I learned this week that the San Diego Opera is about to be brought back from the dead. Some folks think this is wonderful, but I’ve read enough sci-fi books to know that bringing dead things back to life is never a good idea. In most cases the result is a grotesque monster that wreaks havoc on the community and ends up killing its creator.

San Diego Opera died because its leaders didn’t know how to respond to changes in the marketplace. It’s not a very noble or respectable way to go, but it went, and that should be the end of it. Bringing it back to life makes sense only if the board can find a smart leader who knows how to attract the audiences the company needs to stay alive, but that’s not likely to happen. Traditional opera administrators don’t grow audiences; they promote operas and hope that audiences will come. Big difference.

UnknownDr. Frankenstein made two mistakes that form a cautionary tale for San Diego Opera board members: He chose the wrong person to do an important job and he wound up inserting the wrong brain into his reanimated creation.

Folks who want to bring the SDO back to life might do well to seek professional assistance from beyond the insular, self-centered world of opera and then, if the project is determined to be feasible, make sure they have the right brain in place before attempting to stitch the company back together.

If they bring the company back to life only to have it be led by another opera insider who doesn’t know how to sell tickets, the good people of San Diego will have every right to get out the torches and pitch forks and make sure the beast is returned to the grave where it belongs.





4 thoughts on “Frankensandiegooperastein

  1. What’s more, the million was given by a board member who had previously given $500K in the futile effort. It seems this woman wants the organization alive, but not many others do. I agree with what you’ve said, and I don’t see anything that leads me to believe that this additional gift is going to be used to help them innovate.

    • Hey, Ellen,

      I think most donors realize that at this point that it’s throwing good money after bad. Opera that can’t make itself relevant or attractive to sustaining audiences is a terrible investment.

  2. Please do a bit more research into the field before dismissing all opera – and all opera managers – as insular and self-centered. You need simply to read a smattering of the countless posts by opera professionals in the past two weeks to understand there are those who are moving the form forward and those who are not. Offering a seemingly uninformed or, at best, unbalanced opinion on the topic does nothing to advance the practice of arts marketing; instead, it serves only to diminish my (for one) opinion of what’s posted in your blog.

    • Hi, Katherine,

      Thank you for your chastisement. I deserve it. My perception has been formed by limited direct experience with opera professionals, by what I read in arts media (I’m probably missing a lot of opera blogs), and by the marketing materials I see coming from large institutional opera companies. I have not done an exhaustive study and my post does make rash generalizations.

      I’d be thrilled to learn about anyone who’s making measurable progress with new opera audiences or finding new ways to earn measurable sustaining revenue. If you’d like to send me some links under separate cover, I will happily educate myself.

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