Opera's closing curtain? Local productions respond to financial drama

SEATTLE -- Local opera productions are wrestling with financial tragedy, with four regional companies recently cancelling their seasons or shutting down completely.

Kitsap Opera, Opera Pacifica, and Puget Sound Concert Opera have all cancelled or trimmed production dramatically, while Bellevue Opera gave its final performance in 2011.

"Opera is in transition in general...and this not just in this area but this is all around the country," says Tacoma Opera General Director Noel Koran, who believes opera's high cost of production makes it more vulnerable than other Fine Arts.

He says opera companies are under increasing pressure to sell tickets to make up for any financial loss.

"I'm having to reorient our season so that it's a much more popular season so that more people will come. We're adjusting our ticket prices so that more people will come."

Koran say ticket sales are good so far this season.

Some artists believe that opera itself may be fading away as modern tastes evolve.

"Opera is losing its relevance, to my way of thinking, once and for all," says Robert Corl, the vocal director of Opera Pacifica, which he says is "pretty much" on hiatus.

He believes that the movie business has outgunned opera by delivering more than what a live opera can produce onstage.

Koran disagrees, saying that "once you've attended a live performance, there's no replacement. Period."

Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins calls it a frustrating stereotype that's been around for hundreds of years "I get so tired of that I could scream...In 1650 they would have said the same thing because opera has always been dying."

He says Seattle Opera has made significant gains financially, achieving a balanced budget for the 2012/2013 season and eliminating its $758,000 deficit from the 2011/12 season.

He says a challenge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation helped overcome the deficit, along with staff elimination and programming cuts. Jenkins says the 2013/14 season had a strong beginning with the 2013 Ring festival and revenues that totaled 11.2 million dollars, which covered production costs.

Jenkins believes the future is bright for opera in the region.

"Seattle has the largest number of grassroots supporters of any of the big opera companies."