The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera board voted Tuesday to suspend opera productions for the 2009-2010 season, citing losses of more than $1.1 million on 11 operas over the last six years.
“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,” Executive Director Molly Sasse said in a news release.
Mrs. Sasse said the announced 2008-09 schedule, including a fully staged production of “La Boheme” in February, will be presented as planned.
Production costs for opera performances average $225,000 per show, which includes sets and costumes, guest artist fees, stagehand fees and musician costs, Mrs. Sasse said. Even with sponsors and ticket costs of $86 per ticket and sold-out houses, CSO revenues average $100,000 per production, organization figures show.
The CSO finished its 2006-07 season with a deficit of about $400,000, while the 2007-2008 deficit was $130,000, the news release stated.
Board Chairwoman Susan E. Rich said the board plans to use the coming year to explore new ways to make opera sustainable in Chattanooga. 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.
Mrs. Rich said the CSO has been working with Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga over the past nine months to develop a workable budget.
“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.
Dan Bowers, president of Allied Arts, 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,” he said. “I applaud their efforts.”
Mrs. Sasse said the CSO is interested in hearing from fans and has plans to put together focus groups and task forces to study the options.
“We are very interested in what people want and their ideas on how to make opera sustainable,” she said.
The CSO will fill next year’s schedule with more concerts and the number of events using its musicians would not change, she said.
Any change in the opera schedule would not affect Conductor Robert Bernhardt’s future position as music director emeritus, she said. It was announced earlier this year that Mr. Bernhardt would transition into that role, as well as becoming 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 (wife) Nora will be making Chattanooga their permanent home,” Mrs. Sasse said.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...