Fort Worth Opera to cut $1 million from budget

Posted Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The Fort Worth Opera will cut its 2015 budget by about $1 million, which means scrapping the commissioned adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s young-adult classic A Wrinkle in Time from the 2015 festival season, opera officials said Friday.

The cut, from $5.4 million to $4.5 million, is the result of shrinking corporate sponsorship, a lack of co-producers and smaller donations from individuals, as well as rising production costs, General Director Darren K. Woods said.

The cuts will not affect the 2014 festival season, which begins in April.

“It has always been my way as a manager to look ahead and forecast,” Woods said. “ A Wrinkle in Time was always meant to have partners with it, and two that were interested didn’t come on board, and that’s about a half-million dollars. We had to make a cut somewhere.”

The cuts will not affect the other commissioned opera, tentatively titled JFK and based on President John F. Kennedy’s final day of life, in Fort Worth. It is scheduled to premiere in 2016.

That is a co-production with New York’s American Lyric Theater, which helps shoulder the cost.

What this means for the 2015 festival is that two operas will be performed at Bass Hall — a blockbuster and a lesser-known work from the canon, both of which will be announced at the 2014 festival. A small new work will be performed in Scott Theatre, the previously announced Dog Days.

Dog Days is part of the Opera Unbound initiative, in which newer works from composers in the Americas will be performed over the next 10 years. It begins in 2014 with Silent Night and With Blood, With Ink. Opera Unbound is partly funded by a $490,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Frontiers, an initiative that began in 2013 and showcases up to 20 minutes of work from operas in development, will also continue in 2014, 2015 and beyond.

“With Frontiers, we are also feeding into new works that go out to other companies,” Production Manager Kurt Howard said.

He noted that three works showcased in 2013 are being produced elsewhere in the U.S. this year.

Since the Fort Worth Opera changed its format to a festival season in 2007 and presented its first world premiere, Frau Margot, Woods has been the talk of the opera world because of his commitment to new opera and emerging composers and librettists.

Fort Worth Opera presented another world premiere in 2010, Before Night Falls, and has been busy with regional premieres such as Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers and Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata, or challenging chamber works like Philip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox.

Fundraising woes

This is not the first time the organization has cut back in tough times.

“We’ve done it before at the beginning of the recession in 2009,” Woods said.

That year, the Fort Worth Opera presented three operas instead of four.

It was back to four in 2011, and Woods said the hope is to return to four operas by the 2017 season. To be safe, commissions for new works will be put on hold for the foreseeable future.

Although A Wrinkle in Time, by composer Libby Larsen, is a Fort Worth Opera commission, and he hopes to present it in the future, he will open up the rights in case another company wants to take it on, he said.

“In all fairness to [Larsen], I need to let her shop it around,” Woods said.

Woods said he made the decision after recent fundraising fell flat.

“We had the worst Christmas fundraising ever. People just got really afraid of what the future holds,” he said.

“Also, there were five [donor] families who were behind A Wrinkle in Time, and that had gone to three. I knew that was a model that would be unsustainable.”

Audiences diminish

The Fort Worth Opera, like many performing-arts companies, is finding that single-ticket sales are growing even as subscription rates decrease or remain flat. Subscriptions for 2014 are about 400 fewer than for 2013, although there are still a few months left to sell them.

In general, audiences for opera have decreased as longtime supporters age.

Opera companies are “all one spectacular death away from extinction,” Woods said. “We all rely on one or two [donor] families to hold it up.”

Some signs indicate that younger people are attracted to opera, especially newer ones, he said.

“We’re really successful at getting new audience members, but to get them to be a donor is a five- to 10-year march,” he said.

The Fort Worth Opera has a $1.2 million endowment that started a year ago.

Woods said he worked in risk management at a bank when he was starting his opera career as a singer, and to him, fiscal responsibility is the only way to go.

The alternative to cutbacks is not to hire the best artists and designers at the opera’s budget level.

“For me, it will always be about quality over quantity,” he said.

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