Staff File Photo by Brett Clark
CSO Board of Directors voted today to suspend opera productions like this one of Rigoletto, staged in 2006.
The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Board of Directors voted today to suspend opera productions for the 2009-2010, citing losses of more than $1.1 million on 11 opera productions over the last six years, according to a news release.
Production costs for opera performances average $225,000 per show, according to Executive Director Molly Sasse. Those costs include sets and costumes, guest artist fees, stagehand fees and musician costs and even with sponsors and ticket costs of $86 per ticket and sold-out houses, the CSO said its revenues average $100,000 per production.
According to the release, the CSO finished its 2006-2007 season with a deficit of approximately $400,000. The 2007-2008 deficit was $130,000.
“Even though we have cut the red ink substantially, we are still not at a place where opera as we are currently offering it is sustainable,” Mrs. Sasse said.
The board plans to use the coming year to explore new ways to make opera sustainable in Chattanooga, according to chair Susan E. Rich. Among the possibilities are collaborations with regional opera companies, presenting touring versions of opera, limiting productions to one every other year or every three years, or raising an endowment for opera, according to the news release.
“By taking the time to thoroughly research all of the options available to us, the CSO will emerge with an active plan of action to move the company forward, “ Mrs. Rich said.
She added that the CSO has been working with Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga over the past nine months to develop a workable budget.
“We are grateful to Allied Arts for their commitment to the CSO,” she said. “They’ve encouraged us to think of possibilities that will allow the company to continue to provide the highest levels of performances to our audiences and we intend to do just that,” she said.
Allied Arts President Dan Bowers said, “The steps the CSO has taken are really necessary in light of today’s economy. The CSO is so important to Chattanooga’s cultural life. It’s crucial that the CSO find a sustainable way to approach its concerts and productions. I applaud their efforts.”
In making the announcement, Mrs. Sasse said the CSO will fill next year’s schedule with additional concerts and that the number of services for its musicians would not change.
She also said that any change in the opera schedule would not affect Conductor Robert Bernhardt’s future position as music director emeritus . It was announced earlier this year that Mr. Bernhardt would transition into that role, as well as artistic director of opera, in 2011.
“We are totally committed and looking forward to having Bob in this position and are extremely pleased that he and Nora will be making Chattanooga their permanent home,” said Mrs. Sasse.
Mrs. Sasse said the announced 2008-2009 schedule, including a fully staged production of “La Boheme” in February, will be presented as planned.