Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Reason to be Grateful for David Gockley

That opera company to the south of us, the one under the direction of a famous tenor who might not be giving the company 100% of his highly divided attention while he's busily singing, conducting, and running two companies that are 2,500 miles apart? They've just gotten a $14 million dollar loan from Los Angeles County, which will enable them to pay bills through the middle of next year.

The county supes are naturally a little concerned about the last-minute nature of the loan. The authors of the Culture Monster blog posting, Mike Boehm and Garrett Therolf, note that L.A. Opera's most recent tax return, for the year ending June 30, 2008 (that's 18 months ago), showed serious signs of distress: the company's board of directors provided more than $19 million in interest-free loans, of which $5 million has been forgiven, and ticket sales of $18.2 million covered way less than 50% of the annual budget of $55.6 million.

Even if you wish his programming were less middle-of-the-road, it's almost impossible to imagine the fiscally-conservative Gockley letting San Francisco Opera get into this kind of difficulty. Thank goodness.

Update: Mark Swed discusses the future of the Ring cycle and the opera here, not saying much about how this mess happened.

Further Update: Brian at Out West Arts has interesting comments about the loan.

More Updates: Reportage by Boehm and Theolf here. Short article by Dan Wakin in the Times here. The head-banging line from the LA Times story:
The company had run short on cash, Rountree said, partly because "there was a failure to fully appreciate that they needed to put out $20 million of the $32 million for the 'Ring' Cycle two years in advance."


Henry Holland said...


First off, it's great to see that homophobe Mike Antonovich get smacked around again.

To be blunt, if the LAO goes belly up, I won't shed a tear, AFTER the productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Tote Stadt go on. I think they're already fully funded, though, by the Recovered Voices money. All that "City of the Future" bullshit that Swed peddles makes me laugh, Los Angeles hasn't been the City of the Future since the Manson killings.

Why would I lament a company that puts on 3 Puccini operas a year, just as much Mozart and has thrown away vast sums of money giving commissions to effing film composers which SHOCK! turn out to suck? There's at least 20 20th century operas I could name that are crying out for a production and they do shit like the Drattell and Shore pieces, unreal.

The Ring has been a drag on finances for over a decade, as Mark Swed points out. It was originally going to be done with George Lucas' IL&M with Alberto Vilar's money. Damn, that seems like a 1000 years ago now......

John Marcher said...

Just when I thought things were going to quiet down since SFO's season is over we get this nice little bit of scandal to discuss.

Sorry Henry, but your opinion is way off base. LA Opera is the far and away the more interesting and innovative major company on the West Coast at this point in time and LA is a much more forward looking arts community than SF is (and yes, I do live in SF).

Maybe Freyer's Ring will be eclipsed by Lepage's in the coming years, but it is truly a stunning, visionary masterpiece. What Zembello and Gockley have offered thus far is a hundred years behind it and there is nothing on the local horizon that offers the promise of LA's Ring or the Recovered Voices program.

True, while "The Fly" did suck, SFO put such dreck as "Arshak" and "The Bonesetter's Daughter" on the stage to pander to local audiences in the same way. It's a wash and you can call it the nature of the business.

Would you also lament the demise of a company that has Verdi and Puccini comprising more than 40% of its season (yes, that would be SFO)?

This is just more of the ridiculous superiority complex and anitpathy so many Bay Area residents seemed to be compelled to heap on LA without justification or experience. A condition I'd like to point out, that is entirely one-sided and without any critical merit.

Viva LA Opera, and at least the LA Supervisors had the vision to make the loan- can you imagine what Chris Daly and the rest of the lame-ass SF Supervisors would have done if this had happened here? The War Memorial would be a vacant shell when SF Ballet was off-season so that we could continue funding homeless drug users in the 'loin and paying Heather Fong's retirement package of half a million a year until she dies.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Nice to see some spirited discussion, to which I add only that Henry lives in Los Angeles, not the Bay Area.

John Marcher said...

Perhaps Henry and I can swap living quarters during Ring cycles.

Henry Holland said...

Thank you Lisa, Mr. Marcher mistook me for someone else. :-)

LA Opera is the far and away the more interesting and innovative major company on the West Coast at this point in time

Only because of The Ring and the Recovered Voices projects. Once they are done in 2011 with the production of Die Tote Stadt, then what?

Frankly, it seems Gockley was brought in to make sure SFO survived another 5 years, I don't recall anyone thinking he was going to be the West Coast Gerard Mortier, they knew he was middle-brow from the get-go. LAO doesn't seem to have any overarching plans beyond the Ring. In fact, since the wonderful Peter Hemmings left, LAO just seems to drift from season to season without any real vision other than "Let's play the Top 20 to death". One of the selling points that having Domingo was he was going to get the top-tier singers to come here, but that hasn't panned out, either. Of course, when he does get them, it's for rubbish like The Barber of Seville.

You wouldn't have been able to make your claim with a straight face during the Pamela Rosenberg era, however. Saint Francoise di Assisi is STILL more radical and forward-thinking than *anything* LAO has done and the plans she had that were scuttled by financial were quite interesting.

But there's the similarities: from what I gather, Ms. Rosenberg spent an inordinate amount of her budget on the Messiaen, to the point that it was financially suicidal almost. Both companies have been hit hard by the larger economic woes but San Francisco Opera is taking the more prudent path.

The company had run short on cash, Rountree said, partly because "there was a failure to fully appreciate that they needed to put out $20 million of the $32 million for the 'Ring' Cycle two years in advance."

Gott im Himmel. The people responsible should be fired immediately, but they won't be, because who would want to inherit the mess they've left behind?

Look, I have no loyalty to any preforming arts organization. I was here for the pre-Salonen Philharmonic days and I guarantee you, if they'd have gone belly up then, I wouldn't have shed a tear then either. They were fucking *awful*, the concerts in that mausoleum the Dot were thoroughly depressing affairs.

But Salonen transformed them, made them a beacon of stuff written after the death of Brahms, helped get Disney Hall finished, raised the standards and gave the orchestra a much-raised international profile. It wasn't unusual for me to go to 10-15 concerts a year.

Now The Dude and *shudder* John Adams *shudder* are in charge and I'm back to utter indifference to what the LAP is doing. I haven't been to one concert this season and the two I'm going to next year are with guest conductors. All this talk of focusing on Latin America and Asia and on American composers leaves me utterly cold, given that I'm a staunch 20/21st century European-centric listener.

Oh well, they won't miss me buying the cheapest seats 4 or 5 times a year.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I agree with Henry's assessment of Gockley and his role at SFO: rebuild after Rosenberg. I loved her repertory choices and liked many of the productions, but financially she was a disaster. She didn't like the gladhanding and fundraising, she alienated the unions, and she blew through a lot of money, not just on St. Francois. There was the $3 million to rebrand the opera, the duplicate sets built for Barber of Seville, one for the rehearsal hall, one for the opera house; that set was so heavy the stage had to be reinforced.

You know that the St. Francois sets were supposedly trashed? Millions spent on a production that'll never be used again? Of course, I think the same could be said about the sets for Louise, which Mansouri put on.

Henry Holland said...

She didn't like the gladhanding and fundraising

Yeah, that's simply not done in Europe but it's vital to suck to up to wealthy donors here.

You know that the St. Francois sets were supposedly trashed? Millions spent on a production that'll never be used again?

I was surprised that she didn't use her contacts in Europe to do a co-production with two or three companies. The Willy Decker Die Tote Stadt that was done last year has been used in at least 4 other places, so I'm sure it's already paid for itself.