Posted by: operatheaterink | September 22, 2010

Plácido Domingo To Head LA Opera Through 2013, Sept. 22, 2010

Wise or Not So Wise?

Plácido Domingo
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Los Angeles Opera announced on Sept. 20 that Plácido Domingo is extending his contract as the company’s general director through the 2012-13 season. The contract will automatically renew with the mutual consent of Domingo and the company.

In light of LA Opera’s financial woes — a $14 million loan approved and guaranteed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a $5.96-million deficit due to the company’s insistence on producing a $32 million “Ring” when funding was limited — I do not believe that retaining Domingo as LA Opera’s general director was a wise decision.

Domingo is the greatest living tenor in the world and has been a motivating cultural boost to Los Angeles. He is an excellent fundraiser, has imported prominent international opera stars to the LA shores, and is a wonderful mentor to some extremely gifted young singers. He should remain as an artistic adviser, but someone else should have been designated to run the on-site day-to-day operations of the company since Domingo spends most of his time traveling and performing. The general director should be someone with business, management and accounting skills who knows how to balance the books and is familiar with opera, productions, casting and fundraising.

Had LA Opera announced that its organization would be augmented to include an executive with business experience to manage the day-to-day operations of the company, I would have accepted Domingo’s decision to remain at the helm. Edgar Baitzel was known for having done an exemplary job in such a capacity before his death. But a search to replace him has never been announced. Stephen D. Rountree, LA Opera’s chief operating officer, is president and chief executive officer of the Music Center. He should not be called upon to lead LA Opera’s on-site operations. His effectiveness in overseeing the Music Center should be fully utilized.

In addition, Domingo’s position as general director of Washington National Opera is also in jeopardy. The company was forced to reduce its 2010-11 offerings and to cancel its “Ring” due to financial problems. WNO is now considering a merger with the Kennedy Center, which leaves Domingo’s future in question.

Music Director James Conlon was cited as having said that he hopes to revive the avant-garde Achim Freyer ”Ring” within five years (LA Times, July 2, 2010). He also said that making LA Opera a “hub of Wagnerian activity” was one of the key bargaining points when he was asked by Domingo to become LA Opera’s music director (Opera News, July 2009).

Granted, Richard Wagner is considered to be one of the world’s greatest composers, and his operas should be part of every company’s repertoire, but Los Angeles is not a Wagner town. The financial failure of LA Opera’s controversial “Ring” production has proved that hypothesis.

Opera programming should fulfill the desires of ticket buyers in order to be lucrative. Domingo has allowed passion to dictate his business sense, which has led the two companies he heads to near bankruptcy.

LA Opera laid off numerous employees to save $500,000 a year, according to an LA Times article on Sept. 10 based on comments made by LA Opera chairman Marc Stern. The Times reported that Domingo earned $814,000 in 2008-09 with $414,000 paid and $400,000 deferred, and $780,000 from Washington National Opera. Plus he received compensation for his performances throughout the United States and Europe. Yet his working-class employees were laid off during a recession, thus safeguarding his income, and the LA County Board of Supervisors backed a $14 million loan when the company was “$20 million in debt, partially because of the undertaking of its ‘Ring’ festival,” according to Stephen Rountree (LA Times, Dec. 9, 2009, by Kelsey Ramos).

Yes, a new innovative general director for LA Opera would have invigorated the company if Domingo would have remained as an artistic adviser. The change could have improved the company’s image and would have communicated to the world that LA Opera is serious about its fiscal responsibilities. The only hope now is for Domingo to capitalize on his strengths, realize his limitations, and search for an on-site director.