professional opera presence in Indianapolis. It is true that the focus and management skills at the IO have been under assessment. Doesn't any corporation need to do this? One must keep up with the times. To this end, the IO has a new artistic committee focused on preparing a schedule of productions which will present opera to a broad audience in Indianapolis and located in various venues, including schools, the Basile Opera Center,and Clowes Hall. We also have a new White Sheet about the goals and strategic plan of operation for the IO. The staff, including General Manager Carol Baker, and the full Board of Directors are diligently working to ensure that opera will stay alive in Indianapolis. Jamie Gibbs, Member, IO Bd. of Directors
                • UNINFORMED
                  I have to agree that the earlier commenter, griping about productions (in ENGLISH) is just spouting off. First of all, the past season for IO included 3 out of 4 planned productions in English (Threepenny Opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Albert Herring were all in English.) Sounds like someone just wants to gripe. Also, the number of English operas popular with the public are fewer than in other languages. (and translating other languages into English can often ruin any sense of the original musical phrasing, etc.) It's a pity that Indy doesn't support opera more than it does, but it's not alone in that. Many companies have folded in the past 5-10 years...several larger and more established than Indianapolis Opera. It tends to suggest that "Field of Dreams" was wrong - THEY don't always come when you build it!
                • Pity
                  Isn't it a shame that we can spend tens of millions of dollars on professional sports, and subsidize billionaire owners, but we can't spare subsidy funding for something as old, graceful and elegant as opera? Probably because it doesn't highlight over-compensated sports figures whose sole purpose is to throw/catch/deflect a ball? As for one's inability to understand the language (although the performance and the emotions contained therein should be more than sufficient to anyone with even a minimal ability to comprehend the human condition), I have seen several performances where the English translation is provided on a screen, or one could always purchase the libretto...
                • Clairfying
                  I actually did not present myself as a consultant to the opera and have clarified that with the reporter who contacted me. I have served as a consultant for other arts organizations and I do have direct knowledge of your operations having seen your grant applications from serving as a Vice President of the Arts Council. Lastly, I removed myself from the opera ball committee after Joe Peacock resigned. So sorry that was never communicated to you. My best, Charles
                • Perspective
                  Perhaps the commenter above had tickets to attend the final opera, in English? Yeah I didn't think so.
                • Stanton a fraud
                  Interesting that Charles Stanton is representing himself as an expert on and former consultant to IO. He served on a special events committee in 2013, never attended a meeting, and has zero direct knowledge of IO's operations or budget.
                • Talent
                  If the opera company would develop a local repertory company and present good quality local productions (in ENGLISH) maybe opera in Indy would flourish

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