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Strong Ticket Sales Buoy Opera Year

Finances: But Irvine-based group gets mixed review on fund-raising and still needs a general director.

April 13, 1998|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Opera Pacific, the county's only professional opera company, finished its season Sunday showing strong ticket sales, but mixed results in crucial fund-raising efforts and still lacking a general director.

The Irvine-based company earned about $2.7 million in ticket sales during its four-opera season, about half of its $5.5-million budget. But it still faces a $467,000 deficit and the need to raise the other half of a projected $2.4 million in contributed income.

"The season was phenomenally successful from an artistic standpoint and a ticket-sales standpoint," board chairman Patrick T. Seaver said Wednesday.

"We filled 88% of the house for 'Mikado,' 80% for 'La Boheme,' 94% for 'Tosca' and 92% for 'Cosi fan tutte.' We fill more of the house than any of the other arts organizations or even the center itself.

"We have [financial] challenges. But our contributions are higher than last year's, and we have plans to raise the rest of that money. But we haven't raised it yet. We have a plan and we're working the plan. It's too early to tell. But there's no question in my mind that Opera Pacific will survive."

The breakdown on ticket sales: 10,314 for four performances of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Mikado" in November; 14,155, six performances of Puccini's "Boheme," in January; 11,004 for four performances of Puccini's "Tosca" in February, and (in unaudited figures) 10,751 tickets for four performances of Mozart's "Cosi" in April.

More good news comes with a subscription renewal rate of 75% for the 1998-99 season.

"It's already wildly exceeded our projections," company spokesman George Sebastian said Wednesday. "It's almost 20% more than last season going into this season. The most you can hope for renewals is 80%."

The opera has 4,154 renewed subscribers.

The season had hardly gotten off the ground before general director Patrick L. Veitch left suddenly in December after 15 contentious months.

"Without a charismatic leader in place, much of the fund-raising was relegated to the board and staff, which it always is," Sebastian said. "But for them suddenly to be in charge of the effort without a director in place is a different ball of wax."

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Other changes this season included moving up the starting time and opening the operas earlier in the week--on Tuesday nights instead of weekends. "There was a lot of hesitation and trepidation from the public moving into this season to see if all the changes were worth it," Sebastian said. "As each show passed, the public decided that, yes, it was.

"Overall, the quality of the productions was substantially better than in the past."

The company has picked a search firm to find a new general director. "We hope to have that person identified by June and on board by September," Seaver said.

The company has also hired Day & Associates, a well-respected Orange County development consulting firm, to help direct fund-raising efforts.

The company's next season will open with Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," conducted by newly appointed music director John DeMain, on Nov. 3 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

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