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Opera Pacific Ends Season in Red for First Time

October 27, 1994|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — One truism in opera is that box office tends to suffer whenever the repertory ventures off the beaten track.

At the 7-year-old Opera Pacific, productions of Gounod's "Faust" and Wagner's "Die Walkure" during the recently concluded season resulted in the company's first-ever deficit--$679,000 for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31. A surplus of $295,000 carried over from the previous year, however, effectively leaves the company $384,000 in the red.

The company is not planning any layoffs or ticket price increases, according to Lori Burrill, Opera Pacific's co-managing director, who added that the staff feels "pretty confident" the remaining deficit will be halved this year.

Paid attendance, which has been as high as 95% or more for popular operas such as Verdi's "Aida" or Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," plummeted to an average of 70% for the four operas presented by the company last year. (The other two were Lehar's "The Merry Widow" and Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor.")

"Audiences are always (leery) because Wagner has a reputation of being very long and very difficult to understand," said Timothy B. Dunn, director of public relations for the company. "He's never the big seller in most companies that Puccini and Verdi are. . . . 'Faust' was a very controversial production. . . . People with traditional tastes (apparently) decided, 'I don't want my "Faust" so controversial.' "

Those low turnouts, Dunn said, led to a current season stocked with "bread-and-butter" operas: "Aida," "Madama Butterfly," Verdi's "La Traviata" and Mozart's "Die Zauberflote." Season subscriptions total 9,304 for the current season, an increase of 1,500 over last year.

At $932,801, "Die Walkure" was an unusually expensive undertaking for Opera Pacific, which also lost about $50,000 on a benefit performance by Placido Domingo in January. ("Faust" was a co-production with Opera Pacific general director David DiChiera's other company, Michigan Opera Theater, which split the $740,000 cost with the Costa Mesa troupe.) Fund raising, however, remained stable: During fiscal 1994, the company raised about $1.8 million of its $5.6-million budget. The remainder comes from ticket sales ($2.7 million), interest income and set rentals.

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