Performing Arts

Florida Grand Opera threatens to end Fort Lauderdale shows unless donors come through

Susan Danis
Susan Danis Photo by Carla Varisco-Williams

Florida Grand Opera is considering exiting from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts next season, a move that would leave Fort Lauderdale without professional opera performances for the first time in the quarter-century since the center opened.

Susan T. Danis, FGO general director and CEO, said this week that despite the company’s community outreach and intense fund-raising efforts, Broward County opera fans have not stepped up with enough financial support to continue to make the Miami company’s treks to the Broward Center viable.

Danis said that if the company doesn’t receive $400,000 from Broward donors by Jan. 31, FGO will not be able to bring any of its productions to Fort Lauderdale in the 2015-16 season.

“It’s not the way I want to do it,” Danis said Monday. “But I’ve tried everything else.”

“At this delicate point in our history — where we’re losing money and the [Broward] audience is dwindling and the giving is dwindling — I have to stop the bleeding.”

The bifurcated company performances in Miami and Fort Lauderdale have been an ongoing financial drain and logistical headache for FGO for more than two decades. Often the company has to plan — and even physically alter — a production to fit the different-size stages of the Arsht Center and the Broward Center. In addition to the extra expenses, it is often next to impossible to make the dates made available by the Broward Center cohere with FGO’s Miami performances.

Danis said she wants to continue the two Fort Lauderdale performances of each FGO opera. The company even opened its 2013-14 season at the Broward Center with the Florida premiere of Mourning Becomes Electra by Marvin David Levy, a Fort Lauderdale resident.

But the financial support from Broward residents has drastically declined in recent years as the Fort Lauderdale audience continues to erode. With the company struggling financially as it is, Danis says, all options have to be on the table.

Florida Grand Opera's artistic fortunes have risen dramatically since Danis took the helm of the company in 2012, presenting well-received performances of popular operas as well as such edgy contemporary works as Mourning and Andy Vores’ No Exit.

But even as the company appears to be on the rebound artistically, financial support has dried up. In 2006, 1,614 Broward donors contributed $1,967,022 to the company with 31,349 seats sold. In 2014, just 385 individuals in Broward contributed $474,664 with 12,477 tickets sold, a decline of more than 50 percent.

“It’s been dropping for a while, but even since I’ve been here, it’s continued to fall,” Danis said. She added that several key FGO donors in Broward have passed away and nobody has taken their place.

More broadly, the company launched a publicity campaign last fall, “Say YES! to Opera, South Florida” with a goal of raising $17.5 million but has raised only $1 million to date.

Danis said many potential donors procrastinate about giving money. “I tell them you can wait but if you do, you may not be seeing anything.”