The challenge donation came as Arizona Opera was about to open the season finale of “Don Pasquale” in Phoenix; the production was mounted first in Tucson, above, in early April.

Arizona Opera

Arizona Opera has launched its second Million Dollar May fundraising campaign after an anonymous donor in Phoenix offered up a $500,000 challenge.

The donor agreed last week to give the money to the company if it can raise an additional $500,000 in donations by June 30. 

If it is successful, the campaign will erase Arizona Opera’s remaining $750,000 in longterm debt and leave the company with money in the bank, said Arizona Opera Executive Director Ryan Taylor.

Taylor said the challenge donation came as the company was about to open the season finale of “Don Pasquale” in Phoenix; the production was mounted in Tucson first in early April.

“It sort of hit me out of left field,” said Taylor, who said he was cautiously optimistic that the company would meet the challenge by the deadline. “The donor came forward and said, ‘I would like to see if we could do this again and put all of the accumulated debt to bed this season.’ ”

As of Wednesday, about $25,000 had been donated, said associate development director Mark Saville, including a $100 online donation from someone in Texas and an online donation that came with a note: “Loved the show, happy to contribute.”

“What’s surprising to me is — and I’ve been with the company three years now — it’s the first time people have come up to me and voluntarily donated money,” Saville said, recounting one new Arizona Opera donor who two months ago gave $5,000. After Taylor announced the new campaign, the man wrote a check for $10,000, he said.

“It’s been rather extraordinary,” Saville said.

In the year since Taylor was installed by the Board of Trustees, Arizona Opera has been riding a wave of momentum. It has increased its donor base to 1,500, adding 400 new donors and bringing back 226 who had lapsed in the past few years, Saville said. Last May it quietly launched its first so-called Million Dollar May fundraising campaign, turning to longtime supporters to raise $500,000 in six weeks to pay down the company’s $3.2 million longterm debt.

In early April, CopperPoint Mutual, formerly SCF Arizona, agreed to erase $1.6 million in debt from Arizona Opera’s longterm revolving line of credit in exchange for a four-year title sponsorship. That brought the company’s debt to its lowest level since before the recession set in in 2008, Taylor said.

Being debt-free “puts us in position to be able to capitalize on what we do well,” Taylor said.

“There are only nine opera companies that produce five titles or more at the level that we do it and our budget is only half the size of the next comparable company,” he said. “And we are the only company that produces opera in two distinctive metropolitan areas.”

Meanwhile, Opera America renewed Arizona Opera’s $40,000 Building Opera Audiences grant. Arizona Opera, which received the grant last year, will use the money as part of its collaboration with Univision to grow and enhance its Hispanic audience through programming and education outreach, Taylor said.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.