City opera to shut down

Company plans to liquidate

March 13, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

Three months after seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and canceling the remainder of the 2008-2009 season, the board of trustees of the Baltimore Opera Company voted yesterday to pursue Chapter 7 liquidation instead and dissolve the 58-year-old organization. The company's assets, including a warehouse, scenery, costumes and technical equipment, will be sold, and the proceeds will be distributed among creditors.

"We had some promises of money, but there just wasn't enough out there," said general manager M. Kevin Wixted. "To raise money for a season of opera was out of the question. We could have struggled on month to month, but we'd never get ahead. I know people wanted to believe we'd come back. But in this business, you have to depend on raising big money from people."

Added board chairman Allan Jensen: "Maybe part of the problem was that we tried to put on world-class productions in a town that wasn't ready to pay for them. Ticket sales take care of only a small part of the costs."

Baltimore Opera, like many arts organizations, experienced a steep drop in income from tickets and contributions last fall as the national economy soured. Cash flow reached such a critical state that a board member had to personally guarantee cast salaries for what turned out to be the company's final production in November at the Lyric Opera House.

"We've lost many of our corporate contributors that used to be headquartered here. And we had no endowment," Jensen said. "The final nail in the coffin was the recession."

The company filed for Chapter 11 protection Dec. 9. Wixted said it could take 60 days or more for the Chapter 7 filing to get through the courts for a trustee to be appointed to oversee the liquidation.

"It's been a rough three months," Jensen said. "Obviously, we're disappointed. There were moist eyes at the board meeting, as you can imagine. I hope that a phoenix will arise from the ashes. My presumption is that, when economic times get better, a handful of people will get together to create a new opera company. There have been rumors that Washington National Opera would bring some of their productions to the Lyric."

Mark Weinstein, executive director of Washington National Opera, had no comment about those rumors. He called the news of the liquidation "just unbelievable. It's extraordinarily sad for all of us in the opera industry. The company had a great history. I can't imagine the city of Baltimore not having a major opera company. Washington National Opera stands ready to assist in any way we can."

Wayne Brown, director of music and opera for the National Endowment for the Arts, likened the loss of the company to "a member of your family who is no longer there. It's unfortunate that the Baltimore Opera as we know it may soon be history. It achieved terrific accomplishments."

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