By Randi Bjornstad
An immediate shortfall of $165,000 — about $105,000 owed to performers and local businesses plus a $60,000 maxed-out credit line — led to last week’s announcement by the Eugene Opera to cancel the rest of its 2016-17 season and spend those months revamping its operations and plans for future seasons.
“Our biggest creditors are the artists and local businesses who make our productions possible,” general director Mark Beudert said in a written statement from Indiana, where he is a longtime faculty member of the opera faculty at Notre Dame University. “We are determined to raise the funds to pay them in full, as quickly as possible. It is part of our mission to support the arts community in Eugene, and we mean to continue doing so.”
Eugene Opera’s annual budget runs about $750,000. For the past two seasons, the company planned four operas — two fully staged productions in the Silva Concert Hall at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Eugene, and two “chamber operas,” with simpler sets, costumes and orchestral staging, in the smaller Soreng Theater there.
The 2015-16 season included “The Turn of the Screw,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Eugene Onegin” and “Little Women.”
The 2016-17 season already has produced “Much Ado About Nothing (Béatrice et Bénédict)” and “Opera Trio,” with acts from “Aida,” “Dialogues of the Carmelites” and Die Fledermaus.” The cancelled shows are “West Side Story,” set for March and “La Tragédie de Carmen,” scheduled for May.
The company announced last week that ticketholders for those performances may choose financial refunds or tax-deductible contributions for those operas.
The main cause of the opera’s current shortfall is a combination of rising production costs and lagging ticket sales. While tax-deductible contributions to the company have not flagged, ticket sales for the New Year’s weekend productions of “Opera Trio” were only about two-thirds of what was needed to support the production, Beudert said.
The opera has curtailed its season because of financial difficulties twice before in its 40-year history, the last time in 2006, he said.
“On both previous occasions, we were able to address problems and return as a stronger company,” Beudert said. “We are very hopeful that we can do this again, with the support of the community.”
The first step toward that goal will be a series of “town hall meetings” to share the opera’s situation and gauge community support for the effort.
The first two meetings will be at 6 p.m. on Feb. 9 and Feb. 14, in the Bascom-Tykeson Room of the downtown Eugene Public Libraryh at 100 W. 10th Ave.
“The board and staff are united and committed to turning this around,” Eugene Opera president Barbara Wheatley said via the opera’s news release. “We believe opera is part of what makes Eugene a great place to live, work, and do business. We fully intend to correct our problems and be back in production next season.”
Information about Eugene Opera is available at the company website, eugeneopera.com.