Fighting for the Future

San Diego Opera Begins Their 51st Season

San Diego Opera's Cinderella

Photos by San Diego Opera

With skill and style, the San Diego Opera’s 2016–17 season is about to unfold on the Civic Theatre stage. A staple in Southern California, the Opera has wowed audiences for the last 50 years— so it’s hard to believe that in 2014, San Diego almost lost this distinguished organization due to financial concerns. With perseverance and tenacity, San Diego Opera fought—and won—to live another day; now, David Bennett takes the helm as General Director of the company.

Prior to his arrival in San Diego, Bennett was the Executive Director of Gotham Chamber Opera in New York City. Bennett has also served on the Board of Directors of OPERA America since 2011, which is part of what put San Diego Opera on his radar. “I followed the story of San Diego Opera closely, even from New York City,” Bennett says. “I can truly say that the story of San Diego Opera is unique, in the fact that the community said loudly and firmly that opera is important here.”

In 2014, the board behind the San Diego Opera announced that it would be shutting its doors due to budgetary restraints. They expected to disappear quietly into the night—boarding up their windows with nary a protest. Instead, the public took umbrage. Through online campaigns and social media publicity, the San Diego Opera was able to crowdfund enough capital to keep their doors open and the opera alive. Sure enough, after two months of vigorous campaigning and fundraising, the board behind the San Diego Opera voted to reverse their decision and keep hope—and the company—alive. Bennett believes it’s all thanks to the rabid fans and advocates. “The community here is supportive, engaged and invested in making change real. The opera has an incredible group of donors, board members and staff.”

San Diego Opera

The crisis has been delayed, but the future of opera isn’t secure yet. Though the company celebrated its 50th season in 2015, it still faces upcoming changes and potential turmoil. Says Bennett, “We are still ‘right-sizing’ the organization in terms of expenses, revenue, staff... all of it. As we produce opera in venues and locations throughout [San Diego] county, we are finding ways to [produce shows] that are cost-effective yet maintain the highest levels of artistic quality.”

One way San Diego Opera is evolving is through their new Shiley detour series. The upcoming season will feature two productions performed not at the Civic Theatre, but at Balboa Theatre. In addition to being a cost-effective decision, the detour series allows for San Diego Opera to branch out into new sections of the community. “The Civic Theater will always be our home,” Bennett adds, “but our new detour series provides us with many opportunities to engage audiences in new ways. For this season, it includes two chamber operas produced by the Balboa Theater: Soldier Songs, a gripping new work based on interviews with military veterans, and The Tragedy of Carmen, Peter Brook’s distillation of Bizet’s masterpiece.”

While this is a good step towards revitalizing the company, the next few seasons are crucial as San Diego Opera works to regain its footing. “If you took a stand to save the opera, we are so grateful, and we are truly here because of your generosity,” proclaims Bennett. “But our need continues... Any support you can provide is crucial for us for the next few years as we re-establish our place in the community.”

San Diego Opera

Fans of the opera won’t have to wait long; San Diego Opera’s 2016–17 season launches this October with Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, otherwise known as Cinderella. According to Bennett, “Cinderella was written when Rossini was a mere 25 years old, and the score showcases his youthful energy and humor. We’ve assembled a youthful, energetic cast of singing actors who will match Rossini’s score perfectly.” And how would Bennett describe the music? “Rossini’s score is full of charm and sparkle, with showstopper arias and impressive, intricate ensembles.”

A great introduction for those unfamiliar with opera, Rossini’s Cinderella tells the classic fairytale of love, family and heartbreak—with a few key differences. “In Rossini’s variation of the story, the wicked stepmother is replaced
by a wicked stepfather, Don Magnifico,” explains Bennett. “The Fairy Godmother is replaced by Alidoro, a philosopher and the Prince’s tutor. Cinderella is identified not by a glass slipper, but instead by a bracelet she gives the prince challenging him to seek out her true self.”

Nevertheless, Rossini’s Cinderella is, at its core, the relatable fairytale we all know and love. “Cinderella is kind, beautiful and good; the stepsisters are vain and mean. The prince and Cinderella fall in love with each other.” That level of predictability makes Cinderella the perfect production for patrons dipping their toes in the opera world, and some familiarity may be appreciated—Rossini’s Cinderella is sung entirely in Italian, though knowing the language isn’t requisite to enjoying the show. San Diego Opera designs their productions to be coherent for everyone through the projection of subtitles above the stage, though most argue they aren’t necessary. The lavish costumes and superb acting are all that’s needed for the classic tale to unfold.

The first of three main stage productions this season—with Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff taking center stage in February and Verdi’s La Traviata playing in April—Cinderella will be a sensory experience for the whole family. With a season that almost never came to be, enjoy the San Diego Opera and Cinderella, opening October 22nd at the Civic Theatre. 

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