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DiChiera Says Deficit No Surprise

Music: The former head of Opera Pacific takes partial responsibility for the $1.1-million shortfall.

November 13, 1996|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — Breaking the silence he had maintained since September when he stepped down as the head of Opera Pacific, David DiChiera said Monday that he is only partly responsible for the company's potentially crippling $1.1 million deficit--which wasn't announced until a month after his departure.

DiChiera--who founded the company in 1986 and who is to continue as its artistic director--said his resignation as general director "probably should have [come] a little earlier" than it did. But he also said the deficit shouldn't have come as any surprise.

"When things come as 'news' to people, it's because people haven't paid attention," he said. "Our fiscal situation and the budget have been made available at every board meeting."

The deficit amounts to 20% of the company's annual budget of $5.5 million. DiChiera's successor, Patrick L. Veitch, has estimated that, to survive, the company needs a $2.5 million "infusion" by Aug. 31, 1997, the end of the fiscal year.

"Some people might want to say I'm responsible, and in part I would say that is true," DiChiera said during a break in rehearsals of Strauss' "Die Fledermaus," which opens Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (story, F1).

"I had been running this company at the same time I have been running another company [the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit, with whom he is continuing]. So my energies and my time were divided."

He said that he had balanced Opera Pacific's budgets nine years in a row but that "as the fiscal environment here got more difficult and my responsibilities in Detroit got even more intense, it was time for me to step down--and that probably should have been done a little earlier."

Still, he said, the real reason for the deficit was a "deterioration of contributed income. We lost a number of major gifts that used to be more constant."

He acknowledged that another factor was "last year's repertory, [which] was not one that the Orange County public was going to attend in as large numbers as we would have hoped." Last year's season included Blitzstein's unfamiliar "Regina" along with Bizet's "Carmen," Verdi's "Otello," Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" and Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice."

Opera Pacific, he said, "depends on box office a great deal. The first year, we earned 75% of our budget at the box office. The national average is below 50%." He also maintained that "when we started--at the same time as L.A. Opera did--we never had any contributed money to begin with. L.A. Opera . . . had $2 million in the bank the first year. We started with nothing."

When he announced the deficit late last month, Veitch also announced cost-cuttingmoves including fewer performances, elimination of double casting (singers alternating in major roles) and a reduction and reorganization of Opera Pacific's 79-member board. Veitch further said that he was canceling a scheduled American premiere.

"Of course, those decisions were done in consultation with me," DiChiera said. "I felt they were all good approaches."

DiChiera said he considers himself "part of the team" and "will do what I have time to do and be helpful however I can and concentrate on doing whatever I can do well."

In announcing the deficit, Veitch had declined to speculate on reasons for it. "I don't really have an opinion," he said. "I wasn't here."

He did say that "we're operating in an extremely tight cash situation, to the point where I'm now having to fund-raise by saying, "Not only do I need your gift, but I need it tomorrow. Can I come around and pick up the check?'

"My first week," he added, "I had to scramble to meet the payroll."

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