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San Francisco Opera Unveils '94 Season, More Cost Cutting

January 12, 1994|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

The San Francisco Opera, which announces its 1994 season today, is making significant, strategic budget cuts in response to a projected accumulated $6-million deficit acknowledged publicly a year ago.

Of the nine operas to be mounted in the 1994 fall season, seven will share visual components with each other, using the same designer, Gerard Howland.

The seven operas sharing sets are Verdi's "Macbeth," directed by the company's General Director Lotfi Mansouri; Conrad Susa's "The Dangerous Liaisons," directed in its world premiere performances by Colin Graham; Verdi's "Il Trovatore," directed by John Copley; Rossini's rarely performed "Otello," directed by Laurie Feldman; Wagner's "Tannhauser," and Massenet's "Herodiade," directed by Mansouri and Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," with a director to be announced. The company will also perform Boito's "Mefistofele," directed by Peter McClintock, and Prokofiev's "The Fiery Angel," directed by David Freeman, both in borrowed productions.

Howland, who is the company's new design director, will supervise all productions. Thomas J. Munn is in charge of eight of the nine lighting schemes.

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On the phone from his office in the War Memorial Opera House on Tuesday, Howland said that the productions will "not look like each other. There will be common elements in them, but mostly in the underpinning, like the floors. All scenic elements will be unique to each show. None of the elements in 'Tannhauser,' for instance, will appear in any other production. Each show can be taken on its own merits."

However, the savings in using this new system will be "quite a significant amount," he said. "In having one director of design, we are knocking out the ego factor. And, by supervising all productions, I can dovetail them in terms of the cost of turnaround--that is, in the time it takes to change the stage from one show to another--by reducing the number of stage crew needed."

Savings in labor costs will be of prime importance, Howland said. Under the old system, "we have between 55 and 60 people running a show. Under the new, we can reduce that by 20% to 25%. Consequently, our budget target for each production will be lower than before."

Previous cost-cutting measures include a 15% reduction in personnel, accomplished during the past year. Company director Mansouri said Tuesday that no further staff reductions are planned. Aside from personnel, administrative costs have been reduced another 12%, he said.

Having canceled both the 1993 and 1994 summer seasons, Mansouri said he is hoping to bring back summer opera in 1995, "starting slowly. This is important, because 1995 will be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (in War Memorial Opera House)."

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