With no advance warning, Opera Boston board chair Winifred P. Gray and board president Gregory E. Bulger have issued a statement that Opera Boston faces “an insurmountable budget deficit” of $500,000 and will cease operations on Jan. 1, 2012.
The announcement cited “lackluster fundraising in a tough economic climate” as the main reason for the closure. The staff was notified yesterday.
“The Board realizes that this development will come as a shock to the Boston arts community, and it is not a decision we made lightly,” Gray said in this morning’s statement. “The Company has had many artistic triumphs in its recent history, and has many fans. However, as the end of the year approaches, we find ourselves in a financially untenable situation, and the responsible thing is to work with our creditors and cease operations.”
We are indeed shocked and saddened to learn of Opera Boston’s closure after seven and a half seasons. Founded in 2003, the company rapidly built up a stellar reputation and an enthusiastic following for their ambitious programming, with fully-staged performances of rarely-performed works and innovative productions of the classics. In recent years especially commendable initiatives have been Hindemith’s Cardillac, Shostakovich’s The Nose, John Adams’ Nixon in China, Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Peter Eötvös’ Angels in America. Among the neglected classics were Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, Rossini’s Tancredi, Weber’s Der Freischütz, Handel’s Semele, Verdi’s Macbeth, Ernani, and Luisa Miller, Gluck’s Alceste, Chabrier’s L’étoile, and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers.
In 2010, Opera Boston co-commissioned a world premiere of Madame White Snake, with which composer Zhou Long won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. As the performance was under preparation, Music Director Gil Rose discussed the project with the present author. (Click here for the interview.)
Not every production was entirely successful. The musical side was usually admirable, with a fine small orchestra led by Artistic Director Gil Rose, and generally excellent casts consisting of young American singers and outstanding international stars, like Sanford Sylvan and Ewa Podles. The productions were generally weaker, often marred by Regieoper treatments by rising American directors. As flawed as they were, the productions were distinguished by intelligence and courage. In my experience Opera Boston’s finest moment was The Nose, in which both the musical elements and the production were on a high level. Their program notes, often written by Richard Dyer, and their educational materials were exemplary. Even if Charles Warren, who has also reviewed Opera Boston performances on The Berkshire Review, and I could not praise everything we heard and especially saw at Opera Boston, we agreed that the Opera Boston was an important and exciting enterprise. More companies should follow their example.
Opera Boston’s productions were always, in my experience, extremely well attended. There was a special atmosphere of enthusiasm among the near-capacity audiences, who were fully aware that they were part of something special. Boston audiences were in an especially fortunate position, with two complimentary opera companies, of which the Boston Lyric Opera offers more traditional repertoire and approaches, recently enlivened by a more adventurous trend.
Carol Chernow, Opera Boston’s founding General Director (who was replaced just a few months ago by Lesley Koenig.) has been quoted in The Boston Globe as saying that Boston is “not an opera town.” Judging by the work of these two general repertory companies, the biennial Baroque opera productions of the Boston Early Music Festival, the operatic work of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (also under Gil Rose’s direction), and the success of Emmanuel Music’s opera productions, nothing could be further from the truth. Bostonians love opera in all forms. New York, with its failing City Opera, cannot boast the adventurous repertory and serious taste of the Boston companies. One can only mourn the passing of this brave and outstanding company. It is a great loss for Boston and for the world of opera as a whole.
According to The Globe, there was bitter dissension among the board and staff of Opera Boston over this decision. The will and the talent are still there, and we can only hope that a way will be found to bring them back together into a working whole.