NEXT SEASON ENSURED

AZ Opera rescued by fundraising full-court press

2013-06-30T00:00:00Z 2014-06-23T14:24:43Z AZ Opera rescued by fundraising full-court pressCathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 30, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Two months after a shakeup in its top management, Arizona Opera has quietly raised nearly $1 million to ensure it has a 2013-14 season.

The Phoenix-based company, which mounts performances in Tucson and Phoenix, was facing $3 million in long-term debt, including about $1 million owed immediately to its vendors. It also had no endowment to fall back on; the $1 million fund had been depleted to cover operating expenses from last season, said new Executive Director Ryan Taylor.

Taylor, who was named to the position last week, said the nonprofit company had to pay a big chunk of the vendor debt "immediately if we were to have a season next year."

"In order for our vendors to play with us next year, we have to pay the bills," Taylor said.

The company's financial picture became clear last spring after Board of Trustees member Sharon Landis conducted an intense examination of the books, said incoming board President Judith Wolf. Landis discovered that the company was facing a huge deficit that could derail its future, Wolf said.

Wolf, who has been active in the opera company for 14 years, said the board had never looked that closely at the finances.

"I just don't think we paid attention," she said. "For years … I've been told it's OK. It's always going to be OK. People get complacent. Even new people on the board think the finance committee or the general director is going to take care of it."

The board agreed to launch the fundraising campaign when it met May 15, less than a month after Scott Altman resigned as executive director. Taylor dubbed it "Million Dollar May" with the goal of raising the money in a matter of weeks. Trustees were asked to kick in donations - from several hundred dollars apiece to thousands - and employees and patrons also contributed, Taylor said.

By last week, the campaign was less than $50,000 shy of the $1 million goal, he said.

"I think that we have proven in the last six to eight weeks that the company is capable of great things and there still is a belief in the value we provide to the state," he said. "The organization seems to be functioning as a whole. There seems to be contributions from Phoenix and Tucson and Prescott and from outside of the state."

Wolf said Arizona Opera also has launched a $1 million corporate fundraising campaign.

Arizona Opera had hoped to pay down some of its more than $2 million in accumulated debt, which it had been carrying for years, after selling its buildings in Tucson and Phoenix in 2011. The company consolidated operations at temporary facilities that year and moved into its taxpayer-funded building in Phoenix in March.

Altman, who joined the company in the 2009-10 season, was tasked with the move, which proved to be contentious for Tucson. Many longtime supporters felt that Arizona Opera was preparing to leave Tucson, where the company was born 42 years ago.

Wolf said there are no plans to do that.

"Absolutely, I am totally committed to Tucson," she said. "I have always been totally committed to Tucson. We are not going anywhere under my watch. There is too much potential down there. We're a state opera company."

Wolf said she is confident the company is headed in the right direction.

"I think that Ryan is an exceptional person and clearly very capable of raising a lot of money," she said.

In addition to participating in the Million Dollar May campaign, Tucson supporters also kicked in $50,000 to bring the company's performance of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" to Tucson Music Hall on April 26 and 27. The performance was initially only to play in Phoenix and the company had said it would offer transportation to Tucsonans to attend.

2013-14 Season at a glance

Performances are held at Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

• Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore," Oct. 19 and 20.

• Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," Nov. 23 and 24.

• Puccini's "La Bohéme," Feb. 1 and 2.

• Verdi's "La Traviata," March 8 and 9.

• Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," April 26 and 27.

• Tickets: Call 293-4336 or online to azopera.org

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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