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November 14, 2008

Baltimore Opera says rumors of demise are unfounded

The opera world's continually fueled rumor mill has been ringing with death knells for the 58-year-old Baltimore Opera Company, but the tolling appears to be premature.

Today, BOC officials denied any plans for shutting down, while admitting that this fall's cash-flow has been worse than in previous years and that a "re-positioning project" is underway that will target areas for cost-cutting; launch new fundraising campaigns; and bring in a consultant to "evaluate the company's finaces and make objective, unilateral decisions about management practices and spending patterns."

In addition to the production of Norma, which opens tomorrow, the 08-09 season is still scheduled to continue in the spring with Barber of Seville and Porgy and Bess. The new acting general director, James Handakas, said today that an option being considered is to use a cheaper set for Barber than had been planned. Four operas remain on the schedule for 09-10, and, at this point, four performances of each are expected, as usual.

Handakas said that the company's accumulated debt is a "relatively manageable" $715,000, not millions, as the rumors have it. And there is an endowment valued at about $2 million. "Our issue is cash flow," Handahas said. It's a crisis the company has faced every fall for several years, he said, "a cycle that needs to be broken." One board member has guaranteed performers' salaries for Norma. Generating cash to meet expenses for the spring season will now be the primary focus. "December has always been a huge month for us for fundraising," Handakas said, "but we don't know how the economic downturn is going to affect us."

Whether any of this will be enough to stop all the cyber-chatter remains to be seen. Whether Baltimore Opera will weather this latest storm remains to be heard. The good news is that the company appears committed to making the fight.

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:20 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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