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Power Play At L.a. Opera: Exit Dordick

April 28, 1985|MARC SHULGOLD

Not long ago, Johanna Dordick appeared to be sitting on top of the local operatic world. While the fledgling Music Center Opera Assn. had to import whole opera companies to mount its first official season here, Dordick's Los Angeles Opera Theatre (LAOT) announced plans for its sixth season, a season of all-new productions beginning in July. And in its very own home, too--moving from the ancient, stuffy Wilshire Ebell to the newly renovated Wiltern Theatre.

What's more, LAOT had contracted its first bona-fide star, Jon Vickers. The future looked bright for Dordick and the company she had founded and guided through a sea of skeptics.

Then, suddenly, Dordick dropped a bombshell: On April 11, she quit her post as artistic director. Even some members of the board expressed surprise.

Why did she leave? And what will happen to the company? That depends on whom you ask.

Ask Johanna Dordick what caused her to resign and she will point to Edmund Kaufman, president of LAOT's board of directors.

"Right now, Ed Kaufman is having a great deal of fun on my blood, sweat and tears," she said angrily.

According to the official LAOT statement, the resignation resulted from differences between Dordick and the board on policy and administration. Nonetheless, she refused to place the blame anywhere but on the board president.

"I never had differences with the board," Dordick said. "I never disagreed with them. I always complied with what they asked."

It was Kaufman, she insisted, who had forced the break. He had intruded on her territory, and became "belligerent" whenever she protested, she said.

The Century City-based attorney joined the company in April, 1984 ("at my invitation," the ex-impresaria emphasized), and was elected president by the 20-member board one month later. Almost immediately, Dordick said, "he decided he wanted to become involved in the everyday running of business. This was in opposition to the terms of my contract, which clearly spell out my responsibilities.

"I (was) chief operating officer of the company, in charge of running the day-to-day activities. I've done that since the beginning. I tried everything I could to resolve this with him.

"He said I worked for the board. But in (non-profit) organizations, it doesn't work that way. The board is supposed to be a partner with the director."

Kaufman acknowledged Dordick's dispute with him, but flatly denied her statements of disagreement.

"Her contract says she worked for the board," Kaufman said. "I'm sorry she has taken the interpretation that she has. There is no question that, under the law, the board has the main responsibility. Whether a company is profit or non-profit, the responsibility of the board doesn't change.

"The last time we had a king in this country was about 200 years ago.

"The problem with Johanna was that she had always been a one-person show. But the company is getting bigger, and she has to delegate. I want to make it clear that the board never questioned her in the artistic area (choosing repertory, hiring directors, singers, etc.). But she wanted absolute authority."

Though Dordick claimed that Kaufman had told the board of his plans to become "the Otto Kahn of Los Angeles" (a reference to the Metropolitan Opera's influential chairman of the board in the early part of the century), Kaufman dismissed such a notion: "I can't run an opera company, and I certainly have no ambitions."

Kaufman emphasized that it was Dordick's choosing to create a personal conflict with him: "I suppose it's easier to focus your troubles on one person. I'm in the unfortunate position of being the subject of her wrath."

But he also pointed out that "she didn't have the support of a single member of the board. We insisted on authority. And when I say 'we,' I don't mean 'me.'

Board member Warren Matthei, who runs a major investment bank, was devastated by Dordick's departure. He spoke in cool business-like terms--despite the fact that, as he admitted, he "was viewed by the board as the one closest to her. I think it (her resignation) hit me the hardest. I was the one she called first."

Matthei said the reason for the break is clear: "Johanna has an artistic personality. She's not a business person.

"In the early days she was the chief cook and bottle-washer. As the company grew, she became reluctant to let other people assume the business responsibilities.

"She just had a difficult time dealing with the rapid changes. Johanna would say, during a discussion on some fiscal matter she proposed, 'It's not negotiable. I want to do it.' This approach became difficult.

"A lot of it (her resistance) was ego. A lot of it was theatrics."

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