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November 13, 2008

Musical sky seems to be falling

The bad news just keeps coming. It's never easy to raise money for music and the other arts, but it gets really, really tough when the whole econony is tanking.

Michael HarrisonThis month, Opera Pacific, a much-respected company in the rich Orange County of Southern California, closed up after more than two decades. The company had never been on the surest financial footing, but, this season the outlook turned so bleak that the only option appeared to be turning out the lights. Other companies have had to scale back, including Washington National Opera, which last week announced that it would postpone its planned Ring Cycle for November 2009. It was just too expensive. Also last week, the Baltimore Opera Company revealed it had lost $200,000 on its Aida production in October (when a surefire work like Aida doesn't pack 'em in, you know there's trouble), and longtime general director Michael Harrison had moved into the role of artistic director. He'll be replaced by someone whose main job has been to raise funds for the company from individual donors.

Up north, the New York City Opera is facing uncertainty. Staffers have been furloughed; there's no real season, while the company's home base at Lincoln Center is being renovated; and Gerard Mortier, the splashy new general director hired to lift City Opera into a whole new level of fame and fortune, quit before he even really started -- the board couldn't come up with the budget he wanted for his first season next fall. (Not surprisingly, City Opera is turning to the Turnaround King, Michael Kaiser, for help. Kaiser, current president of the Kennedy Center, has an enviable track record of helping flailing arts organizations regain firm ground.)

The crisis hasn't just affected opera, of course. Last week, for example, the Pasadena Symphony canceled half of its remaining season due to money woes. We've all seen this sort of thing before, during other lean times, but the current global meltdown may well leave a deeper mark on the music world than anyone can now imagine. Scary.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:04 AM | | 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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