In the past five years, several opera companies have gone out of business: 2009 alone saw the closing of groups including Orlando Opera, Baltimore Opera Company and Connecticut Opera. This year, financial troubles of Seattle Opera and New York City Opera have made news.
Across the nation, box office revenues have not been able to keep pace with costs, said Marc Scorca, president and CEO of the industry association OPERA America. And companies have been reluctant to alienate audiences with ticket hikes.
“More and more of an opera budget has to be covered by donations,” he said.
Scorca, who has known Danis for about 20 years, met with FGO’s board in January to compare revenues and expenses to similar-sized companies, and the analysis showed that the opera isn’t meeting its fundraising potential.
The company’s budget for the current fiscal year is about $10.1 million, with nearly $6 million from contributions. In 2009, Heuer announced that the company would perform four operas a season instead of the typical five to cut costs.
Mendelson said the company is interested in establishing a larger endowment. Plans to build a facility on theland the company owns near the Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House in Miami are on the back burner; in fact, he said, that property as well as the opera’s Doral offices are for sale.
Fundraising in Florida — and Miami specifically — presents a unique challenge, Scorca said, in part because so many potential patrons have roots elsewhere. He said Danis’ experience in another Florida community, even one as demographically different as Sarasota, makes her a good choice for the Miami company.
William Hill, vice president of FGO’s board and the head of the search committee, said he believes Miami and Sarasota audiences have plenty in common.
“I think there’s more commonality among arts and particularly opera patrons than there are differences of people, even of apparently disparate backgrounds,” he said. “It’s very much a universal art form. I think her successes there will translate very well into success here.”
Lawrence A. Johnson, a former Miami Herald music critic and editor of South Florida Classical Review and associated websites, has watched performances of Sarasota Opera every year for the last 12 years. He agrees with Hill, pointing to Danis’ approachable nature, financial background and creative artistic vision.
“I think Susan is just a terrific appointment,” he said. “She’s very down to earth and she’s a straight shooter and she’ll do what needs to get done.”
Besides, said Danis, who will move with her boyfriend Tom Patane, an independent financial advisor, and cat Squeaker, she’s “really a big-city girl at heart.”
A good fit
Danis said some of the methods she used in Sarasota, including a 5-for-$100 package aimed at twentysomething professionals, could be a good fit in South Florida. Preliminary talks about programming for the upcoming year have already started, and Danis is looking forward to hiring more people for understaffed departments.
Despite opera’s reputation as an old-fashioned art form, Danis believes the industry has evolved enough to offer performances for a variety of tastes, from traditional to modern. And she said popular musicals and movies such as Rent, which is based on La bohème, and the operatic Moulin Rouge can serve as gateways to opera.
Opera companies elsewhere have found success with performances in nontraditional venues, Scorca said — and Danis, who served on the board of trustees for OPERA America, is excited about such ideas.
“I don’t believe in sensation for the sake of sensation,” she said. “After all, the opera, it’s about the music, it’s about the beauty of the human voice, about the time when the soprano sings and the hair on the back of your neck stands up.”