Week from hell: bankruptcies, cutbacks, uncertainties
The long-rumored news that was finally confirmed earlier this week about the Baltimore Opera Company filing for bankruptcy came, oddly enough, just as the Baltimore Sun's parent Tribune Company filed for the same kind of protection from creditors. Then, yesterday, word arrived of financial trouble for the 74-year-old Handel Choir of Baltimore. That group isn't in as dire a position as the opera, but it's worrisome just the same. And it's got to be heartbreaking for a lot of kids and their parents, since the money shortage means that the Handel Children's Choir, an offshoot of the Handel Choir, will cease operations after a concert this weekend. And then there's the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, which recently canceled recording sessions scheduled for January (the concerts slated that month are still officially on the calendar).
That's just the local picture. Consider these recent examples of the Economy That Wouldn't Stop Spiraling: the Virginia Symphony is cutting salaries for music director JoAnn Falletta and administrative employees by 20 percent and canceling three of five spring concerts; Miami City Ballet will switch to taped music (shudder) for much of the remainder of the season because it can't afford an orchestra now. The string of bad news is enough to make the most determined optimist to get the shakes.
Back to the Baltimore Opera crisis. It's feels rather odd writing about a bankrupt company while working for another bankrupt company, but here goes: The opera mess casts a very dark shadow on this city. Like everyone else, I've heard about financial problems in the organization for years and wondered why they weren't more aggressively addressed. And like everyone else, I've wondered about some of the company's decisions, especially when it came to artists and scenery imported from Europe at no small expense. I've wondered about many of the repertoire choices and many of the singers engaged, not to mention some of the stage and scenic directors. But, ultimately, I've always believed that the company has made a useful, often valiant effort to serve the operatic art form. I certainly think that the many decades behind the company have left a solid enough legancy to be worth preserving and expanding.
Seems to me a mostly new team will have to be in place, on the staff and on the board, if Baltimore Opera is to climb out of this hole and establish credibility. A fresh, strong and reasonable vision for the company will have to be outlined. And the community will have to accept, as never before, its vital role in supporting what will always be a costly artr form. I know there are other operatic choices out there -- I've already heard from boosters of Opera Vivente, Peabody Opera Theatre and others -- but if we don't have a full-sized organization producing full-sized opera on a regular basis, we'll be missing an awful lot. This city would be a lesser place without Baltimore Opera. It's that simple.
BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO/MONICA LOPOSSAY: BALTIMORE OPERA'S NOVEMBER PRODUCTION OF 'NORMA,' WHICH MAY HAVE BEEN THE COMPANY'S SWAN SONG