San Diego Opera announces pared-down 2023-24 season led by ‘Madama Butterfly,’ ‘Don Giovanni’
The company has cut its Detour series of nontraditional works and the number of performances per show in a nod to its post-pandemic decline in attendance
San Diego Opera announced its 2023-24 season July 19 with a pared-down list of performances and productions that reflect the company’s efforts to adjust to its post-pandemic reality of declining ticket sales and rising expenses — a trend that opera and theater companies are experiencing nationwide.
The upcoming season, which runs Oct. 25 through June 8, will feature two recitals and three mainstage operas: Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Javier Martinez’s mariachi opera “El Milagro del Recuerdo (The Miracle of Remembering).” But the Detour series of nontraditional works has been shelved, for next season at least, and the three operas will have just two performances each, rather than the four offered in the past.
San Diego Opera concluded its 2022-23 season in June with a deficit of just over $1.7 million. The loss would have been $300,000 higher if the company had not made the decision in April to cancel its season-closing production of the Detour series chamber opera “The Falling and the Rising.”
San Diego Opera General Director David Bennett said the reasons for the decline in both subscriptions and ticket sales include COVID fears, an aging audience and lifestyle and entertainment choice changes that occurred during the pandemic. Past subscribers have also cited their concerns about heavy traffic and the large homeless population downtown.
Although subscriptions have tumbled sharply and season ticket sales are down $1.4 million compared to 2019, there are some bright spots in the company’s finances. First-time ticket buyers grew by 26 percent last season — compared to 15 percent in 2019 — and the Hispanic audience grew by 19 percent last year compared to 12 percent pre-COVID four years ago.
Bennett said the responsible path forward for San Diego Opera is to recognize the realities of the community’s current appetite for opera and adjust immediately.
The 2023-24 season budget is $8 million, down $2.5 million from last season. The reduction in the number of performances per opera production is a response not only to declining ticket sales but also to the rising cost of doing business. Before the pandemic, each performance of an opera at the San Diego Civic Theatre cost the company $325,000 to produce. Today, that has risen to $415,000.
“Everything has gone up,” Bennett said. “There’s not a line item in our business that hasn’t increased, including transportation, artist fees, housing, visas for international singers, wood, metal and materials for costumes.”
That expense can be justified when performances sell out the 2,800-seat Civic Theatre. But the most-attended single performance last season had just 1,800 attendees.
“Since the unit cost is so expensive,” Bennett said, “it’s irresponsible to continue to produce more performances than demanded in our community right now.”
On the opposite side of the ledger, donations to the company have been steady. Bennett said the company met its fundraising goal for the past two seasons, and this month, San Diego Opera hired Llewellyn Crain as its new chief development officer. Crain has been the director of philanthropy at The Old Globe since 2016, and during that time, she increased the number of Globe donors by more than 200 percent, increased the annual fund by more than 40 percent and led a successful emergency fundraising campaign during the Globe’s COVID-related shutdown.
Bennett said he’s thrilled to have Crain on board and is excited about the upcoming season, which may not be as risk-taking as some past seasons but still pushes the company forward with several new artist debuts and a mariachi opera co-production with two other companies.
“I was on a bit of a tightrope trying to look at a path that could bring us through the next few years, and still hold my head up and feel confident,” Bennett said. “We really can’t always just save ourselves to success. That’s not a recipe for a great future. We’re dealing with this moment in a very thoughtful, fiscally responsible way, while we’re still scratching our head for what the future will be for us.”
Season subscriptions for the 2023-24 season are on sale at sdopera.org.
San Diego Opera 2023-24 season
Recital by Latonia Moore and J’Nai Bridges with the San Diego Symphony: Moore and Bridges co-starred in San Diego Opera’s 2016 production of “Madama Butterfly” (as Cio-Cio San and Suzuki, respectively). In the years since, both have gone on to major careers. Moore has starred in “Aida” and “Porgy and Bess” at the Metropolitan Opera and Bennett said Bridges’ career has “exploded.” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25. The Balboa Theatre
“El Milagro del Recuerdo (The Miracle of Remembering)”: This 2019 mariachi opera, co-produced by Houston Grand Opera and Arizona Opera, was written by Javier Martinez, son of the late Jose “Pepe” Martinez, whose “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” and “El Pasado Nunca Se Termina” mariachi operas were presented by San Diego Opera in 2013 and 2015, respectively. “El Milagro” is a prequel to “Cruzar la Cara” and features the same characters. Set during Christmas time in a small village in Michoacán, Mexico, this production is about how the town people are impacted by the loss of men who move to the U.S. for work. “It’s quite gorgeous with very beautiful writing and also very funny,” Bennett said. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and 3. San Diego Civic Theatre
Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”: Last produced in 2015, this dark 1787 opera is about a Spanish libertine and his descent into hell. Argentinean baritone Germán Enrique Alcántara makes his company debut in the title role. Other singers are tenor Alexander McKissick, baritone Ethan Vincent and sopranos Tasha Koontz and Megan Moore. SDO principal conductor Yves Abel will lead the San Diego Symphony. The production will feature costumes, some scenic elements and projections and an onstage orchestra and chorus. Bennett said of the production: “We are elevating the primacy of the orchestration to the same level of the singing.” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2, 2 p.m. Feb. 4. San Diego Civic Theatre
Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”: Last produced by San Diego Opera in 2016, the 1904 opera is the tragic story of innocent Japanese courtesan Cio-Cio San, who falls in love with and marries the callous U.S. Navy officer Pinkerton, who abandons her and returns to America. American soprano Corinne Winters and her husband, British tenor Adam Smith, play the lead roles. Korean baritone Kidon Choi plays the crucial role of Sharpless, the kind-hearted consul who recognizes Cio-Cio San’s shame and loss. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche plays Cio-Cio San’s maid, Suzuki. Abel will conduct. On Winters and Smith, Bennett said: “They’re both very beautiful singers in terms of vocal artistry and physically ... she was our Violetta in ‘La Traviata’ in 2017 ... and he’s a very virile actor.” 7:30 p.m. April 26, 2 p.m. April 28. San Diego Civic Theatre
Recital by Joshua Guerrero and Andrea Carroll with the San Diego Symphony: Guerrero, an L.A.-based tenor, and Carroll, an American soprano who lives in Vienna, co-starred in San Diego Opera’s 2020 drive-in production of Puccini’s “La bohème” (he was Rodolfo, she was Musetta). They’re also co-starring in San Diego Opera’s upcoming filmed production of Daniel Catán’s Spanish-language opera “La hija de Rappaccini/Rappacini’s Daughter,” which was produced in association with an arts organization in Sinaloa, Mexico. Bennett said he hopes to arrange a local screening of the film close to the date of the recital. 7:30 p.m. June 8. Balboa Theatre
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