Employees Fight to Keep San Diego Opera Alive

The company is set to begin shutting down operations next month

Employees of the San Diego Opera held a petition drive Thursday in a fight to keep the longtime cultural institution from having its final curtain call.

On Mar. 19, the Opera announced plans to shut down after nearly 50 years in San Diego. The San Diego Opera Board of Directors voted 33-1 to close instead of going bankrupt, CEO Ian Campbell said.

In response, supporters of the opera have started an online petition to keep the company alive. As of Friday morning, the petition had collected more than 16,000 signatures.

On Thursday night, opera employees kept the petition efforts going by holding a signature rally near the Civic Theatre, passing out flyers and cards to drum up more support. In all, the opera employs approximately 120 people, including seasonal staffers.

Also on Thursday night, NBC 7 learned more about an unfair labor claim filed against the company, and why the CEO's salary has sparked concerns about expenses, despite the company's $15 million in assets.

As the San Diego Opera prepares to sing its final swan song, the singer’s union has filed an unfair labor dispute against the company.

“It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t add up,” said singer’s union steward Chris Stephens. “They requested financials. They didn’t receive financials. They wanted to make sure that every existing contract down the road was going to be fulfilled.”

Plans to close the opera blindsided some employees, including makeup and wig designer Steven Bryant.

“No one said tighten your belts a little bit, no one said watch your budget. I just spent $3,500 for equipment for future seasons,” said Bryant.

NBC 7 reached out to Campbell for comment Thursday, but we didn’t hear back. In an interview last week, however, Campbell told NBC 7 the writing was on the wall for the opera after three years of declining ticket sales and donor fatigue.

“It is simply a matter of revenue, not expense,” Cambell said.

However, employees are now starting to question whether expenses were out of whack, considering tax documents that show Campbell made more than $1 million from 2011 to 2012, even though he took a salary cut.

Last week, Campbell explained exactly what his duties are for the company.

“I’m occupying two positions. If we had a general director and artistic director, it would cost more than it does just having me,” he said.

Regardless, the reality of the opera closing is hard for employees to take.

“There are concessions that we could’ve made. Every union was willing to make concessions, but we were never asked,” said opera employee Jim Boydston.

For now, petition organizers say no one has come forward saying they’d like to take over the San Diego Opera.

The opera will start laying off employees and selling assets on Apr. 14, the day after the company’s final performance of “Don Quixote.”

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