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Connecticut Opera Cancels Season's Remaining Shows

Economy Fallout

By DONNA LARCEN | The Hartford Courant

January 30, 2009

Connecticut Opera's 2,000 subscribers will get letters today informing them that "Daughter of the Regiment" in March and "La Bohème" in May, the remaining two productions of this season, are canceled. The decision was made by the opera's board Wednesday night.

"Last night's decision did not come as a surprise," said Linda Jackson, the opera's managing director. "We've been watching the numbers decline for a couple of months."

Ticket sales for the first show, "Don Giovanni" in November, "underperformed," Jackson said. "We sold about 800 seats in the 2,600-seat Palace Theater in Waterbury." Sales were better when the show moved to the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford.

The opera has an annual budget of about $2.1 million, with just under 40 percent of revenue coming from ticket sales. It presents three operas per season and other special events, including last night's "Opera Uncorked," a program performed at Asylum Hill Congregational Church and narrated by Willie Anthony Waters, the opera's musical director.

"We're not sure about upcoming events," Waters said of the many educational programs the opera runs. "We're just getting this news today, and I'm absorbing it."

Waters, a guest conductor at other venues, said, "I haven't talked to my agent yet," he said. "And things are tough all over," so there may not be as many opportunities.

Jackson described the current economy as "disastrous" and said she had been on a recent conference call with managers from seven other presenting companies who are all worried about the future.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Jackson, who accepted the job in 2002 and has 25 years experience in arts management.

Jackson and Waters said the timing of "Don Giovanni" affected its ticket sales.

"It was too close to the election," Jackson said. "Everyone was focused on Barack Obama, not the opera."

This year's roster of operas "began and ended with two reliable attractions," Jackson said of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and Puccini's "La Bohème."

"We did that intentionally to shore up the season," she said. Canceling shows and trimming back productions "is going on all over the country."

The letter to subscribers did not include information about refunds for those holding tickets to the canceled shows.

Jackson and Waters and the board will go forward to figure out the future of Connecticut Opera, which has been in business since 1941, when it presented Bizet's "Carmen." Full-time staffers remain on the payroll for now.

"I expect the publicity may attract a response," Jackson said.

But even if someone wrote a check for $500,000, Jackson said, she couldn't say if part of the season could be salvaged. "All of our numbers are based on speculation."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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