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Opera expands schedule

In a gambit to bolster its bottom line, the San Diego Opera has added three offerings to its 2014-15 season, ranging from a concert of songs from the big band era to a mariachi opera set during the Mexican Revolution in 1910.

Although the new additions have been under discussion for a while, they were announced Friday, exactly one week after the opera hired retired Chicago Lyric Opera general director William Mason as a temporary artistic adviser while it seeks a permanent replacement for former CEO Ian Campbell.

Campbell left under fire last month after spearheading an unsuccessful campaign to close down the institution. Mason, who spent more than 50 years at the Chicago Lyric Opera before retiring as general director in 2011, said he was flattered by the offer to guide the opera through "this challenging transitional period."

Faced with soft ticket sales and dwindling charitable contributions, the opera recently slashed its budget for the 2015 season from $17 million to $10.5 million. To hit that mark, it has laid off employees, moved to cheaper offices and dropped plans to perform "Tannhauser," whose ornate sets made it the most expensive production on a list that included "La Boheme," "Don Giovanni" and "Nixon in China."

Operas typically run at a loss, requiring subsidies from charitable donors, because of the costs of a full orchestra, cast and crew, combined with often-elaborate costumes and sets.

In contrast, special performances — like the concerts that the opera is adding to its lineup — usually generate profits, since they run on a much tighter budget and can be performed in smaller, less expensive venues.

The new schedule includes two performances at the Balboa Theater, with married opera stars Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello singing love duets and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe performing songs made popular by Broadway singer Kate Smith, ranging from "We'll Meet Again" to "God Bless America."

In addition, the opera will stage two performances of "El Pasado Nunca se Termina" (The Past is Never Finished), a mariachi-backed opera set during the flyby of Haley's Comet in 1910, which was seen as a portent of Mexico's mass peasant uprising.
A previous mariachi opera, "Cruzar la Cara de la Luna" (To Cross the Face of the Moon), was part of last year's "¡Viva la Ópera!" outreach program, aimed at bringing in audiences.

Opera spokesman Edward Wilensky says it "performed well on all levels, including financially."

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