Magical Season for Opera

May 16, 1992

It was fitting that the Baltimore Opera chose Mozart's "The Magic Flute" to close its 1991-1992 season. This has been a magical year for opera in Baltimore. Only 12 months ago, the company struggled to balance its books by canceling performances and trimming productions. Yet when the final curtain fell this season, the company could look back on a remarkable renaissance: Opera in Baltimore has turned out to be a resounding artistic as well as financial success.

The company presented three productions this season: Verdi's "Don Carlos," Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment" and "The Magic Flute." That was one fewer than a couple of years ago. But ticket sales exceeded projections for all three productions. "The Magic Flute" attracted the highest single-ticket sales in the company's history, and total attendance was exceeded only by last year's production of "Madame Butterfly."

The company has also received strong support in the form of gifts from local individuals, corporations and foundations. It raised $1 million to retire the accumulated debts that threatened to drive opera out of Baltimore. And despite a continuing weak economy, it has already raised 85 percent of the $700,000 goal it set for private contributions. Subscriber tickets sales are also looking up, with the company having reached 60 percent of its renewal goal. Critical acclaim in the Baltimore and Washington press proved the icing on the cake.

Like other arts organizations, the opera was hit hard by cutbacks in state funding, which has fallen from 9 percent of the company's budget in 1990-1991 to just over 6 percent next season. The opera today is certainly a leaner operation. "I guess we've all become a bit more conservative and cautious because we know how difficult it is to stay afloat," says opera director Michael Harrison.

But the company isn't letting hard times keep it from achieving its artistic goals. Across the country there's renewed interest in "the extravagant art." "Opera is making the same kinds of gains in the 1990s that dance made in the 1970s," Mr. Harrison says. Next year, the season will include Puccini's "Turandot," Donizetti's "Elixer of Love" and Verdi's "Nabucco." With the company now on a firmer financial and artistic footing, Baltimore music lovers clearly have a lot to look forward to.

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